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Know Your Seeds – Heirloom vs Hybrid vs GMO Seeds

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Hey DirtMagicians!

Thanks for stopping by to read the post on Heirloom Vs Hybrid Vs GMO Seeds in this blog post we cover different seeds available in the market – Heirloom, hybrid and GMO seeds and the possible benefits of growing each.

Click below to download our Freebie for a mouth-watering "Roma Tomato Salsa Recipe and Some easy tips to grow Heirloom seeds”. This delicious salsa is one you can serve with your chips and tortillas and serve as a delicious snack!

The tips we have included in the freebie will help you take good care if you plan to plant heirloom seeds.

Garden planning- the decision of what must be grown, creating a garden plan, making decisions about what to start from seed vs direct sown outdoors is a big task- especially for a new gardener!

Many new gardeners are not aware that there are different types of seeds they can use to grow their veggie garden and it’s best they don’t worry about it! That’s the type of education best saved for later in one’s food-growing journey.

The purpose of this blog post is to educate you about the types of seeds you can use as a veggie gardener- heirloom, hybrid or GMO seeds.

What are the main differences between each of these seed varieties? The difference mainly lies in how the seeds are reproduced: through open-pollination, selective breeding or through the alteration of the DNA structure. Additionally, how these genes are carried through generations also distinguishes them from each other.

So, let's dive into each one of the seed varieties:

What are heirloom seeds?

Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation. The term "heirloom" was first used in the United States in the 1930s to describe old-fashioned varieties of plants.

However, the classification of Heirloom has been a much-debated classification – some argue that any variety grown before World War II are heirloom while others consider varieties grown before 1951 as heirlooms. The first hybrid variety of seed became in 1951- so arguably anything grown prior to this year is considered an heirloom in some circles. Another argument by gardeners and farmers who have passed seeds of their favourite varieties down a few generations, also consider those seeds as heirloom varieties.

The most distinguishing factor of Heirlooms is that they are open-pollinated, which means the seeds are pollinated by Mother Nature– by insects, birds etc, and not through (human) intervention. These seeds are then preserved over the years.

For instance, San Marzano Tomatoes, a variety of plum tomatoes, the first seeds of which were a gift from the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples in 1770 in Italy, and were planted in the small town of San Marzano Sul Samo, hence, the name. They also form the main gene in Roma tomatoes.

The good old classic seeds carry with them their own set of benefits, and that's why our ancestors preserved them with so much care and affection.

Some compelling reasons to grow Heirloom varieties –

Nutritional density:

Most Heirloom varieties carry with them a unique taste and nutritional composition. Like the Red rice, which is mentioned in ancient texts of Sustra, Charaka and Ayurveda, they are a rich source of iron, antioxidants and minerals. One reason for this is that heirlooms take time to grow and produce fruit in comparison to their hybrid alternatives, providing the fruit with the time to ripen slowly and evenly.

Seeds can be stored and used during the next growing season –

With every harvest comes time to select seeds which will help next year's production. The heirloom varieties carry in them their unique genes. Since heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, their produce will remain almost identical to their parent plant (Note of caution: only when you grow different plants at safe distance, especially veggies in the same family – else you might end up with cross-pollinated seeds)

Once the seeds dry, put them in seed-saving envelopes and store them for the next season.

Less expensive –

As a gardener, the cost is an important factor. Heirloom seeds are more affordable than their contemporaries, which require special breeding facilities to reproduce. This however depends- if you were to run into someone selling a rare breed of heirloom seeds, this could be potentially more expensive than its hybrid counterpart because it’s rare.

Save your biodiversity –

There has been a decline in biodiversity due to many human-caused factors such as land usage for personal gains, global warming etc. So, heirlooms can provide you with a way and a chance to contribute to saving biodiversity as these are the seeds passed down over generations.

Let’s now move on to Hybrid seeds:

What are Hybrid Seeds?

Hybridization has been long known to mankind and has been fundamental in the evolution of lineages. Hybridization in domesticated plants or seeds is undertaken to produce vigorous seeds- which ideally produce more food.

How are hybrid seeds produced?

In order to produce hybrid seeds, the breeder must first identify two plants that grow well together and make sure they are compatible in terms of growing conditions and genetic makeup. The breeder then crosses these two parents and selects the best offspring to continue breeding with. This process is repeated until a plant is bred which has desirable characteristics and its seeds are termed Hybrid seeds.

An astonishing and lesser known fact about hybrids is that they came into existence in 1716-17 when Thomas Fairchild, an English Gardener, successfully crossbred a Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and a Carnation pink and produced the first artificial hybrid, Dianthus Caryophyllus barbatus, known as "Fairchild's Mule".

