One of the first things I did when preparing for my garden this year was dig into the two seed catalogs I had ordered. Both catalogs were free when I ordered them online from the seed companies. The first was from High Mowing Organic Seeds and the second was from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Both of these were recommended companies from friends and favorite bloggers, and both are non-GMO organic seeds. Organic seeds aren’t ever GMO, by the way, so a lack of a non-GMO label doesn’t automatically mean that seeds are GMO.
I know that the verdict is still out on the safety of consuming GMOs; some people will say it’s definitely safe, some will say it’s definitely unsafe. However, there’s more problems with GMOs than just whether they’re safe to eat, including their limitation of genetic diversity, the problems with having patented seeds that can ruin a small farmer if his or her seeds get contaminated with GMO seeds, the increased need for pesticides on GMO crops, etc. Three of the biggest GMO crops–corn, cotton, and soybeans–have required a tenfold increase of herbicides such as Roundup in less than fifteen years, and some weeds are becoming resistant to herbicides from this overuse. Roundup comes with its own list of problems.
I’d also like to point out that there’s a difference between regular breeding and genetic modification done in a lab and then patented by huge companies. People tend to say that genetic modification has been done for a long time and therefore we shouldn’t be bothered by GMOs, but that’s like saying manipulating the DNA of embryos in a lab to get a “super-breed” is comparable to breeding different species of dogs together to try to get the best traits of the two breeds. They’re different things, and it may just be that lab manipulation carries consequences that breeding, with its inherent limitations, never would.
I could also be wrong. It may be that all the things I see as definite or potential problems really aren’t, and we’re all going to totally embrace GMOs over the next few decades with only a few fringe-nuts holding out. But I’m going to hold off on totally trusting GMOs for now.
That brings me to another thing: the difference between heirloom, open-pollinated, and hybrid varieties.
Some people see the word “hybrid” and think that they are genetically modified, but its really just good ole fashioned breeding. Two varieties are naturally bred together through cross-pollination to create a hybrid variety with desirable traits from both. Unfortunately, most hybrids don’t create seeds true to the hybrid, and the results can be some pretty unsatisfactory plants, so you don’t want to save seeds from hybrids. It’s kind of like breeding a donkey and a horse together. You’ll get a mule, which is great, but mules are infertile so you’re not going to get offspring out of that mule.
Open-pollinated varieties aren’t hybrids and will produce seeds that can be saved. Open-pollinated simply means that these can be pollinated normally (hello, bees!) and will breed true to the parent plants. If you’re good at seed-saving, you potentially only have to buy these once and use the same variety over and over for years to come. If you find a variety you like, please consider doing this!
Heirloom are breeds that have been passed down through a few generations. Some seed companies will only consider a variety an heirloom if its been around for at least 50 years. The seed savers exchange doesn’t have an age minimum, but defines an heirloom as any variety that has been documented as being saved and passed on through generations. All heirlooms are open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.
I found more of my vegetables from High Mowing than from Baker Creek, but both were wonderful catalogs to browse. High Mowing did a beautiful job at laying out their selection of seeds — a mixed selection of open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid varieties — in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand way. I was able to easily choose varieties that fit my needs (i.e. spring, summer, or overwintering lettuce) or that would be most adaptable to this climate (i.e. King of the North bell peppers). Flipping through this catalog was a bit like being on gardener’s crack.
Baker Creek has the appeal of heirloom varieties that our great-grandparents grew before breeding for uniformity for the grocery store became so common. Their layout and the information they provide isn’t as thorough or easy to navigate, but they certainly had some amazing plants available. I was surprised with the appeal of some of the herbs and flowers in Baker Creek’s catalog. Half of what I’m ordering from them isn’t even vegetables!
I had to practice some realism here. I have limited gardening space and limited funds. While it’s true that this will (hopefully) pay itself back quickly, I had to keep the initial cost reasonable. With that in mind, I was careful to circle only varieties that were most likely to get eaten by us or, if we have an abundance, immediate family. I certainly want to have enough to pressure can and store and/or gift and abundance of vegetables eventually, but that’s probably going to have to wait for future years when I have more of a seed store built up and more resources to work with.
Once I’d gone through and circled what I wanted to order, I wrote it all down, priced it out, and okayed the final tally with my husband. Thankfully my care in choosing paid off, and he didn’t ask me to cross anything off to spend less. I think the most expensive seed packet was $3.30, and most were $2.75. The great thing about buying from seed is that it is much less expensive in the long run, and it’s rare to use a whole seed packet in one season. Even if you do, there’s usually dozens or even hundreds of seeds in a packet. High-quality seeds have high germination rates, which means most of the seeds will produce vegetables. For a maximum cost of $3.30, I could potentially get dozens or perhaps even hundreds of some of these plants, if I had the space and desire to grow that much.
I don’t, by the way.
Now that we’re most of the way through the gardening season, I can say I’m happy with these seeds. The germination rates have been good. I lost a lot of starts to damping off disease, but that has nothing to do with the seed companies. I even had good germination rates with the ones I started in late spring outdoors. Everything that I haven’t killed through neglect while having a baby or that I didn’t save from the slugs has grown well, and I have one squash plant (I thought it was pumpkin but now that its setting fruit I think its spaghetti squash) that has gone crazy. Its a good thing we enjoy spaghetti squash!
The great thing about growing organic varieties is that the parent plants and the seeds have already proven more-or-less hardy without the aid of petroleum-based fertilizers or toxic pesticides. (I don’t mean toxic in the buzzword way; I mean that exposure is linked to cancer and other problems. Literally toxic.) Other than some Sluggo (child and pet safe organic slug killer) to keep the slugs from mowing down baby plants, I haven’t had to do anything but let the plants grow and give them some fish emulsion (organic fertilizer), and they are absolutely thriving with only that level of care. No MiracleGro, no pesticides that I can’t apply too close to harvesting time because they’re bad for us too, nothing of that sort has been necessary to help these plants grow well.
The long and short is that I will definitely be getting the High Mowing and Baker Creek catalogs again for the 2017 growing year. I have not been disappointed with the companies at all.