I am confused by claims of “organic” seed and other words like “sustainable” seed. Does it matter what I buy?
It makes a big difference environmentally, and also in what results you can expect to have in your garden. Unlike many vegetable crops we grow to eat—which are typically picked young and tender, and therefore grown for a shorter time—the same plant cultivated for a seed harvest must be grown to a much older age, requiring much more water, fertilizer, and chemical controls against pests and diseases.
Seed crops are coddled, and regulations on chemical usage when raising them is also looser than on growing the same vegetable for the food market.
Besides the “upstream” pollution and waste of water resources this results in, it fails to do something else really important: It yields seed strains that “expect “ this kind of pampering—not ones that are well-adapted to organic growing conditions in our home gardens, where we (hopefully!) don’t rush in with a chemical at every turn of events, or prop things up on synthetics instead of diligent care for our soil.
At a minimum:
- Buy only from companies that say in their catalog or on their website that they took the Safe Seed Pledge, committing to not knowingly using or selling any genetically modified, or GM, seed. More than 100 companies have signed on.
- Read the fine print. Any reputable vendor should freely express its point of view on GM seed, treated seed (that to which fungicide has been applied–say “no” to that, too, won’t you?) and generally how the seed is grown or sourced.
- That said: Many growers cannot make the certified-organic claim—whether because they have not yet met government guidelines, the cost of certification is too high, or they ideologically disagree with some aspect of the standards—but nevertheless follow sustainable practices and ethical land stewardship, and in fact are growing organically, if not certified as such. Like I said, read the fine print–a company should be proud to tell you the care it has gone to to find high-quality product for its customers.
My full article on this important topic, with links to companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge; organic seed companies; GMO information and more.