Heirloom, Hybrid, and Genetically Modified Seeds

Posted · 20 Comments

Onward Garden Soldiers, It’s time to learn about seeds!  Now that you’ve ordered those seed catalogs, you’ll start to run into terminology for different varieties of seeds.  The most common that you will run into are heirloom and hybrid.

Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom varieties are seeds that have been saved and passed down from generation to generation.  Seeds that have been saved well over 50 to hundreds of years.  These are the thousands of plant varieties that our fore fathers used to nourish our tables and saved the seeds to plant the following year.  These varieties have better flavor, are hardier and have more flexibility than hybrid varieties.  Breeders cannot manipulate complex characteristics such as flavor as easily as they can size and shape. Heirloom seeds are also Open Pollinated, (OP).  This means that the plant is capable of producing seeds that will produce seedlings just like the parent plant.

Hybrid (usually having the symbol F1 or F2 beside the variety name)

A hybrid is a plant that has been cross pollinated by two different plants in order to create the best features from each “parent” plant.  A hybrid seed is not “bad” and can produce a desirable crop.  They are bred to have a variety of traits from disease resistance, early maturation, flavor, productivity, etc..

Cross pollination happens in nature

This is exactly how so many different varieties of vegetables came to be.  They cross pollinated and through nature became naturally more resistant to diseases and fungus.  They grew stronger, better tasting fruit, and eventually stabilized to become it’s own variety.

Another difference you want to keep in mind when purchasing your seeds is whether you are intending on saving the seeds.


Since this will be my first year I intend to save seeds, I will need to make sure and buy Heirloom varieties.  These seeds will produce the exact same plant as the generation before.  Hybrid plants will not.  It’s not known which trait will be more dominant until the seed is grown out and it’s next generation of seeds may be sterile or inferior.  So if your plan is to save seeds, then by all means by Heirloom.  (Later in this series we will also discuss the possibility of cross pollinating and how to strategically plant different varieties of vegetables to prevent this.)

Genetically Modified Seeds

One thing to remember, hybrid plants are NOT genetically modified or GMO seeds.  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) can be any plant, animal or microorganism which have been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering.  Thanks to one of my new blogging friends, Diana (yes, we have the same name, lol!) she did let me know that GMO’s are in vegetable seeds.  As I get more info on this, I’ll dedicate a post to this very subject!!  So I would now definitely recommend to buying Heirloom and Organic variety of seeds.

Why buy organic seeds?  If you grow them organically won’t they be organic?

Many conventional seeds are sprayed with anti fungals and pesticides.  You can definitely buy non organic, non GMO, untreated seeds.  However, By buying organic you are not only supporting a movement but also being assured that the seed will take on stronger traits usually in flavor and hardiness.

*Tip – When you buy your seeds, save what you don’t use in the freezer.  They should keep for about 3 years.

Now that you’ve learned about what types of seeds are out there, it’s time to start planning when to start our seeds.  Next week we’ll learn about zones and a spring planting calendar.  This will allow us to plan when to start planting our seeds to ensure we have them outside according to which zone we live in.

Until next week garden soldiers!

Part 1: Ordering Seed Catalogs
Part 2: Understanding the differences between Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO, and Organic Seeds
Part 3: Planting Zones, Frost Dates, and Planting Calendars
Part 4. Understanding Succession Planting
Part 5. Spring Time is Near! It’s Time to Start Those Seedlings!
Part 6. Growing Seeds Indoors Under Supplemental Lighting
Part 7. Tending your seedlings
Part 8. Methods of Urban Gardening

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Cheeseslave and Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

20 Responses to "Heirloom, Hybrid, and Genetically Modified Seeds"
  1. 3 hungry tummies says:

    Thanks for the post :) I'm growing some heirloom tomatoes at the moment, can't wait for the harvest day :)

  2. Ruth says:

    So much great info!! Would have never even thought about it before! I left you a little something over on my blog.

  3. My Little Space says:

    Great info, Diana! Getting ready for the gardening already?

  4. Kristen says:

    Spring Fever!! My Baker's Creek hasn't arrived, and I'm getting antsy. :-) So, I look at the seeds online.

  5. April says:

    I bought some seeds over the weekend and I am waiting *patiently* on my catalogs that I have ordered. thank you for doing this! This will be my first garden and I am more confident being lead by you! Thank you!!

  6. Divina Pe says:

    Great info Diana. Now, I understand. I bought some seeds before but I always ask our gardener to plant it for me. Most of them are herb seeds. Every time I do the planting, they don't grow well.:D

  7. lululu says:

    very useful post here.
    btw, did u take the picture yourself. i like it a lot. it's rustic yet artistic!

  8. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction says:

    Great tips! I always worry about the planting soil, but never really gave much thought to whether or not the seeds are organic! I will pay attention now!

  9. Fuji Mama says:

    Such a great informative post! Keeping track of all the terminology can be so confusing–nice to know I have a post to come back to if I get confused! LOVE that first picture!

  10. natalie says:

    Thanks Diana! I have always been intimidated by starting my own seeds, but I look forward to next week and knowing when to start my seeds so they are ready in time to be planted here in sunny Eastern WA!

  11. WizzyTheStick says:

    very useful post. I'd be interesed in learning more about preventing cross pollination as happens with my peppers. i plant a sweet and a hot variety and sometimes the seet ones end up hot because of cross pollination

  12. Juls @ Juls' Kitchen says:

    Thank you Diana! Interesting and useful as ever!

  13. Diana says:

    I'm Diana too! And I'm orginally from Southeast Iowa! Now I'm in Maryland, but I've been an avid gardener for about 10 years. I would totally be interested in doing a gardening blog thing or guest posting or whatnot. I'm on my second year in a community organic garden now, and have made progress in learning about those techniques and practices. Also, just FYI there *are* GMO vegetable seeds on the market…so buyer beware.

  14. Diana Bauman says:

    Thanks everyone! This is so exciting for me. I'm thinking about maybe starting a mr.linky so we can post up and share what we're doing!! Let me know what you think about that!

    Diana, I'm so glad you found me! Thank you for that GMO vegetable seed info!! I need to ask more about that from you! I'll be emailing you for sure :D

  15. Raine Saunders says:

    Hi Diana – I love all this great information about gardening and the GMO data in particular because it highlights something that is critical to know about that many people are still aware of. And the GMO issue is so pervasive in our food supply! I haven't gotten going on seed ordering, but I know I need to do that very soon! Thanks Diana! :)

  16. angela@spinachtiger says:

    Do you have any recommendations for which organic seeds to purchase, which catalogues?

  17. Marija says:

    I am learning so much from you about these things! Along with what my father and grandma thought me, one day, when I have a house and a garden I think I'll be fine :) You have integrated so much great topics into this blog.

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