How to Understand Seed Catalog Terminology
The seed catalogs are starting to arrive in the mailbox, giving us a glimpse of spring to come. As gardeners, these are our winter dream books. They give us information about seed types as well as glossy photos of the vegetables, herbs and ornamentals we can grow, and always include great planting tips.
What exactly are the different types of available seeds, and how are they different from one another?
Hybrid seeds are developed by pollinating one type of plant with the pollen of another variety. The offspring seeds can have traits from either parent. The purpose of hybridization is to develop a new variety that has the best or most desirable traits of the two parent plants.
F1 Hybrids are produced from the crossing of two original parent plants. F2 hybrids are a second generation cross, and will generally produce plants that are different from both the original parent and the F1 hybrids.
OP or Open Pollinated Seeds:
These seeds are produced by crossing two parents from the same variety, so the offspring plants will be just like the parents. These can be from H1 hybrids or heirloom seeds. Depending of many factors, it is possible to have non-conforming plants in an open-pollinated variety.
These are seeds from non-hybrid plants that have been grown for generations. Because they have specific traits that are desirable, they have survived. The seeds will be true to the parent plant. Many of these heirloom plants are being brought into favour today by gardeners who value keeping a wide genetic base available. Here’s a great source of heritage heirloom seeds for Canadians.
These are seeds from plants that have been grown in certified organic conditions, and have certification to prove it. Checks are in place to ensure they are not contaminated with pesticides or other sources of contamination. They can also be heirloom, OP or hybrids.
These are seeds that have been treated in some way – with fungicides or pesticides.
These are seeds that have had their genetic make-up altered by replacing certain genes with genes from a totally different species, with the hope that the resulting plants will now have certain ‘desirable’ characteristics. This is only possible with human intervention, and there are many concerns about both the ethics and the results of the GM process. The long term effects of placing, for example, genes from an insect into a plant, have not been tested, and could have disastrous effects in the future.
Few home gardening seeds are GMO, and the catalog will usually mention that they have been avoided.
Gardeners all over the world are seeing the wisdom of growing their own food and growing it organically and sustainably.
So as you choose your seeds this spring, pay attention to the seed types, and make many of your choices heirloom and organic.
Here’s a great link to get a jump start on your spring garden by consulting the Canadian Gardening directory to decide what to plant and where to buy from.