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 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 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 (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.