It’s easy to understand the benefits of organic vegetables and fruit. After all, these foods are going into our bodies. We don’t want to eat chemicals that are toxic to other animals, and we want to eat plants that are grown in healthy soil, because healthy soil yields nutritious plants.
However, it’s a larger leap for some to use organic seeds. Why not simply head down to the grocery store or the corner garden store and buy the least expensive packet of seeds that you can get? Why source out organic seeds? In the world of seeds, organic has a whole new meaning, and this meaning matters to vegetable gardeners.
Why Use Organic Seeds
Why use organic seeds? First, the obvious: organic seeds are like organic food. Farmers who produce seed crops use heavy concentrations of chemicals to produce these crops. Since seeds are not used directly for food, they have fewer regulations on chemical use. Choosing organic seeds reduces the pesticide load on local and global ecosystems.
Organic seeds are more than just pesticide-free, however. They are also diverse. Many organic seeds are heirloom crops or seeds that are specifically adapted to a particular area. Find a lettuce that will last the winter, or find a pale yellow variety of carrot. Look for vegetables that are particular to another culture and may thrive in your own garden, or grow vegetables that people have half-forgotten, like kohlrabi, the vegetable that looks like a UFO. Eating diverse food and growing diverse crops makes people and gardens healthier and more resilient.
Organic seeds are tough and adaptive. Since they are not artificially boosted with pesticides and fertilizers, organic seed crops have to struggle a bit more to survive. When a seed farmer chooses the most resilient of these plants to harvest, your own garden reaps the benefits of these tough and hardy plants.
Organic plants resist disease. They are naturally tough, since they have not been able to rely on pesticides to help them survive the vagaries of plant diseases. Producers have chosen the plants that are the healthiest and most resistant. This means that in your garden, these plants will require less pest and disease control.
Organic seeds are free seeds. Yes, you still pay for them, but no one owns these seeds. You can collect them, share them, or sell them to friends. They are not patented or owned by a company, nor are they genetically-modified. An organic pea is an organic pea, without the addition or deletion of any DNA.
The Difference Between Hybrid and Open-Pollinated Seeds
Hybrids are good, right? In cars, yes. In seeds, that’s debatable. Hybrid seeds are artificially cross-pollinated to produce plants that have characteristics that gardeners may desire. They might be very green and long zucchinis or they might be resistant to a particular pest. The unfortunate thing about hybrid seeds is that they cannot be saved, because hybrid plant babies do not breed true to the parents. These seeds need to be purchased every year.
There are hybrid organic seeds available to commercial growers. However, the organic seeds that are widely available to the home gardener also tend to be open-pollinated, and this provides another advantage. Open-pollinated seeds are adaptive to their environment. While they may not yield exactly the same beans every year, seeds that are allowed to pollinate freely in your garden can yield plants that are well-adapted to the local conditions in your yard. You can save their seeds, and if you save the seeds from the plants that you enjoy and from the plants that thrive in your garden, then you will develop a plant that is adapted to your own garden.
Where to Get Organic Seeds
Seed companies abound, and the best venue for many small organic seed companies is the internet. Finding an outlet for organic seeds is often as easy as placing your country and your search terms into a search engine. Look for seed companies in your own country, since many companies cannot and will not ship seeds across borders due to international regulations about the trade in plants.
Some well-established US-based organic seed companies include:
- High Mowing Organic Seeds has certified organic seeds for commercial and home growers. They are located in Vermont.
- Wild Garden Seed is located in the Pacific Northwest and sells many organic seeds that grow well in that area.
- Seeds of Change Organic Seeds offers more than a thousand varieties of certified organic seeds.
Many home gardeners are now choosing to save their seeds and swap them with friends and neighbors. Seed-saving is an important skill. Many food crops are remarkably easy to save, and these crops breed true year after year. Tomatoes and beans are among them. Others like squash take a little more time and skill, as they tend to cross-pollinate with related but distinct crops to produce odd hybrids. Learning how to save seeds, seed potatoes, and take cuttings is an effective way to propagate your crops for free. Here’s an online tutorial to saving seeds.
Look for local seed saving associations online. There are many local seed swaps. US-based national organizations include the Seed Savers Exchange and the Southern Seed Legacy Project.
Choosing organic seeds is making the choice to support diversity and resilience. You’re growing a little bit of the earth’s diversity in your garden. Perhaps it’s a brand of heritage seeds, or maybe you decide to save your own seeds and let them adapt to your own garden. By choosing seeds that grow into plants that are inherently resilient, you’re improving the genetic stock of our food plants and letting it get to know your local area.
Tricia Edgar loves her small garden. She is an organic gardener who is intrigued by permaculture, straw bale and cob building, and green roof design. She also runs a sustainable skills mentorship program.