Knowledge gives us the power to make informed decisions. And there is no more perfect example of that than in the garden. Knowing the very basics like what seeds to use: hybrid, GMO, and/or heirloom seeds, is the ideal way to begin (or hone) your gardening journey.
I would never consider myself a garden expert. Ever. Far from it actually. Each year feels like being a beginner all over again. That’s the beauty and struggle of gardening, it’s one constant lesson.
In truth though, I’ve been gardening for over 22 years. First by helping my parents with their garden and then later, after marriage and a home purchase, branching out on my own and gardening solo for the past 13 years. Through that time I’ve established and maintained three different gardens, including this current one, which has been a huge learning curve. I’m now gardening in red Tennessee clay, versus the sandy dirt of Washington State.
I’m only sharing this because there are many people on the internet who acquire knowledge by reading google and then write as if they’re instant experts. You won’t find that here. I’ve been in the ditches of gardening. Literally. For years. And believe me, first-hand experience with plants and nurturing them trumps any kind of reading you’ll ever do.
Get informed, then get busy
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with research. Just know that research means nothing without implementation.
And to be blunt, you will make mistakes.
Knowing that gives you the freedom to fail. Failure is another lesson, and from it, you’ll acquire knowledge.
Growing from Seed
Growing from seed is a great way to start a garden. Often, you can find many more varieties in seed selections online than in stores or local nurseries. I find that especially true with storage varieties.
That’s right, if you plan to store your produce over winter, you will need storage hardy plants. An onion isn’t just an onion, there are ones that are best eaten fresh, and there are ones that once dried correctly, will last for months in cold storage. Often, the local nursery sells only a few, popular varieties and most of those are not the storage types.
As an added bonus, if you’re planning on a medium to large size garden, there are significant savings in starting your own plants from home. You can pay $4 for one 5″ pepper plant, or pay $5 for a pack of 50+ seeds. Sure, one requires more elbow grease than the other, but for decent savings, if planting a lot, it’s worth the time!
A note on smaller gardens
If you’re planting a small patio garden or just a few pots, the money savings and seed wasting will most likely not make growing from seed worth it. In this case, don’t feel guilty purchasing a few starts from the store.
However, if you have a gardener friend, ask if they’d spare a few seeds. Most likely they’ll be more than willing to share the bounty from their packages! (And bonus, if they’re heirloom seeds, you can implement seed saving for years to come. More on that later.)
What kind of seeds should you use?
I grow heirlooms and hybrids! Continue reading to find out why.
There are typically three kinds of seeds to pick from:
GMO (Genetically Modified)
What is the differences between them?
We’ll start with the oldest variety, heirloom.
An heirloom seed can only be classified as such if it is at least 50 years old without being modified at all within that time. You can save the seeds from your heirloom plants and get the same plant year after year. Heirlooms are not hybrids and are never GMO.
Are heirloom seeds harder to grow?
Some people think so, but others say it’s up for debate.
Heirlooms have not been hybridized, so they often lack disease resistance. This can make them more susceptible than those that are hybrid to withstand molds or pests.
On the other hand, heirlooms are often said to have better taste and smell. Plus, you can seed save year to year and get the same plant each time. With hybrids, that’s not possible.
Hybrids can often get confused as falling under the GMO category, and that’s simply not the case.
Essentially, hybrid seeds are ones that have been “made” with two heirloom varieties, taking the best from each plant, and helping it to form a new, better plant. You cannot save the seeds from hybrid plants to reuse the next year. They will not grow the same plant you put in the dirt the year previously. They will grow a version of one of their parent plants.
I once had it explained to me like this:
A hybrid is like a husband and wife having a baby. The hybrid plant, or “baby”, has traits from each of its parent plants.
Hybrids can be bred to be drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, and many other things. If you live in an extreme climate or have a short growing season, hybrid seeds could be your best gardening friend. They also usually have a higher yield and more flowers.
GMO Seeds | Genetically Modified
A GMO seed is unlike a hybrid. Where a hybrid is simply an offspring of two parents, (we’ll stick with the same example) a GMO is like the doctor going into the womb of the pregnant woman, and modifying the child to have blue eyes, be six feet tall, and dictating the baby’s complete makeup).
GMOs also mess with the natural order of things, spreading and choking out plants natural to an area.
One study cited: GMO crops have a potentially negative effect on genetic diversity in the environment at large. Genetically-engineered plants have invaded roadsides, fallow fields, and even backyards. A study in South Dakota found that over 85% of roadside-growing canola plants were GMO contaminated. (source)
Another source states: The prevalence of GMOs in major field crops threatens the genetic diversity of our food supply. Genetic diversity helps individual species adjust to new conditions, diseases, and pests, and can aid ecosystems in adapting to a changing environment or severe conditions like drought or floods. (source)
Thankfully, at this time, GMO seeds are not a huge issue for the family gardener.
Most genetically modified seeds are for large harvest crops, like canola, corn, and soy to name a few. However, always be on the lookout and steer clear if you ever come across any.
My favorite seed sites
I spend way too many hours in January surfing the seed websites, looking at all the wonderful varieties of veg and flowers available. My heart goes pitter-patter as picture myself walking through rows of beautiful lush plants in just a few short months.
But I digress.
These are a few of my favorite seed websites:
Johnny’s Seeds – My main spot to purchase my vegetables each year. Typically, they have a great germination rate.
Bakers Creek – Heirloom seeds only. Has a great selection of flowers, as well as herbs and vegetables. Always free shipping!
Eden Brothers – Flower Bulbs and Heirloom Seeds
Filaree Garlic Farm – Garlic, potatoes, asparagus, and shallots
Floret Flowers – A wide selection of heat-loving flowers and foliage, plus select hardy annual and sweet peas.
High Mowing Organic Seeds – 100% organic seeds. (I’ve purchased herbs and calendula from them)
Botanical Interests – I’ve purchased calendula from them as well.
David Austin Roses – Shout out to the best roses. The smell and blooms. . . so so good.
Tools of the trade:
Want to learn how to build the best garden beds? I have a tutorial here.