Open Pollinated Seeds of Value
An open pollinated (OP) seed is a seed of value; it can be saved and re-grow the plant true-to-type. OP seeds are fertilized naturally by insects, birds, wind or their structure. Many of our seeds are called heirlooms who can trace their linage back before 1951 when hybrid and chemical sprays became widely adopted.
Open pollinated seeds are your food security and freedom. Without the ability to save seed, your food sovereignty is lost. The right to grow your own nutritious food is a basic right as a citizen. Dwindling open pollinated seeds are as precious as gold.
Seeds that can be saved by the home gardener or farmer are disappearing from seed catalogs. They are being replaced by F1 hybrid seeds that cannot be saved and grown true-to-type. Some reputable seed catalogs are even not labeling hybrids so you do not know if you can save the seed or not.
Hybrid Seeds Cannot Be Saved
Saving hybrid seeds is like trying to save seeds from an apple. You cannot save hybrid seeds and re-grow the same plant. The genetics are not there to be repeated true-to-type. The hybrid traits were only created when the male and female parents are combined. Typically, the trait or phenotype resulting from a hybrid cross is a result of codominance, is heterozygous and is inherently not able to be pure bred. For example, you cannot obtain a pure breeding pink strain of four o’clock flowers from a cross of red and white cross. You could inbreed pinks from this cross for the rest of your life but you would still never get a pure breeding pink flower. In other words, because of the of codominance of the gene(s) that controls color in four o’clock flowers, you always have to cross a red and a white in this case to get a pink.
Because, hybrids are a combination of two different parent lines extensively inbred to isolate desired traits, they can be more uniform. They lack the diverse genetics and variability of open pollinated plants. Open pollinated plants are also able to better adapt to your local of climate, have more diversity of taste, texture, size, color and shape.
Shown below is what you get when you save Red Knight Mizuna hybrid seeds. The purple plant in front is what you want, the green shaggy bolting plant in back left is what you get instead.
More Open Pollinated Vigor
There exist many open pollinated varieties that are larger and more vigorous than anything found in your grocery store. Here is open pollinated Kalura lettuce with 14" heads or try Flashy Trout’s Back. We have open pollinated radishes bigger than bananas and beets as big as a footballs. With the exception of spinach and corn, it is generally a myth that hybrid or GMO seeds always grow more food, they are just more profitable because they can’t be saved.
The superior performance of commercial hybrids and open pollinated varieties is virtually always associated with optimal commercial growing conditions, large amounts of high-nitrogen fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and good weather. Under less than optimal conditions, good regionally adapted open pollinated varieties may perform as well as or even better than the best hybrid. In good years those who plant hybrids usually have a higher yield. In bad years those who plant an open pollinated variety may be the only ones with at least some yield.
The certified organic label is being diluted by large agricultural business. First, the national organic policy allows seed growers to label hybrid seeds as organic even though they cannot be saved. The label “organic” does not mean that you can save the seeds, it just means that the grower did not spray pesticides plus other rules.
The U.S. federal government has also eliminated the organic cost share subsidy that helped small farms pay their organic certification fees that costs $500 to $700 per year. Thousands of small farms overnight lost their ability to sell food or seeds as organic because of a reduction of just a few million dollars in the annual U.S. farm bill of nearly $100 billion in subsidies to large agricultural corporations. Now only medium and large agricultural companies can afford to obtain the certified organic label.
Conserve Native Species
Concern is a growing that hybrid and GMO seeds are now contaminating the wild analogs of the foundation of our food system. In a world of a changing environment, we need to maintain the genetic purity of the progenitors of our essential food crops. However, GMOs are now being crossing back into native corn, beets, carrots and others. Sea beets along the British coast and corn in the cradle of corn diversity the Mexican lowlands are being contaminated with GMOs.
Preserve Rare Varieties
If a rare variety does as well or even almost as well as the common one, maybe you should grow it just because of its rareness. By growing it, you help to preserve it and the information about it. And by growing something different from your neighbors, you might not get their pest or disease when it sweeps over the whole area; your variety might be resistant. in addition, the pest or disease your variety might be most susceptible to will be less likely to sweep over your area, since your neighbors are growing something else. Whenever you grow something different from your neighbors, you are contributing to the agricultural biodiversity of your country, your region and your neighborhood. This is part of the bigger picture.
