Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid and GMO Seeds
An open pollinated (OP) seeds are naturally pollinated by wind and bees. These are seeds of value that can be saved from your plants and regrown true-to-type. They have a full set of determinate genetics to reproduce the original plant.
Hybrid (F1) seeds are the marriage of two inbred open pollinated parents for characteristics such as disease resistance, uniform maturity or appearance. Seed saved from hybrids does not breed true to the child in the next generation but instead expresses the parents. Thus, hybrids cannot be saved to repeat the child again.
A simple example is creating a pink flower by combining a red with a white flower where no pink flower exists in reality. Saving seed from the pink flower gives you the red or white parents again.
GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are typically hybrid plants whose DNA is artificially altered to tolerate higher levels of pesticides/herbicides. Note that hybridization has already achieved the beneficial plant traits; further genetic modification is strictly for monetary reasons. Europe has banned GMO’s for a multitude of reasons, including higher levels of chemicals.
Selfers and Crossers
Selfers, self-pollinated, reproduce by using their own pollen because the male and female are in the same plant. Selfers are more homozygous (fixed) with each generation than crossers so uniformity is easier to attain. These have no inbreeding depression and smaller populations are adequate to save seeds — 1 to 50 plants. Examples, lettuce, tomatoes and beans.
Crossers reproduce through the transfer of pollen from one plant to a different plant of the same species. They are more heterozygous (less uniform) inheriting traits of both parents and are constantly remixing genetics. They are more adaptable to changing environments. Larger plant populations are needed of 50 to 100+ selected plants. Greater isolation distance is required to prevent crossing with plants of the same species of anywhere between 1/4 to 4 plus miles depending on the species.
Botanical naming goes from the general to the specific. Plants are classified into kinds by genus, species and variety. In Zea mays Golden Bantam, Zea is the genus, mays is the species and Golden Bantam is the variety. Browse our seeds by Botanical name here.
Plants are said to be true-to-type if re-grown from saved seed as a healthy reproduction of the intended variety. Each variety has its desired phenotype or set of observable characteristics resulting from a plant’s interaction with its environment.
In the early stages of plant development, good seedling vigor, general plant health and plant appearance are observed. Let's take onions for example: bulbs are pulled in the fall to be dried: Are the bulbs of the same color, intensity of color, bulb shape, maturity date, top closure and disease resistance as the desired variety? As the bulbs cure they are again selected for uniformity of shape, color and skin formation; checked again periodically for sprouting resistance, resistance to rot, retention of skin and firmness. Finally, does the plant grown from saved seed have the same flavor and nutrition as the original variety?
Your seeds saved from the original plants will grow true-to-type if they cross-pollinate only with other plants of the same variety. If they cross with other varieties of the same species, their seed will not grow true-to-type. Each species is said to have its own safe isolation distance to prevent cross-pollination based on its pollination method such as insects or wind. Commercial growers create seed grower's associations to map or "pin" annual and biennial seed crop locations to prevent cross contamination.
Genetic Maintenance and Population Size
Some seed stocks have not been maintained for robust true-to-type versions of their production. In this case additional genetics will have to be introduced and larger populations grown with deep roguing by an experienced grower to restore the variety. The better maintained a variety the smaller population one needs.
For example, if your onion stock seed has not been maintained and requires a minimum of 120 to 200 well-selected onion plants to maintain genetic elasticity and diversity, you may have to start with 800 or more healthy plants and rogue off-types down to the minimum population. You will also lose bulbs in over-wintering storage and more to rodents in the field, so you may need 1,000 plants to restore your variety. But hopefully, with a well maintained line, you can start 400 plants to result in true-to-type 200 to 250.
Preserving Seeds From Extinction
The best hope to prevent further extinction of heirlooms is you buying them to support the growers and saving them yourself to be shared. The important part is to have sufficient populations to prevent narrowing a plant's genetic breadth.
Seed banks have not prevented the loss of 93 percent of heirloom varieties. Preserving an heirloom means growing it out, maintaining the variety and sharing it with as many growers as possible. Save seeds to share them.
Why Invest In and Preserve Savable Seeds?
by Chuck Burr
Savable open pollinated seeds are the foundation of our food supply.
All of our plants and meats originally come from open pollinated seeds. Hybrid and even GMO seeds are bred from OP seeds. Domestic animals eat plants.
Savable seeds and the resulting genetic diversity are the heritage of our children. Starting with our grandparent’s parents, we have not done a very good job in handing down an intact legacy to our children. In the last century, the environment has been despoiled, natural populations declining, old growth forests almost gone, fisheries emptied, rivers dammed, and now most of our food resilience lost. From 288 varieties of beets to 17 today; from 307 varieties of corn to just 12. How can a parent do that to their child?
On the surface hybrid seeds may sound positive but selling them to home gardeners and small farmers may be doing them a disservice. Buying non-savable seeds blocks the benefits of saving your own seed including economics, adapting seeds to your region for greater vigor and disease resistance, preserving heritage varieties and food sovereignty.
Don't be fooled by color catalogs filled with F1 hybrids and few token OPs.
