Once you have planned what you want to grow, the next step is to pick your seeds.
There are mainly 3 kinds of seeds available in the market. These are categorized based on the method of reproduction in plants.
1) “Open Pollen seeds“, are formed when pollination is not regulated in any way. When natural agents such as insects, birds, humans, wind or water cause pollination among plants, the process is known as open pollination. Due to the lack of restriction on the agents causing pollination, open-pollinated plants end up being more genetically diverse. This means that the variation in traits is greater among the plant population, thereby allowing for better adaptation.
It is important to keep pollen from other varieties of the same species from coming into contact with the open-pollinated plant. Only this will result in a seed that can grow a plant genetically very similar to its parent, thereby giving rise to uniformity in the species. However, improvement in the characteristics of plants under open pollination can only occur over many generations by careful examination and selection of the best plants and seeds.
Open pollination is less expensive than other methods. Further, it takes a shorter time to complete the process. The biggest benefit to open pollination is the ability to create one’s own seed supply. It requires less expertise and can be done by almost anyone. You just have to identify the best plants from your patch and save those seeds!
2) “Hybridisation”, is a controlled method of pollination. There is nothing unnatural about it, it is just directed by humans so that the pollen of two different desirable species or varieties is crossed. This process can occur naturally when open-pollinated plants simply happen to cross-pollinate with related varieties of the same plant. However, hybrids are often commercially created in order to breed desirable traits.
The primary advantage of hybrid seeds lies in the ability to cross two different but related plants.
This means that their genes will be a lot more varied and the new plant can have more desirable traits as compared to plants created through open pollination.
When two plants are crossed in such a controlled environment, the first generation of offspring’s, known as the F1 generation grows best. They yield a lot more crop and the desired trait is most visible in this generation. This phenomenon is known as hybrid vigor.
The biggest disadvantage of hybridization is that one must keep purchasing new seeds. This is because the seeds produced by the F1 plants are not true to type. This means that the seeds give rise to plants that may not necessarily have the same traits as the parent plant. This defeats the purpose of hybridization as those desirable traits are not present anymore. Thus, keeping farmers dependent on hybrid seed producing companies.
3) “GMO-stands for a genetically modified organism”. Genetically modified (GM) seeds are specifically designed to have certain desirable traits. How are these different from hybrid seeds? For one, GM seeds are produced when the DNA of species that could never breed naturally, like a specific bacteria and potatoes are manipulated and combined. The resulting seeds will grow into plants that can survive without much water or are resistant to heat or certain diseases. For example, in an area with a lot of pests, resistance to insects will be a highly desirable trait in a plant.
Unlike open-pollinated or hybrid seeds, GM seeds require sophisticated and expensive techniques like gene-splicing for their production. When it comes to GM seeds, plants are not sexually bred but rather combined through recombinant DNA technology. The desired trait such as pest resistance is identified in nature and the gene for that trait is isolated and subsequently transferred into a new seed. The seed should now give rise to a plant which is resistant to pests. The plant is tested to ensure safety and once it has been approved, it is made available in the market.
Naturally, the benefits of GMO crops can be varied. They can use water more efficiently, yield more crop, are pest and disease resistant, their fruits have fewer seeds etc. However, since GM seeds are relatively new, they are an unknown science. Nobody knows enough to conclude how they affect us or the environment and their behavior over a larger period of time cannot be determined. They could be producing a host of unknown side effects that may be discovered only once it is too late. Furthermore, producing GM seeds results in the production of new toxins in the environment. GM crops can hurt the ecosystems and reduce bio-diversity. This also occurs because GMOs require a lot more pesticides and chemicals to grow.
Open pollen seeds on the other hand offer a more sustainable alternative. Open pollen seeds can be saved year after year and they make farms more self-sustainable. They have no unknown harmful effects.
I use Open pollen seeds and am working towards making my own seed bank.