The idea of organic gardening has been around for as long as we have been using man-made chemicals as fertilizers and insecticides. Prior to that all farming was, of course, organic.
With population booms and the industrialization of society, farming has had to abandon traditional methods for high yields, standardized crops, and less manpower.
There is a real community feel when you start to delve into the world of organic gardening, and where better to start than with the seeds. Seeds are a hot topic for organic gardeners, and there are many rare and interesting varieties out there.
Organic seeds are produced using age-old methods, and many of the sellers will happily advise you on the techniques that work for the seeds that they offer.
In this article, I discuss organic seeds, their benefits, where and how they are grown, as well as suggesting some places you can buy organic seeds.
What are Organic Seeds?
Basically, organic seeds are ones that are produced without using chemicals. They can be hybrid, open-pollinated or heirloom seeds.
The key defining factor of organic produce is that it has not been grown or preserved using man-made chemicals, like pesticides. You might be asking “what’s so bad about man-made chemicals?”
Some pesticides have been found to be too dangerous, even for farmers wearing protective gear spraying those chemicals on the actual plants that become food. You might start to see why organic options and chemical-free methods are gaining in popularity.
- Related Article: Organic Pest Control For Healthy Gardens
In 2020, the Protect Americas Children From Toxic Pesticides was implemented and closed loopholes that had kept dangerous pesticides on the market. However, there is still a long way to go before pesticides are successfully regulated.
All organic labeled seeds and produce have to come from farms that are Organic Certified. While organic produce can still have organic approved pesticides used on them, farmers actively work to keep that use to a minimum.
Instead, they use conventional farm techniques like crop rotation and cover crops to keep the soil and plants healthy.
Let’s cover some basic seed terminology and varieties of seeds.
If you collect wild seeds, or a fellow gardener is growing an heirloom variety without chemical fertilizer or insecticide, then they are still technically organic even though you wouldn’t be able to market them as such.
It is worth mentioning that, while the vast majority of open pollinated seeds are organic, not all organic seeds are open pollinated. Many organic seeds are still hybrids, meaning that the seeds will not be able to produce plants that are like the parent plants.
- Related Article: Open Pollinated vs Hybrid vs Heirloom Seeds
While you still might be able to get viable plants from hybrid seed types, you won’t know what the result will be until they grow.
Open pollinated seeds will reliably produce plants that are like the parent, so you pretty much know what you will be growing before you even plant the seed. That’s why open pollinated seeds are best for sustainable practices.
5 Reasons to Buy Organic Seeds
1. Grow Organic Gardens
Organic seeds do well with organic gardening. Non-organic seeds may need synthetic fertilizers to grow. Organic seeds are a product of natural selection, rather than chemically enhanced growth.
Because if this they do well in a variety of environments and won’t need any chemical enrichment. If you’re planning on gardening organically, then organic seeds are undoubtedly the way to go.
2. Environment Friendly
Environmentally conscious gardeners put value in things that aren’t harmful to the planet. That’s why many an organic gardener will prefer to use organic seeds and avoid using conventional chemicals that will leave a chemical residue on food crops.
If large corporations see that there is profit in ecological products, they will invest more heavily in them. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can vote more effectively with our wallets than with our ballots.
With this in mind, choosing to buy products that align with our own moral compass is just good sense.
3. Top-Quality Plants
You are getting seeds from strong, healthy and resilient plants. Because the plants stay in the fields longer to let the seeds mature, they are more likely to encounter disease and pests.
Seed plants aren’t classed as food, so conventional farmers are able to use a lot more chemical intervention to keep them healthy.
Organic farmers need to be extra vigilant, pulling out diseased plants and discarding plants that have been lost to plant pests.
The seed plants that remain are the most healthy. They have built a natural disease resistance to produce produce, top-quality plants.
4. Seed Saving
If you want to save seeds, then go organic. Pretty much all open pollinated and heirloom seeds are organic. These high-quality seeds have been naturally bred to produce good plants.
If grown, saved and stored correctly year after year you only need to buy one packet of open pollinated seeds to last a lifetime.
- Read More: How to Save Seeds
5. Better Plants For Your Local Area
Learn how to grow the best organic crops in your area. Organic seeds usually do well in a variety of areas, however you might find that some plants that do better than others.
These organic garden seeds are more dependable seeds for your climate and soil. Saving the seeds from the organic crop will produce generations of plants for your local area.
Non-organic seeds will do well everywhere, if used in conjunction with the recommended chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This doesn’t help you grow adaptable plant varieties though, and you will have to buy seeds annually.
Organic Farms and Seed
Organic seeds sold in the USA must come from organic certified farms. In order for a farm to be registered “organic,” they must develop and implement a system that complies with the USDA rules for organic farming.
The farm is then inspected and the inspection report is reviewed by a certifying agent that the genetic integrity of the plants are intact.
The USDA rules for organic farming are as follows:
- The land the crops are grown on will have had no non-organic chemicals used on it for at least 3 years.
