Heirloom Seeds: Selecting and Sourcing non-GMO Seeds

We all know that planning is an important part of gardening. Most people start searching for the next set of seeds in one of many seed catalogues. You know the ones you may get through the post or by email that arrive throughout the autumn, winter, and early spring. There is one thing you may not be aware of when doing so. Did you know that you could be buying GMO seeds? Unless specifically stated that it does not sell GMO seeds, they are probably for sale in those seed catalogues you are reading.

What are GMO seeds?
GMO are “Genetically Modified Organisms” which means that the plants have been modified on a DNA level.
There are various reasons for doing this. It may be to control the output of the harvest. It may be to make the plants resistant to certain insects, viruses and environments. Sometimes it is to make the harvest better suited to storage. Often it is simply to look better on the shelf at your grocery store.

Recently, people have become more aware of GMO seeds and if you want to make certain your seeds are non-GMO, first look for a seed company that proudly proclaims it sells non-GMO seeds. Then, to make sure you are getting heirloom seeds you want to read the catalogue and look for the commonly used notations that describe the seed’s origin. An “H” denotes an heirloom or heritage seed passed down through generations. Sometimes a certain family of farmers grew it and sometimes it is specific to a region in a country. Many seed catalogues are now carrying these heirloom seeds sourced from different countries or brought to the US by immigrants. Save this seed from your harvest to plant next year.

An “OP” denotes open pollinated seeds. These seeds naturally pollinate in the field. Seeds saved from your own harvest this year will grow true to type next year. This is the perfect seed to save for your garden next year and you will not have to buy it again. Find both heirloom and open pollinated seeds in the smaller seeds catalogues, online through the Seed Savers Exchange, and through local seed swaps.

Other designations found in the catalogues are “O” which stands for organic seeds raised on certified organic farms, “U” for untreated which means the seed is not coated with anything, such as a virucidal agent or fungicide. It also means the parent plants grew without fertilizers or pesticides. Hybrid seeds are the seeds from cross-pollinated plants, done to produce improvements in harvest, disease resistance or flavour. The seed will produce the hybrid plant this year but its seeds may not grow true the next year. Unless a hybrid is marked “reproduces true to type” you will have to buy this seed again next year. Hybridization is a man-made seed but it is done naturally by cross-pollination and is not GMO.