Green County MGA

Green County Master Gardeners Association, Wisconsin

Selecting Seeds

Selecting Seeds, by MGV Ann Marie Ott

seedsAs you peruse garden catalogs and seed packets in the stores, you will notice a number of seed terms that are important to consider as you make selections for your garden. Each type of seed presents potential benefits for the home gardener and plant attributes to consider, prior to planting.

Read the following descriptions of seed types to help you plan your garden:

Open pollinated – Choose this type of seed if you intend to save seed at the end of the growing season for future plantings. Open-pollinated seeds produce plants true to type and resemble the plants from which the seeds originated.  However, these types may cross pollinate if more than one open pollinated variety is planted.  Heirlooms are considered open-pollinated seeds.

Heirloom seeds are old, open-pollinated varieties, often passed down or shared across generations. Flavor and individual characteristics, such as color and size in heirloom varieties are diverse and exceptional! However, resistance to disease may be problematic in these varieties and many vegetables of this type may not have a long shelf life.  The history of some heirloom seed varieties can be more than 100 years old. Some varieties associated with Native Americans or our European ancestors may be over 400 years old.  Planting and saving seeds from heirlooms may save money as purchasing new hybrid varieties each year can be expensive.  For more information about open-pollinated and heirloom varieties see the Clemson Cooperative Extension and the Seed Savers Exchange websites:

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/gardening/hgic1255.htm

http://www.seedsavers.org/

A Texas A&M Agrilife Extension publication describes the process for developing hybrid seeds as follows: “A plant breeder observes a particularly good habit in a plant, but with poor flower color, and in another plant of the same type he sees good color but poor habit. The best plant of each type is then taken and self-pollinated (in isolation) each year and, each year, the seed is re-sown. Eventually, every time the seed is sown the same identical plants will appear. When they do, this is known as a ‘pure line.’ If the breeder now takes the pure line of each of the two plants he originally selected and cross pollinates the two by hand the result is known as an F-1 hybrid.”  A completely pure line can sometimes take seven or eight years to achieve. Because the hybridization process can take many years, hybrid seed is often more expensive.  Saving seed from a hybrid plant will not produce the same plants.  One can count on hybrid seeds to produce plants with consistent qualities such as good color, heavy yields, uniformity in size and disease resistance.  Many hybrids exhibit longer shelf life.

In order to label a seed “organic,” the company’s operation must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.  In short, genetic engineering or modification of the seeds is not allowed.  For more information, read the USDA’s “Organic 101” blog series found here:

http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/10/10/organic-101-five-steps-to-organic-certification/#more-42866

While considering these many options may prove challenging, no gardener can go wrong when selecting the seed that best matches one’s own preferences.