Send off the clones

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When selecting seeds, chose open-pollinated varieties, and save your seeds so that you can produce genetically diverse plants that thrive in your micro-climate.

Open-pollinated seeds

Open-pollinated seeds are pollinated by animals–such as insects, birds, or humans–or wind.  There’s genetic diversity–or variation within the species.  The individual plants that thrive are the ones that flourish in the specific growing conditions, and produce viable seeds.  The species slowly adapts and evolves.

Hybrid seeds

Hybrid seeds may occur in nature, but more often occur as a result of human intervention, to breed for a specific trait.  All plants of a hybrid species are the same, and they all mature at the same time (which may be inconvenient for the backyard gardener).  Commercial hybrid seeds are often labelled “F1”.  The problem with hybrids is that if you save their seeds and plant them the next year, they’re less robust than their parents, and they produce irregular specimens.  In order to produce the hybrid plant, you have to buy new seeds each year.

GMO seeds

GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds are created in a lab.  The DNA of viruses, bacteria, animals, and other vegetables are injected into them to make them “better”.  They’re resistant to certain pests, and diseases.  Each year, farmers must purchase licenses to use these seeds and their companion pesticides; they’re not allowed to reuse seeds.  Issues arise when seeds drift into other farmer’s fields, or cross-pollinate with their plants.  (There have been cases in which GMO seed companies have pursued legal action against farmers who were accused of stealing seed simply because it blew from a neighbour’s field.)

GMOs have not been proven safe.  In fact, many studies show they don’t increase yield, but they do increase cost, because farmers aren’t permitted to save their own seeds.

GMO and hybrid seeds produce crops of genetically identical plants–clones, if you will.  If a particular blight or disease hits a clone crop, the entire yield is destroyed.  Pests adapt to GMOs, becoming “super-bugs” that require farmers to increase the amount of  chemicals on the crops that we eventually eat.

Open pollinated seeds, on the other hand, are much more robust.  If the individuals in your garden show genetic variety, and you’re hit with a particular pest, or experience an unfavourable year in terms of weather, chances are some of the crop will survive or produce well enough, even if much of it dies or fairs poorly.  The same cannot be said for GMOs or hybrids.  Entire crops have been wiped out because none of the plants had any hybrid vigour to take on a pest.

For food safety, crop security, and reduced costs, choose open-pollinated seeds.

 

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The great zupumpkin!

124_2466.jpgIn one of my first small gardens, I planted a pumpkin plant and a zucchini plant next to each other.  I didn’t save any of their seeds, but the next year, when I spotted a pumpkin plant coming up from the compost, I let it grow.  It started out looking like a bit like an elongated pumpkin or some sort of squash.  Then it ripened to the above specimen, which was christened the zupumpkin.

Cross-pollination

Cross-pollination occurs when an insect or the wind carries pollen from one variety of plant to another.  The resulting seed, when planted, sprouts a hybrid of its parents.  Since zucchini and pumpkins are both varieties of the same species, they can create the zupumkin (or zumption or pumcchini–your choice) but a cucumber and squash can’t procreate because they’re different species.

Cross-pollination does not affect the current year’s crop, but rather the next year–with one exception: corn.  If the pollen from the tassels of one variety of corn are blown into the silks from another variety, the cob that develops is a hybrid.

Self-pollinating plants

Vegetables like beans, peas, peanuts, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes are self-pollinating. Their seeds will produce plants like the parent, but insects will occasionally cross them, so if you want to be absolutely certain that your seeds will grow true to type, plant each variety at least 10 feet apart.

Insect- and wind-pollinated plants

Vegetables that are pollinated by insects or wind need to be separated by variety, and grown a distance apart (the distance varies with each type of plant).   To ensure that your seeds grow true to type, grow one variety of each type, or separate the different varieties.

Vegetables that willingly cross-breed

The following plants or plant families are prone to cross-pollination.  If you are planting them with the intention of keeping their seeds, keep varieties well separated.

  • Beets and Swiss chard
  • Cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and broccoli
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Honeydew, cantaloupe, and other melons, excluding watermelons
  • Peppers (hot and sweet)
  • Squash (some varieties)
  • Zucchini and pumpkins

 

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