The Skinny on Seeds | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Skinny on Seeds

Organic seeds can produce a hardier, tastier garden.

Organic seeds can produce a hardier, tastier garden. Photo by Flickr/Satoru_Kikuchi

If you are already thinking about what you want to grow in your garden next year, start out right with organic seeds. They can make a much better garden.

Conventional seeds—the kind normally found at seed stores and in catalogs—are from plants that are grown in what is considered a “conventional” setting: with the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

Organic growing, of course, rejects the use of such chemicals. Seeds labeled “certified organic” are produced from plants grown in organic settings, without those conditions.

Moreover, many of the seeds that gardeners plant are used in broader agricultural settings: the vast acreages of monocultures that today constitute what we consider to be farming. They may have coatings on the seeds for faster germination or fungicides that are not allowed in organic farming, or they may be genetically engineered for certain traits—including toxins produced within the plant to kill certain pests. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic farming.

In addition, certain conventional seeds are bred for produce that looks good or has a long shelf life to survive transportation over long distances and sitting in grocery bins, or are uniform in size so that a consistent price can be charged by the food distributor. But the primary concern for organic gardeners is that the plants will grow better. One big difference is early growth, where plants pop up out of the ground to get a head start on pests. They are bred for vigorous growth (that may not be uniform with other plants in size) and for taste (as opposed to shelf life or appearance in color or shape).

If you start with organic seeds—or heirloom seeds that have consistent desirable qualities—you could develop hardier strains uniquely suited for your growing conditions and preferences quicker than using varieties developed for other “conventional” settings.

What about keeping seeds for growing the next year? Is seed saving better or worse than organic seeds? Seed saving can have the same effect, tailoring plants for your unique growing conditions. Organic seed gives you a leg up; you already have some of the qualities you want to develop. So, while seed saving is preferred over buying every year, buy organic seed and then save seeds to more efficiently develop the traits you want to keep.

Mind you, certified organic seeds are not readily available for some varieties of crops. Organic growing allows for some use of seeds that are unavailable in certified organic varieties; just make sure they are not GMO or coated.

Certified Organic:

Seeds of Change has a good certified organic variety, some 1,200 varieties selected for the home gardener or small market gardener: seedsofchange.com

For more, read “A New Age for Organic Seed,” an interview with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin, at jfp.ms/AShelton.

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