Heirloom, Organic and Other Fancy Seed Names

By Kitty R. Lynn

Okay, I admit I have never spent a lot of time defining my seeds.

If it is a seed I want to plant and I don’t have it, I choose organic. That seemed like enough, but I chose to investigate this fabulous area of gardening, partly for myself and partly to be able to give clearer answers to others who ask.

Let’s define some of the key words first:

Organic is really a discussion about the way a plant/seed is grown.

Heirloom is the heritage of the plant/seed. So heritage is also heirloom.

Hybrids are a whole other story best left for now, but you can hybrid your own plants easy enough by encouraging a cross between two family members of plants in your own garden. But like I said — another time perhaps.

Organic seeds must be certified organic to be labelled that way. The farmer must not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or fresh manure. The seeds or materials the plants grow in cannot be genetically engineered in any way. The farmer must have inspections done and then be certified by an inspection agency. Seeds can be harvested from Grandma’s garden where she does everything organically but they are considered seeds from organic practice, not organic. I believe Grandma’s garden is the best way to get organic seeds but let’s save that discussion for another day.

Heirlooms I have always considered to be seeds with a story. Turns out I was on the right track. Heirloom seeds are not so clear to define and many are considered organic by the way they are grown. The heirloom part is about the time period they were grown in. As a gardener you play a big part in preserving heirloom/heritage seeds and plants by growing a seed given to you from someone.

Some people only consider a seed heirloom if it was once planted somewhere important. Although “important” was really not defined; I like to think my garden is important, but I think it really meant seeds from old gardens. So white corn is clearly heirloom!

The most common definition of heritage when I asked was “Seeds introduced into cultivation at least 40 years prior to today”. However, a few times it was mentioned in order to be heirloom they had to be introduced prior to World War II.

All of this means this a seed can be heirloom but not necessarily organic or it can be organic but not heritage. A hybrid can be organic but not heirloom unless it is an old cultivar. So if you want to grow good wholesome food I suggest to ask if organic practices were used and did Great Aunt Annie grow them!

This gives you organic and heirloom!

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