Lifestyles

Now is the time to think seeds

The new seed catalogues are out. Can Seedy Saturday be far behind? - Photo by Leslie Cox
The new seed catalogues are out. Can Seedy Saturday be far behind?
— image credit: Photo by Leslie Cox

Just seven weeks to spring.

Time to think seeds! Especially if you like to start a few early under lights. I have already received two seed orders.

Selecting seeds can be complicated unless you are ordering from a certified organic seed company, or from one who has signed the Safe Seed Pledge. The advent of genetically engineered seeds is not palatable to everyone.

For those of us who are more than a little concerned about the health effects of genetic manipulation, shopping for our seeds may become treacherous. There is a noticeable lack of reliable information regarding GE seed availability in seed catalogues for home gardeners.

Who knows if they have slipped inside the covers?

I do know the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) found samples of unlabelled GE corn in supermarkets, farmer's markets and roadside stands in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia. The reported findings were made public on Oct. 23, 2013.

Admittedly this corn was supplied by farmers who access bulk seed sales. The GE corn seed may not have made it into the seed catalogues for home gardeners. Yet.

Trying to help those who love to start their plants from seeds, I have compiled a list of key words and their descriptions to help you wend your way through the seed catalogues.

Heirloom: refers to any species that originated at least 50 years ago. The benefit of growing heirloom varieties is their adaptation over time to the particular regional growing conditions. Usually heirloom varieties will have built up a natural resistance to the pests and diseases in the area.

Open pollinated (OP): refers to plants that produce new generations of those plants. However, because pollination happens with the help of bees and other pollinators, crosses can occur between species in the same family.

Hybrid (F1): this is a term used in genetics, indicating selective breeding. Cross-mating between distinctly different parent plants within the same genus has been carried out in a controlled environment. The resulting offspring are a new and uniform variety that display specific and desirable characteristics derived from both parent plants.

Genetically Modified Orgasm (GMO): a broad term to encompass seeds produced through any type of genetic modification. This includes modification through traditional plant breeding, as in manual hybridizing, as well as through modern genetic engineering.

Genetically Engineered (GE): term used for organisms that have had genes mechanically incorporated into them. These seeds would not normally be found in nature. However, with the advent of GE crops now being grown on huge tracts of agricultural land, scientists are discovering cross-contamination of GE DNA in non-GMO crops. Sweet corn is one crop.

Our current lack of labelling information makes it very difficult to unravel the mysteries that are creeping into our food supply. Some vegetables you want to pay particular attention to are: tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, onions, beets, peas, sweet potatoes, melons, eggplants, strawberries, raspberries, plums and apples. These are a few varieties the biotech companies and university scientists have been experimenting on since the later half of the 1990s.

There is one final caution in all of this. According to an article in Mother Earth News, dated March 2013, three corporations control 53 per cent of the global commercial seed supply. Further, they are adding patents to their seed packets banning the saving of "their" seeds.

So beware what seed varieties you are buying and who from. Educate yourself and only buy seeds from reputable seed companies.

Local vendors at the upcoming Seedy Saturdays up and down the island are a good place to start. Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday is Feb. 1. Comox Valley Seedy Saturday is March 1 at the Florence Filberg Centre. See you there!

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.