Organic or non-organic seeds, open-pollinated or F1 hybrid seeds – these criteria seem harmless enough, but if you’re looking to preserve biodiversity or harvest your own seeds in order to save them for later, certain types are to be favored over others. A small explanatory glossary.
An open-pollinated seed results from the cross of two plants whose pollination occurs naturally, thanks to the wind or to animals, for example. The result is a plant that blends the characteristics of the “parent” plants. Since free rein is given to the pollination, there’s a consequential greater genetic variety in our plants.
If they’re produced in Québec and they’re heritage, these seeds will be better “equipped” to adapt to the harshness of our climate. In this case, the seeds of our tastiest tomato can be harvested and conserved for use the following year. Nevertheless, it has to be remembered that all the cultivars of a single species can exchange pollen. To prevent crossbreeding, a certain distance should be maintained between two varieties.
Most seeds sold in large stores are F1 hybrids. These seeds are the result of the crossbreeding of two distinct genetic lineages in a single species. They produce plants with features that are intermediate between the two “parent” lineages, but totally uniform in terms of productivity (plant height, size and shape of fruit) and disease resistance, characteristics sought by farmers, for instance, to facilitate their growing and their harvesting.
Keeping the seeds produced by these plants at the end of the season is not recommended. What happens is, the seeds obtained result from open pollination, and will not therefore provide plants identical to the mother plants. Producers who choose F1 seeds have to purchase new ones each year.
Only 20 species to feed humankind
Currently in the world, 80 percent of food depends on barely 20 cultivated species. Thus, species grown in industrial quantities are cultivated from F1 hybrid seeds, better suited to large-scale agriculture. However, open-pollination heritage seeds constitute an unsuspected diversity in our plant legacy – something that disappears when such seeds stop being used.
In choosing open-pollination seeds or heritage seeds, a gardener is encouraging the genetic diversity of local growing and at the same time can perpetuate the cultivation tradition of a heirloom variety of vegetable. And since the start of gardening season isn’t that far off, why not encourage biodiversity – starting with the seed itself?