Saturday, March 26, 2011

Seed Selection

This is our 4th year of gardening at our riverside, community garden plot and never before have I paid so much attention to seed selection.  I've always just bought my seeds from those big colourful displays at whatever store I happen to be at.  As I become more aware, interested and involved in the local food movement, I'm paying much more attention to the seeds I choose.  That's what reading too many gardening books and attending a few gardening seminars will do to you!

However, let me just say, we were perfectly happy and very successful when I chose seeds haphazardly at those colourful displays.  My point is, don't get stressed out about selecting the right seeds.  As long as you check the date on the package, buy from local suppliers, read the growing instructions to ensure it matches your gardening site and your ability, you should be fine.

It's also a good idea to have some sort of plan when buying seeds.  It's easy to get swept away when browsing all the different packages at the store. Trust me, you really don't need four different varieties of cucumbers (unless of course you have a huge field).

I've been trying to come to grips with heirloom, organic or hybrid seeds.  I'm no expert, but here's my take on the three.

Hybrid Seeds
  • Designer seeds developed by cross-pollinating different varieties to get specific qualities in the resulting plant.  For example, sweetness in corn, size uniformity in tomatoes, colour in flowers, disease resistance in peas, etc.
  • Said to offer bigger yields, more uniform veggies, longer shelf life and greater disease resistance (at least for that disease it was bred to resist). 
  • Not as flavourful.
  • Often the seed produced from these veggies is sterile and cannot be collected and used next year.

Heirloom Seeds

  • Seeds passed down from generation to generation, harvested from garden plants and saved for the following year.
  • Based on the principle of "survival of the fittest", these seeds are often considered the hardiest and best for a particular region - as long as you buy regional heirloom seeds.  For example, buy Manitoba or Saskatchewan heirloom tomato seeds for best results here on the prairies because these are the seeds that have survived our conditions. Buying BC heirloom tomatoes wouldn't be an ideal choice for Manitoba. 
  • Said to offer the best flavours and most intense colours.
  • Give you the opportunity to save seeds for next year and to be part of a culture that believes in protecting seeds for our future.
  • Can have lower yields and may be less disease resistant than modern varieties.
  • The shape and size of heirloom veggies may not meet grocery store standards (personally, I don't think that's a bad thing!).
Organic Seeds
  • Organic seeds come from non-engineered plants (ie. heirloom plants) that have been grown using organic growing practices.  In other words, there are no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides used in their production.
  • All the pros and cons of heirloom seeds grown in the most natural way possible.

So, which will I choose?

My seed selection begins with deciding what I want to plant where.  Then, I'll look for seeds or seedlings that will fill those needs.  My first choice will be Organic then Heirloom then Hybrid.  All will be welcome in our garden.

How about you, which will you choose?

1 comment:

WolfSong said...

My seeds tend to be a mishmash of what I find. Normally, I get most of my seed from T and T Seeds, but this year I got some purple bush beans from West Coast Seeds(I happened to be in Port Albirni over the summer and saw a display with them), and of course, there are the few packets I get at the nearby Dollarama.

I try to go with heirloom as much as possible, but there are some hybrids that we have as well. My thought is that even from hybrid seed, if I'm growing it, it's better for my family than store bought...and if I'm canning it, then I know for sure it's better than the store bought equivalent!