If you’re planning for an organic garden this year, obviously you’ll want to snag some organic seeds. If you’re new to gardening, first look over some commonly used seed terms below.
Genetically Modified Organism: More common is the abbreviation GMO. This term applies to any animal or plant that has been genetically engineered. Most folks who believe in organic gardening do not support GMO due to the fact that much more research is needed before it’s considered 100% safe. There are many GMO seeds out there, but note that a lot of these are sold to commercial farmers not home gardeners. In any case, you can avoid GMO seeds by buying USDA certified organic seeds.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid: These two terms have little to do with organic or non-organic. Either type of seed can be organic (or not). Heirloom simply means the seeds from a plant have been saved over the long term and grown for years. A hybrid seed is not the same as a GMO seed. Hybrid means a cross breeding between plants that results in a new plant with attributes of both; it does not necessarily mean that a plant is GMO. Hybrids can occur naturally.
Natural seeds: Natural is ALWAYS a bunk term. It doesn’t matter if it’s associated with seeds, food or soap. Natural means nothing and it certainly does not mean certified organic. If your goal is a fully organic garden, ignore seeds labeled “natural.”
Treated seeds: Some seeds are treated with chemicals in order to make the seed more resistant to disease, fungus, or to make it more likely to germinate successfully. Organic seeds cannot be treated with chemicals so it would be odd if you found treated certified organic seeds.
USDA certified organic seeds: True USDA organics must, by law, be grown without the aid of synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides. Be aware that organic certification is different than the organic label. Many seed companies carry the USDA organic seal, but have different certifying parties. If you want to be sure that a company is carrying seeds that meet your standards, you should look for the USDA label and also look up information about the organization who certified them.
Where to buy organic garden seeds
First, if you’re shopping at a home & garden center or regular store, you can simply look for the USDA Organic Seal. If you’re looking for hard to find seeds, very specific seeds or a lot of seeds at once, you can shop online at the following sites…
The Organic Seed Finder is a database endorsed by the National Organic Program (NOP) as a reliable source where you can get help locating organic seeds and seed information. Note that this site is more meant for large-scale organic producers, but consumers can use the site as well, and it’s awesome if you’re looking for some super specific fruit or veggie.
Seeds of Change – these folks sell only 100% certified organic seeds, which makes shopping easy. You can sometimes find this brand in stores too.
Wild Garden Seed is an organic seed and vegetable farm in the Pacific Northwest that produces farm-original varieties of many salad greens, vegetables, herbs and a few flowers.