Seeds… Really, what is the difference?

Hi Folks,

I am really enjoying a part-time job answering peoples questions about gardening and thought it would be good to share some of the questions and my answers here. Plus I have found some interesting articles written by others, that deserve to be spread around so have included links to those articles below.

“Heirloom” Seeds?
Heirloom seed varieties have been preserved and kept viable for multiple generations of gardeners and sometimes passed down for hundreds of years. They typically have unique attributes that are considered to provide some value, such as exceptional flavour or disease resistance.stock-photo-cereal-grains-and-seeds-rye-wheat-barley-oat-sunflower-corn-flax-poppy

Not all Heirloom Seeds are automatically considered to be Organic seeds.
Just because a seed is heirloom does not make it organic. Organic refers to the way the seed is grown, without use of chemicals, while heirloom refers to the seed’s heritage. Both “Organic” and/or “Heirloom” seeds are Non-GMO.

What are “Open-Pollinated” seeds?
When seeds are pollinated naturally by insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanisms, they are considered Open Pollinated and the seeds of open-pollinated plants will produce new generations of those plants.

What is a “Hybrid” seed?
Hybrid seed is seed produced by cross-pollinated plants. For example, often planting two different varieties of the same family of plants close together in the same garden, will result in the flowers of both varieties cross pollinating. Then the seed produced could have attributes from both varieties appearing in the next generation. Hybrid seed production is predominant in agriculture and home gardening.

F1 Hybrid refers to the first generation of offspring plants produced by a cross of two genetically different parent varieties, usually of the same species. Hybrids can have advantages, including robust growth known as “hybrid vigor,” uniformity, and the fact that they are often bred to be disease resistant. Since the 1920’s, many hybrid varieties have been bred using traditional breeding methods. Seed saved from F1 Hybrids will not grow ‘true-to-type’.

What makes “GMOs” so different?
“Genetically Modified Organisms,” or GMO type of plants or animals are created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology, also called genetic engineering, or GE. This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

You may have heard the term GMO and that many groups around the world are fighting to have foods containing GMOs be labeled or in some cases banned; many countries already require mandatory GMO labels.  GMOs are usually only planted by large-scale mono-crop farmers and cross contamination is a big concern for open-pollinated corn and other crops in the same area as GMO fields.

For how long are seeds “good” and “plant-able?”
Each species is different, but most will last at least 3-4 years under proper storage conditions. The exception is alliums, such as onions or chives, which might only keep for 1-2 years. If you are unsure the seeds are still good then start just a few of the seeds to test their viability.

To keep seeds “fresh,” store them in a cool, dry, dark place. One technique is to put the seed packets in an airtight container with some dry rice grains in the bottom to moderate the humidity, (like mixing dry rice with salt in the salt shaker to keep it flowing). If space allows, you can also store seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, in a zip lock bag or airtight container. Allow seeds to return to room temperature overnight before opening the container to prevent condensation that may spoil the seeds.


Happy Living!
Messy Shepherdess


Organic seed expert: Phil Winteregg –

Seeds of Change FAQ –