But, it wasn't until the 1930's that hybrid seeds gained popularity when companies like Robinson Seed, Lauber Hybrids, Hoegemeyer Hybrids, etc, started selling hybrid seeds.

But a quick note about hybrid seeds is that it’s not recommended to save seeds of a plant- because the saved seed won’t guarantee the same properties of the original hybrid seed. The saved seed might take on the properties of one of the parent plants, over the other.

So, that's that of hybrid seeds folks!

Hybrid seeds have lots of advantages -which has made the hybrid seed industry valued at a whopping $59,555.2 million in 2020, and is estimated to reach $166,189.8 million by 2031, registering a CAGR of 9.6% from 2022 to 2031, as stated in a report by Allied Market Research titled, "Hybrid Seeds Market by Crop, Duration, Seed Treatment and Farm Type: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2022-2031,"

Advantages of growing hybrid seeds in your garden –

Higher yields –

One of the reasons that led to the birth of hybrids was the need to have high yields in domesticated plants. The ever-increasing population and the rising demand for food added to it. Research conducted by G.N. Collins, Bureau of Plant Industry describes how different hybrids of corn seed yield an average of 10-11% higher than the pure strains.

Disease-resistant –

Plants are susceptible to many diseases as we all know. Protecting them against such diseases is a primary concern amongst gardeners worldwide. Hybrid seeds come to the rescue here. This is because hybrid seeds are bred from two different types of the same vegetable but different varieties that have been selected for their resistance to specific pests and diseases, as also found in a study: Multiple Disease Resistance in Interspecific Hybrids of Potato.

Great for a newbie gardener- Hybrid seeds produce higher yields and are disease-resistant in general which makes them a great option for a beginner gardener. However we encourage gardeners to plant a couple of varieties of heirlooms and experiment with growing them because the flavour is so unique, it adds to your garden’s biodiversity and it’s like nothing you can purchase at a grocery store!

Let’s chat about our last variety of seeds- GMO seeds

What are GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) Seeds?

Genetic modification technology was developed in the 1970's and was introduced in the Pharma sector by 1980's but it was in 1986 that it was tested in agriculture, when the first field trials of genetically engineered tobacco plants resistant to herbicides were carried out in the US and France.

And it wasn't until 1994, that the first GMO produce was developed through genetic engineering – Flavr Savr, a GMO tomato – and was available for sale.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) can be a plant, animal or microorganism whose genetic makeup has been altered by genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering is a way of altering the DNA of an organism by adding new genetic material from another organism. This can be done in many ways, including using viruses or bacteria to carry the new genes into cells or using direct injection methods to insert them into plant embryos.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered to produce a specific trait. For instance, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans (soybeans resistant to glyphosate) contain genes inserted from other species of plants that allow them to survive exposure to glyphosate (a common herbicide). As of 2019, over 140 GM foods had been permitted for sale in Canada. In the US, the numbers are far less, but they cover a large variety of food grown in the US including canola, cotton, soybean corn, potato and apples.

The use of GM crops has always been a much-debated topic! But, despite that, GMO seeds are widely used in food production, because of their specific advantages.

Why GMO seeds are being used (The pros) –

Lower cost –

GMO seeds are produced for their specificity. They require less land to yield higher productivity and are low maintenance as the traits induced are pest, disease, herbicide and drought resistance – bringing down the overall cost of production at large. For instance, Bt Corn, is enhanced to protect against insect pests.

Increased food production and less use of pesticides –

GMO seeds lead to significantly increased quantities of food crops in comparison to other varieties of seeds. In a review published in 2014, it was stated that GM crops have allowed an average increase in agricultural yield by 22 percent and increased farmers' profits by 68 percent. No wonder, today more than 90% of cotton, corn and soybeans planted in the US are genetically modified, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

So, DirtMagicians, that brings us to the end of the blog post

GMO seeds don’t make an appearance in a vegetable gardener's realm- so you don’t have to worry about furthering your education on GMO seeds in general! We recommend you grow both hybrid and heirloom varieties in your garden. The hybrid seeds will ensure easy production and large yields- which is wonderful for newbies. The heirloom seeds will ensure that you grow delicious, nutrient-dense and unique flavours that are not available at any grocery stores or most farmer’s markets!

And at DirtMagicians we love hearing from you. So let us know what varieties of seeds you have been growing- comment below!

Click below to download our Roma Tomato Salsa Recipe and Tips to Grow Heirloom Seeds Freebie.

Sayonara for now! Happy growing ☺

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