Talking about Seeds

...Heirloom. Open-Pollinated. Hybrid. Genetically Engineered...

All of those are terms used to describe seeds.

Some invoke strong feelings, like pleasure (remembering the taste of Grandma's tomatoes) or anger/confusion (seeing fields of soybeans being sprayed down with Round-Up).

First, lets get a clear definitions. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been around before 1945 (the common cut-off for a plant to be considered an heirloom), most often saved by home gardeners after they were dropped by seed companies and replaced by hybrids. Many of these heirlooms came about from amateur plant breeders who created hybrids then stabilized the variety by choosing the features they wanted from that plant year after year. Some heirlooms were created by professional plant breeders (using the same means as amateurs) for specific seed companies or growing regions.
Other heirlooms are family heirlooms, like our corn that we grow out to grind into cornmeal. My Baba (Grandmother) bought a package of Amazing Early Alberta flint corn and after planting it the first year saved the best cobs for seed and planted those next year instead of buying new seed. We still save Baba's Early AB corn seed 40 years later. It may not conform to more traditional definitions of heirloom, but it's definitely one to us!

Hybrids are the off-spring of a naturally occurring cross pollination. Sometimes it takes a little help from humans by hand-pollinating or ensuring the weather conditions (too damp, too dry, too cold, etc) don't interfere. Seeds saved from hybrids are not "true". They split back into their parents or into something else entirely (may be good or not so good). Sometimes a variety is listed as hybrid when it has actually been stabilized into an open-pollinated variety. There is NOTHING WRONG with planting hybrids, especially if you're not saving seeds and have crop-killing diseases in your area. Many hybrids are bred specifically to be resistant to late-blight, powdery mildew, mosaic virus, etc. You could always try to stabilize your favourite hybrid varieties if you're worried that the seed companies may drop it (which happens).

All heirlooms are open-pollinated but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms. Many open-pollinated varieties are too new to be considered an heirloom but their seeds can be saved from year to year and come-true, unless some natural cross-pollination occurred. Every year amateur and professional breeders release new open-pollinated types for home and market gardeners to enjoy. Some of them many even become the heirlooms 50 years from now!

All of these types of seeds, unless marked TM, are suitable for plant breeders to use as parent stock. 

tm plant variety.JPG

You'll notice I said Genetically Engineered, not genetically modified, earlier. All plants (and animals) are genetically modified organisms. Every time something reproduces it is never exactly the same. It has been modified, in some way, on a genetic level. Technically, not so bad.
What humans (mostly those working for chemical companies) are doing is engineering seeds. Changing the DNA by adding/subtracting something that could never have occurred in nature. It could only happen in a lab. These seeds are patented and only authorized farms may have those seeds in their possession and they are absolutely not allowed to save seed to replant the following year.

                     Click to read an article on Dr.Shiva by The New Yorker magazine

                     Click to read an article on Dr.Shiva by The New Yorker magazine

I understand that activists use the term GMO instead of GE, but just know that from a science perspective that they do mean different things. And it's always important to have proper information if you want to make informed choices.

So, are GE seeds so bad?

There's no denying that canola yields have increased exponentially since introducing Round-Up ready hybrids. But what is all that canola used for? If there were no fast food empires to use all that canola oil, would we really need so much? Canada can't use all of it. What happens when other countries stop importing GE foods? What will happen to Canadian agriculture?

Do we need GE crops to  "feed the world"? Are most GE crops actual food crops or do they go to processed foods that ultimately have no nutritional value? Do engineered crops really produce more food per acre than sustainable farm practices? Can we use traditionally bred seeds instead of GE seeds and obtain the same result? Is it the seeds that's the problem or that they are often covered in pesticides? How do GE farming practices affect the soil and soil life? Is it because of GE crops that animal feedlots still exist? Would livestock welfare be better if organic feed and pastures were the norm?

What if our governments started supporting sustainable and renewable farming practices?  

Would we, would our planet, be healthier?


Canada has a very strong agricultural history, with very strong opinions. There's even a campaign to help farmers share their stories with Canadians about our agriculture. It is, of course, needed as much of the information Canadians receive about agriculture is from the USA, where they often have very different farming practices than we do. Not to say Canadian Ag is perfect, nothing ever is (especially when designed by humans), and there has been mistakes made (feeding beef to cattle, that was bound to fail), but many horror stories from USA don't apply here. 
Ag More Than Ever


We at Vesta Gardens choose to grow heirloom and open-pollinated varieties so we can save seeds and create landrace (Future Heirloom) varieties best suited for our area (and taste buds!).  We continually work to create more life within our soil so we can grow high-nutrient value food crops. 

Tour farms. Ask questions. Be informed. 
- Deb


Please feel free to use the comment section for respectful discussion. I will be moderating.