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Organic Seeds Basics

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How do you know that the seeds you are buying are organically grown and where is the best place to buy organic seeds?

By Marcie Snyder Posted May 18, 2009

You know your soil is “clean”, that your soil is not contaminated in any way because you got your soil tested, so now comes the second step: looking for organic seed sources for organic gardeners. At this point you are probably asking yourself “How do I know that the seeds I am buying are organically grown and where is the best place to buy organic seeds?”

Well, you can wait till the last minute and chance buying your seeds at your nursery or garden center. However, your best bet is to plan ahead and order via organic seed catalogs so you can determine whether the company’s seeds are labeled as organically grown.

When researching seed sources, organic seed buyers look for companies who can identify their seeds as having the following labels: “U” for untreated, “O” for organic, “OP” for open-pollinated, and/or “H” for heritage.

U — Untreated seeds are seeds which have not been coated with chemicals which may be harmful to soil life and humans. Some varieties of imported seeds are unavailable as “untreated” due to importing regulations.

Also, organic growers shun like the plague any seeds that have been genetically modified, that is, seeds in which the genes of anything from a pesticide-resistant weed to an animal or even a bacteria have been inserted or spliced right into the seed’s DNA.

There are two main reasons for this:

Organic growers have no idea how these injected genes will mutate into something that will endanger a person’s health, such as create different allergens in the food, damage the liver or the kidneys, combine with the good bacteria in the gut to create its own version, etc.

The second concern is the environment. Once introduced into the environment, no one can predict where the wind will carry the seeds, and there could be irreparable damage done if these genetically engineered plants cross breed with wild ones.

O — Organic seeds come from plants which have been grown via organic methods.

OP — Open-pollinated is the best type of seed because these seeds are capable of reproducing themselves. You can save the seeds from these plants, let them dry off, store them in plastic bags, and use them the following year. If you are new to saving seeds, there are also seed saving kits with supplies and instructions to help you start collecting, storing and trading seeds from your garden.

Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, do not always reproduce true to type. The hybrid seeds will grow, but you might have some variance in your results, so if you want the exact same type of plant, it is usually necessary to buy new seed every year. The seed company will usually identify those hybrid seeds which do reproduce true to type.

H — Heritage seeds are a little more difficult to find for they are not necessarily sold in mainstream seed catalogs. Heritage seeds have been passed down from generation to generation and are usually a collector’s item. These seeds are generally sold through small seed companies and seed saving organizations who try their best to keep them in circulation to preserve a diminishing genetic diversity. Often people who are interested in heritage seed will find other people who are willing to exchange seeds and thus grow their little collection. Local initiatives such as “Seedy Saturdays” can be a good source for organic seeds which are used in your region.

For gardeners interested in conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the diversity of open-pollinated plants where members are encouraged to save and exchange seeds, the following organizations offer more information and resources:

Seeds of Diversity Canada, SoDC, Box 36, Stn Q, Toronto ON M4T 2L7; Voice Mail (905) 623-0353.

Seed Savers Exchange, a large US organization that promotes seed saving, at SSE, 3026 North Winn Road, Decorah IA 52101 USA.


About the author: A gardener for years, Marcie Snyder has learned that using organic seeds is a must for healthy, nutritious vegetables. Get more information about companies who are popular for growing and selling organic seeds at

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  • Marcie,

    I am really curious about this topic. Because the organic vegetables are more and more popular here in Taiwan. However, I doubt that if the farmers have been using real organic seeds. Is it possible that all seeds are genetically polluted? I mean their ancestries have mixed with genetically modified seeds and it impossible to distinguish them from their apparel. So the seeds we think is clean today are actually not.

    Learning Mandarin on-line

  • jiu jitsu

    thanks for the interesting info.

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