- Soil quality will only be improved through natural means.
- Pests, weeds, and diseases will be managed through physical, mechanical or biological controls.
- Organic seed ad plants must be used exclusively.
- Use of genetic modification/engineering and sewage sludge is prohibited.
Most organic seeds come from local, independent farms. Sometimes the seller will sell seed directly from their own farm, or they will source the seed from a variety of different farms.
Organic seed sellers know that their customers want to feel the connection with their supplier, so they usually include their company history on their site. The sellers are mainly small companies with a passion for growing, which means that by growing organic seeds, you will be supporting small business.
It is worth mentioning that home gardeners are not able to afford the high price of genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds. This is because it costs so much to produce GMOs that the only way they can make their money back is to sell them in bulk.
Farmers are able to buy GMO seeds as they have to sign a contract with the organization that sells the seeds. The contracts usually state they will use all the correct fertilizers and pesticides that the crop has been bred to withstand.
There are a lot of divided opinions around GMOs, and supporters of GMO crops will tell you that they help to combat disease that may wipe out a plant species, or that it is the only way to end world hunger.
However, you should take into account the fact that a lot of GMOs are actually bred to withstand harmful pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, not to protect endangered species.
Then add to that the findings that those pesticides and fertilizers actually strip the soil of valuable minerals and nutrients, as well as drain into the ground water. Those pro-GMO arguments now fall apart.
While the GMOs themselves may not necessarily be bad, the way many of them have to be grown can lead to more problems and a heavier reliance on the GMO growing methods in the future.
Where to Buy Organic Seeds
There is a wide selection of seeds that are readily available on-line. It is probably best to buy them this way, as you will be buying them directly from growers and sustainable seed companies with a guarantee that you are getting organic.
There are plenty of suppliers and you can always keep an eye out for local seed swaps. Seed swaps are usually done with open pollinated and heritage seeds as you can’t really seed save from hybrids effectively.
Open pollinated varieties are pretty much always organic, as they have been bred naturally and therefore may not respond well to heavy doses of chemicals.
However, if you are getting seeds from a private collection, rather than a certified grower, a short conversation about gardening will usually let you know if they are organic or not.
It is easy to research these companies online. Do look around for a farm that is local to you, as this will help you get varieties that do well in your climate, as well as supporting a local business.
I have listed some reputable online seed farms and companies below. Go to their websites to see their seed catalogs.
Fruition Seeds is a family farm in western New York that supplies organic herb, vegetable and flower seeds. They sell open pollinated and heirloom varieties alongside organic hybrids, as well as provide advice on growing.
They are passionate about seed saving and have cultivated cold-hardy varieties that do well in a short growing season. There plants still do well in other regions, and they have a wealth of information on their website. They even have a shop by solution section to make it easier for you to choose plants that will do well with your climate and situation.
High Mowing Organic Seeds
High Mowing sell over 600 varieties of organic vegetable, fruit, herb and flower seeds in pollinated and heirloom varieties, as well as organic hybrids.
In addition, they sell organic cover crop seeds that can improve soil condition. They sell seeds directly from various independent organic farmers, including the Vermont farm of the founder, Tom Stearns.
Their name comes from early European settlers to New England who called their hayfields “mowings.” “High Mowing” refers to farms that are on hilltops.
You can buy online, but they are available in stores throughout the US and Canada, from Alaska to Puerto Rico! Check their website to find your nearest reseller.
Fedco are a co-operative that do offer conventional seeds, as well as organic. However, they are completely transparent about where the seeds come from, so it’s easy to pick the organic varieties.
They offer a decent variety of attractive vegetable seeds, potatoes, trees, and bulbs, alongside the usual seeds.
Hudson Valley Seed Company
Committed to growing organically, the Hudson Valley Seed Company only sells open pollinated and heirloom seeds. They sell their seeds from their own farm, and work with growers to teach them to diversify and seed save.
They enjoy telling the stories of the seed varieties they produce in the descriptions of seeds. They talk about how they have been kept going by their growers.
They sell the usual vegetables, herbs and flowers, but also sell seedlings (seed collection only from Accord, New York), so you can transplant them directly into your garden.
Seed Savers Exchange
They connect thousands of farmers, gardeners, and others through the world’s largest seed exchange.
Join the world’s only open-pollinated seed data bank, collecting and storing seeds for years to come.
Their mission is to preserve biodiversity and encourage sustainable gardening. They are dedicated to educating others on best practices for gardening and seed saving strategies.
Started by Sylvia Davatz, this Vermont based company sells robust and productive, as well as rare and interesting, varieties of vegetables and other plants.
Their seed plants are adapted to a short growing season and northern climate, but they will do well everywhere.
Like the Hudson Valley Seed Company, Solstice Seeds only sell open pollinated varieties, which is great if you want to have a go at saving your own seeds. It’s remarkably easy and can not only save you money, but mean that you end up with plants you know how to grow, and know will do well.
Solstice seeds offer vegetables, grain, hemp, and herb seeds.