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The Difference Between GMO, Hybrid, Organic, and Heirloom Seeds

There is a lot of concern about where our food is coming from, and now where our seeds are coming from. How can we feel safe in our own gardens with so many people shouting out hit words like GMO-free seed, and hybrid seed, F1 hybrid, Organic seed, Heirloom Organic seed, and many other terms that would make one feel as though the sky is falling and evil is everywhere. It also feels very overwhelming when selecting seeds for the garden which ones are which, What is the difference, and why does it matter? In this blog post I will break down the big 4 seed types that are out there, shed some light, and hopefully ease your worries.

GMO stands for Genetically modified organism, and it can also be called Genetically Engineered or (GE) for short. Genetically modified seeds are a hot button topic over whether they are safe for consumption or not. We won’t be discussing that since our main focus is to differentiate the varieties.

GMO seed is usually injected with genes from another plant, or animal to give it traits that are favorable. Some of these traits could be enhanced frost tolerance, or resistance to weed killers. The concern is caused when people assume GMO seeds are anywhere and everywhere and are being tossed around willy nilly. This could not be further from the truth. Anyone concerned about getting GMO seed when shopping at a big box store or seed retailer has nothing to be worried about. Genetically modified seed is sold to large commercial farmers and NONE РZERO seed is being sold to small home gardeners. Further, GMO seed manufacturers are focusing on crops like soybean, sugar beet, cotton, and corn, NOT on things like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, or peppers. (If you are still worried, check out our store. Everything is 100% GMO-free, and heirloom.) 

A common question we get is, “Does “improved” mean it is GMO?” – the answer is NO. Improved means the seed farmers took an old heirloom variety, and improved upon it through cross pollination to yield more dependable results.

Another common question we get is, “I bought some seeds from the store and they were sparkly, blue, green, and red. Did I buy GMO seed?” – NO. Many hybrid seeds (and some heirlooms even) are color coded with a light coating of color to decipher which is which when packaging. So for example cucumber seeds all look the same, so as to not mix them up a marketmore 76 cucumber might be painted sparkley blue, and a Boston Pickling cucumber might be painted red. NOTE: there are some coatings for corn and other crops that rot in the soil that are coated, however these seeds are not sold in stores and are ALWAYS labeled “TREATED” in very clear, bold lettering. This type of propaganda as seen in the picture leads many people astray and certainly does not do much other than prey on the uninformed. ¬†Also, please note we are not advocates of GMO’s we are simply advocates of honesty and truth.


Hybrids are another scary term thrown around by many home gardeners and strict heirloom growers. It is certainly a preference of ours to grow with heirlooms, but certainly is not a bad thing to grow hybrids. Many people don’t know that they themselves are in fact hybrids. A hybrid is the combining of genetics from two same species. So if we took a red hot pepper and pollinated it with yellow sweet pepper, the hybrid (offspring) might be a red sweet pepper! Where the annoyance comes in with hybrids is that they like to revert back to their parent types. For seed savers and people trying to preserve genetic biodiversity, a hybrid is about as useful as a car without an engine. Because when the seeds are saved from the red sweet pepper we talked about earlier, and planted again, the results will be wild and unpredictable. You may have a few that are red and sweet, but you may have some yellow hot, some red hot, and yellow sweet! Talk about confusing! So in summary, hybrids are totally safe and should not get the flack they do from gardeners, but they are very unpredictable when trying to save seeds.

A common question we get asked about hybrids is, “What does F1, F2, and F3 hybrid mean?” – The F# just indicates the generation it comes from. F1 is most common and means it comes from the first generation. The further along you go say F4, F5, F6, the more stable the hybrid is and less likely it is to revert back to one of the parents (it is becoming an heirloom).

Ahhh the queen of all seeds. The highly sought after “organic seed”. This is one that while seems convenient and the ultimate goal, it really is more marketing than anything. I hate to say it, but it is true. The cultivation of most seeds is done organically since the farmer really does not care about the aesthetics of the fruit, but instead the seeds inside. So many seed farmers will grow their stuff organically, but not have the money it costs to pay an organization like USDA (united states department of agriculture) to certify their seeds do no have chemicals in them. Further, if you are concerned about chemicals in your food as most are these days (me included) you have to approach it with some thought. Assuming 0f the 100% pesticides sprayed on the field, a very unlikely but for arguments sake 5% landed on that one plant. The pesticides then would be absorbed into the plant and be distributed in the fruit. That 5% is now down to maybe .05% in each fruit, and I am being highly conservative with my numbers. THEN, the .05% is divided up as it gets stored in each seed (100 seeds for example), this now means that there is .005% of the total fertilizer in that one seed. THEN you would have to bury that seed, and the plant would grow and that .005% would have to be dispersed through the plant to .0005%, stored in the fruit .00005% and then eaten by you. So no. that is 5 parts per BILLION. I feel that this makes my point very clear, that organic seed is just as safe from a health standpoint than an inorganic seed is.

BUT, from a genetics standpoint the argument is better. The plant that has to fend off pests naturally without the use of pesticides will indeed be stronger, more resilient, and will indeed be better suited to grow in adverse conditions. But is it worth the 30%-75% premium? You be the judge.

An heirloom is anything that is passed down from generation to generation. In our terms we are talking about genetics. The Seeds are grown to maturity, prevented from cross pollination (hybrids happen naturally you know), and that preserves the genetics for the next year. If the crop is grown long enough, it goes through stabilization (the tendency to revert back to the parent), and once the plant has been stabilized it can be considered an heirloom.

Heirlooms are reliable because they have been grown for so many years, their yields, growth habits, disease resistance and other bits of information can be assessed to safely say what is to be expected when the crop is grown. Heirlooms are the most desirable because they can be saved from year to year and save money over time if you know how to save seeds. Here is our playlist on YouTube about How to save seeds from different plants.

If you are someone who wants to grow heirlooms, make sure to check out our web store! We have over 300 varieties of heirloom vegetable seed, at only .99 per pack! Click HERE to check it out!