Heirloom Seeds vs. Hybrid vs. GMO Infographic
As a new gardener, I was not aware that there were differences in seed types. As I was looking to purchase my first set of seeds, I noticed some were labeled as heirloom. As I researched further, I noticed there was a difference between heirloom, hybrid, and GMO. If you have also been having some trouble understanding the differences then check out the infographic below! It should help clear up some of the misunderstandings between the different seed types. Keep in mind, however, that GMO seeds are generally not available to home gardeners.
What is Heirloom?
Heirloom seeds basically come from open-pollinated plants. This natural process allows the parent heirloom plants to pass on the similar characteristics to the child plant. Although there is no concrete definition that every gardener would agree on in terms of when heirloom plants were introduced, one thing we know for sure is that they breed true. In terms of introduction some gardeners state that they were introduced before 1951, while others state that they were introduced before the 1920s.
One confusion regarding heirloom plants is whether they are organic or non-organic. In general, most gardeners who grow heirloom plants do so organically. Heirloom and organic can’t be compared apple-to-apple. Heirloom refers to a lineage, while organic refers to a practice. For example, organic refers to growing plants without the use of chemical like pesticide. Most heirloom varieties are generally grown using the organic method.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid vs. GMO
As we mentioned earlier, the main characteristic about heirloom is its ability to breed true. The same cannot be said for the other two types. For example, hybrid plants can also form naturally by cross-pollinating. However, as a result of the cross-pollination, the child plant no longer reflects the same characteristics as the parent plant. Instead, it reflects a variety of characteristics from each parent plant (which can come from different varieties). This can offer some benefits. GMO plants, meanwhile, can not form naturally. They are produced in the labs using methods like gene splicing. They are not available to the general public but they are starting to be used more often for large-scale commercial farming. An example of a GMO plant is the bt-corn.
Why Grow Heirloom Seeds
Even though hybrid plants do offer a lot of benefits, it may not be in the best interest for a gardener who is looking to follow a sustainable gardening practice. Because hybrid plants don’t breed true, there is no guarantee as to how the child plant would turn out. As for heirloom seeds, gardeners can feel confident that they can grow a similar batch of plants from generation to generation. Other benefits also include taste and flavor. For some fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, the heirloom varieties are considered to have more taste and nutrients. It’s also important to note that heirloom varieties play an important role in preserving genetic diversity. Hybrid plants would not have existed without the heirlooms.
Where to Find Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom seeds are becoming more accessible in the market. You can easily find great seed exchanges or seed companies online that provide heirloom seeds for all sorts of vegetables and plants. If you want to obtain your seeds locally, you may want to check out places like the local botanical garden or farm. When you are shopping for heirloom seeds online, try and look for the Safe Seed Pledge, which is a good sign that the company can be trusted for providing heirloom seeds to the gardening market. You will notice that many of the big heirloom seeds farms and companies are part of this pledge.