Sow What? | Seventh Generation
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Sow What?

Author: the Inkslinger

Here in Far New England, we have seasons the rest of the world can't imagine. Stick season falls between the departure of leaf peepers and the arrival of skiers. Mud season, which may or may not coincide with sugaring season, bridges winter and spring. And right now it's seed season, my favorite of all.


Momentarily, mailboxes all over Vermont will open their ice-encrusted doors to receive the year's new seed catalogs, and growers everywhere will throw another log on the fire and settle back with the new crop of titillating garden porn, page after glossy page of sun-blessed fruits and vegetables glowing in golden light and tempting all comers with promises of summer. Against such a seductive tableau of color and possibility, the winter blues have no chance.


Now we dream of tomatoes, basil, and beans. Carrots, cucumbers, and kale. The only question is… what to plant? Open-pollinated seeds? Hybrids? Heirlooms? Is there really any difference? You bet your beets there is.


Hybrid seeds are the result of intentional cross-pollination between two varieties of the same plant designed to produce certain traits in the resulting crop like disease resistance, higher yield, or bigger fruit. They're not to be confused with genetically modified seeds which have had their DNA synthetically scrambled in the lab.
Hybrid seeds can produce great things, but boosting one trait often comes at the expense of another like flavor or nutrition. And second generation seeds are usually sterile or produce plants lacking the hybrid's characteristics. That's why hybrid seed is often labeled "F1,"which means it's first generation and guaranteed to grow.


Open-pollinated seeds are from plants that randomly exchanged pollen by natural means like wind and insects. Because pollen was traded among many individuals, the seeds that result are more genetically diverse. That's why open-pollinated plants can slowly adapt to local climates and growing conditions over many generations.


As long as open-pollinated seeds are from parent plants grown out of reach of pollen from other varieties of the same species, their results will be true to type from year to year, and, unlike hybrids, their seeds can be saved.


Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been saved and handed down from gardener to gardener because the fruits and vegetables they produce were found to be naturally exceptional in some way. These seeds preserve a priceless genetic heritage that's sometimes centuries-old. When we grow them, we keep vital genes and their traits alive in a world increasingly awash in sterile artificial hybrids and unsustainable genetically-modified "frankenseed."


Our garden has mostly heirlooms. We're not against hybrids per se. We just think heirloom seeds produce tastier and more colorful and nutritionally dense harvests. Heirloom tomatoes, for example, may not grow as fast or as copiously as their hybrid cousins. But sliced warm from the vine on a honeysuckle-scented August afternoon, their riches will make you weep. There's no comparison to anything else you'll eat all year.


Now's the time to start feeding these dreams with some of my favorite seedy businesses:


Seed Savers Exchange is one of the oldest and best heirloom seed resources around. Tap into a network of dedicated seed savers keeping diversity alive. High Mowing Seeds has a lot of great varieties, many of which are bred for difficult growing conditions like those found in the Northeast. Baker Creek claims to have the USA's largest selection of heirloom seed. But who cares—their catalog is gorgeous. Heirloom Seeds has converted in recent years to an online-only operation. You won't find any pictures, which is odd, but they make up for it with a deep selection. The D. Landreth Seed Company is America's oldest seed company. They've been collecting seed since the Revolutionary War ended so you can bet you'll find some gems. Johnny's Selected Seeds is an employee-owned company with lots of heirloom, open-pollinated, and organic offerings.


Photo: Chiot's Run

Comments picture
In your email tag you said the "evil greedy giants". Seventh Generation would probably be considered a "giant" in it's industry niche it is your choice to called all other evil and greedy - but they are just companies responding to a different sect of the market and the markets (consumer's) demand for faster and cheaper products. They are simply responding to that demand. If the demand changes then the other 'giants' would not sell their products and thus change their product mix. But why call them "evil, greedy giants" when they are just responding to the market of busy people who want cheap products - just as you are a 'giant' who is responding to a market of people who demand another type of product. Each of you are filling a requested niche in the economy. Thank You.
atp picture
My compliments to the writer on a beautifully-written piece. (Although I do agree with the comments on the awkward connotations of the word "porn.") I especially love "Against such a seductive tableau of color and possibility, the winter blues have no chance." Thank you.
mikivanmom picture
first - I LOVE the term "porn"! We love food porn and garden porn! Second - there are lists of both SAFE and Monsanto owned seed companies and I think it's worth it to mention both here... Monsanto owned seed companies are found here: There's a list of companies that have signed a safe seed pledge guaranteeing they will not sell GMO or any Monsanto owned seeds, also companies that have not signed the pledge, but say they do the same (encourage them to sign); you can find those here: In these times when our food supply is being taken over by evil greedy giants, it's important to keep those heirloom seeds around! Support the companies that sign the pledge or ask your favorite company to sign! Great article! Thanks!!
BathtubGardens picture
Great Article. I call those beautiful pictures veggie porn as well. Its very exciting to have during these cold dark months. To me and the Randomhouse dictionary, porn does not have a negative/"dirty" connotation.R49 Below is a definition 1. Also, por·no /?p?rno?/ Show Spelled [pawr-noh] Show IPA . pornography. 2. television shows, articles, photographs, etc., thought to create or satisfy an excessive desire for something, especially something luxurious: the irresistible appeal of food porn; an addiction to real-estate porn. -
verymissmary picture
"Garden porn"? Really? Why do you have to take such a dirty term and apply it to such a benign activity such as farming and gardening? You can make your point without it and I'm really annoyed that a wholesome newsletter such as 7gen would use it. It really caught me off guard and now I'm really irritated with whoever your editor is. DISAPPOINTED.
MorganV picture
We got a bunch of heirloom seeds and are trying winter sowing this year, it's exciting!
vrmont picture
I want to also mention Native American Seed as a wonderful source of seeds for gardeners very informative/knowledgeabl Roy
knick picture
Thank you for the well-placed reminder.
knick picture
"Momentarily" refers to something that happens for a short while. And yes but. The word means that this something is happening now. There's no place in the future for it. Sorry.
ChiotsRun picture
Don't forget Renee's Garden seeds - which are the ones pictured in this photo. She has heirlooms and newer varieties and specializes in seeds for the small home gardener, she even has color coded seeds like the ones shown. In this seed packet there are seeds for 3 different colors of pepper, that way you don't have to buy 3 different seed packs. I always order from her along with all the companies listed in the article. I'm especially excited about trying the 'King of the North' pepper from High Mowing this year - it's supposed to be really great for us Northern gardeners!