Heirlooms, Seeds of Excellence
The word heirloom also suggestions excellence and value. Heirloom garden varieties have survived for decades in the absence of patents or anything else that makes distributing them especially profitable. They have done so very often because they are genuinely excellent. They are the varieties our ancestors’ friends or relatives were most likely to give them personally, because they were the best these people had. They are, of all the varieties that have been developed and grown, the ones that gardeners refused to do without. Some heirlooms have broad regional adaptation. Other are fine-tuned to a specific region or climate and don’t do well elsewhere.
We need our nutrients back. Since 1950, certain nutrients in food crops has dropped overall. Industrial agricultural is growing hallow calories. With organics and open pollinated crops we can restore healthy food. Support your local organic seed grower and breeder. Parents insist that our children be fed nutritious organic meals in school everyday.
Theft of Native Plant Genetics
All nine of the domesticated plant families that we rely on for food have been cultivated for 2000 to, in the case of corn, 5000 years. Maize geneticists believe that 90 percent of breeding work in corn had already been done by the time Columbus arrived to find large fields of corn being grown on the island of Hispaniola in 1492.
Native people did not walk into the prairie and find modern corn, they started with Teosinte which looks like a grass with large seeds. They then bred Teosinte with other subspecies for millennia to arrive at corn.
In other words, modern agricultural companies have stolen 90 percent of the genetics in almost all food seeds. All seed companies may owe 90 percent of their historical revenue, or hundreds of billions of dollars, to native tribes world wide. As an alternative, tack a 50 cents on to the price of a packet or a couple bucks per pound of seeds to go to native tribes.
Shown below are the originator of modern corn Teosinte, wild carrot, wild lettuce and wild chicory. To make gene patenting fare, industrial seed companies should have to start with these and breed them for two thousand years until they come up with corn, carrots, lettuce and radicchio. In this light, gene patenting is senseless and greedy. Millions spent on research by large ag companies is basically to find ways to apply more inputs, we certainly do not need bigger food.
Legalized gene theft plus the fact that food was free for millions of years and now is only available by purchase, shows the failure of civilized economic and political systems. Our government is supposed to defend us, it is not. You will have to support your family and community by saving and exchanging open pollinated seeds. We get a kick out of the survival seed collections companies sell filled with hybrid seeds that cannot be saved.
Open pollinated seeds favor decentralized food production in a wide variety of climates. Hybrid and GMO seeds require high-input high-mechanical production. But, when you consider our expanding mid-term food needs and rising fuel costs, decentralized lower-input food production will be come more important to our nation’s food security.
We ship Cesar salads to Chicago 12 months a year, our modern food system is as much a transportation system as it is an agricultural system. In the mid-term, we will still need to grow a substantial amount of food centrally but as fuel costs rise, we will need to offset transportation losses with decentralized crop production. Eventually, as recent history in Russia and Cuban show, the more difficult the economy becomes, the more food will need to be grown even at the homestead level from locally adapted saved open pollinated seeds.
Save Your Seeds!
In making your final judgments, consider the bigger picture. If an open pollinated variety that hardly anyone grows does almost, but not quite, as well as the fancy hybrid that everybody grows, maybe you should choose the open pollinated variety. You can save its seed if you need or want to. In addition, when you buy the seed,you are probably supporting a small grower and a family seed company; when you by the hybrid, you are probably supporting a multinational giant.
Saving seeds is easy. Every cell in your body knows how to recognize plants and gather mature seed. You would not be here if your forefathers did not know how to do this really well. There are many good books available on the subject. Our favorite book is The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio.
Being able to save your own seeds and grow your own food is your independence and food sovereignty. Stand up for it, grow food, save open pollinated seeds and share them. Don’t be dependent on others for something as basic and essential as seed.
The best way to reinvigorate crop genetic diversity is to plant and save open pollinated seeds. Create a living seed bank. Seek out interesting and rare varieties, grow them, become a living seed curator today.
- Carol Deppe, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Hardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, 2000.