Buying hybrid seeds destroys demand for seed companies to contract with small farmers to grow open pollinated seeds. It is a downward cycle: more hybrid purchases, less demand to grow OP seed, dwindling OP seed selection. Remember, small family farms generally grow open pollinated seeds and large corporations grow hybrid and GMO seeds.
Buying open pollinated seeds helps small farmers.
Saving and sharing your seeds helps everyone.
It's time we stop and reverse the tide. The experiment of industrial agriculture since World War II has been a disaster. Monocultures have replaced diversity and resilience, soils collapsed, water polluted and elephant in the room human population has exploded. There has been no restraint in the blinding thirst for quarterly profits.
We have lost free access to land, water, sustainability skills and true community. Growing your own food is about the last remaining human sovereignty. Defend your inalienable right to access where your food comes from and to have a connection to the earth. Buy savable seeds.
Restoration Seeds would be a bigger company if we sold hybrid seeds and printed a catalog. Instead we use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Restoration Seeds is a 1% Percent for the Planet company and we are going to do the right thing: only sell savable seeds and leave the trees standing.
Chuck Burr is founder of Restoration Seeds, the Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association (SOSGA), the Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute (SOPI) 501(c)(3) and is a retired software CEO. He has a BA in accounting and an MBA in finance. He interned for president Reagan in the U.S. Trade Representative's Office. Chuck is a mountaineer, rock and ice climber, traveler, writer and father.
by Carol Deppe, Ph.D.
Why Invest In and Preserve Savable Seeds?
Being able to save seed for replanting is a huge reason.
Resilience. If there is a disaster that destroys your ability to buy/import/afford (bought) seed, you will have only the seed that is OP and that you know how to save. Throughout history, gardeners and farmers who saved seed have been sources of resilience for their communities in times of war or disaster. Gardeners and farmers who saved seed, that is. OP seed. If you have to buy your seed, even a small private disaster like being broke temporarily would mean no garden just when you need it the most. Seed savers save excess seed when they produce a seed crop of a variety. We can usually go quite a while or forever without having to buy seeds except to try new things.
Cost. Even if you buy your OP seed, it is usually less expensive than hybrid seed. It’s easier to produce, and there is no monopoly on its production.
A commercial hybrid variety is produced by a single company, and is a monopoly. Several retailers may sell it, but they all buy it from this single source. If you are dependent upon a hybrid variety, you are completely at that company’s mercy. If they decide to drop the variety, too bad, no matter how much time you’ve spent trialing it and learning how to grow and use it. Sometimes they change one or both parents, and keep the same name, so you suddenly are getting sold something different under the same name. The modern Early Girl is nothing like the old Early Girl. They changed the parentage back in the early 90s.
The hybrids are normally bred for large markets where the crop is grown commercially and/or for wide adaptation. If you don’t live in that area, and especially if you have a distinctive climate, such as we do in the NW, you can usually find or relatively easily breed a good locally-adapted OP that will do better.
Hybrids are bred for what is needed most in large scale monocultured commercial crops—like resistance to diseases of monoculture; long storage; visual appeal. If you care about flavor you can usually do much better. The best most spectacularly delicious vegetables are nearly always OPs.
Hybrids are normally bred for chemical agriculture. If you grow organically, you can usually do much better with an OP variety bred for organics.
Hybrids are often touted for out yielding OPs. But actually, with most crops the best ops and hybrids yield comparably.
When you buy a hybrid you are usually supporting a large multinational seed company that also manufactures herbicides and pesticides. If you buy varieties bred by Seminis, which is owned by Monsanto, you are supporting Monsanto. When you buy their seed, you support them. You buy and spread their values along with their varieties.
Carol Deppe is author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: A Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving. She holds a Ph.D. in Biology from Harvard University.
by Dr. Alan Kapuler
I consider F1 hybrids to be incomplete work since stable open pollinates can be selected from F1's. It makes much more sense for gardeners to have stable cultivars, hence open pollinated lines derived from hybrids are essential developments. After all, diploids are usually hybrids. [Most plants and animals are diploid organisms. Diploid means that they have two copies of every gene in each cell of their bodies.]
Heritage seeds are essential to our heart chakra. They are important not just because they produce a high quality crop or grow fast, but because they carry the message of the people. They are important for the same reason life is important. We are involved in a process of passing on a heritage of liveness…
We support the cognition that ownership and patenting of living creatures that inhabited the earth before we arose is not just arrogant, stupid, incorrect and ignorant, it is part of a mental framework and outlook built on duality that supports, war, violence, discognition and tragedy. ...and the long strange trip continues...
Dr. Kapuler is founder of Peace Seeds. At age 16 he entered Yale, the youngest student in his class of 1,000 and graduated first in his class. His undergraduate honors thesis earned him the highest grade Yale had ever bestowed and was eventually published in the Journal of Molecular Biology. After earning his doctorate in molecular biology at prestigious Rockefeller University he worked with world expert on nucleic acids A.M. Michelson and apprenticed at the lab of future Nobel Prize winner Howard Temin. Alan and Linda Kapuler have been organic growers since 1973.
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