Organic Seed

Making the Decision – Organic Seeds or not?

I’ve used organic methods since I first started gardening 32 years ago and am committed to a sustainable and regenerative way of gardening.

I never remember having the option to buy organic seeds or plants.  If they were available at all back then, I had no access to them.  I just bought seed and raised plants.

Organic is popular.

The word organic has now become popular. And like anything else that comes into the realm of “big business” it is sometimes hard to find out what is true and what is marketing hype. Very unfortunate, since to make informed decisions you have to be accurately informed.

Much that is Written is Misleading.

I read so many things on the internet that are seemingly from a reputable source. But because I go back far enough to remember and know what went on when the Organic Certification went into effect, I know they are misleading.

Anyone who has made a study of human nature and the history of mankind will know that laws made are not always made for the good of mankind; but rather for those who have the money and means to influence.  And even when laws are made with good intent  — as the years go by — the original intent is lost and forgotten.

Main Difference in Organic and Conventional Seeds

Organic seeds are produced by organic fruits and vegetables.  They cannot be treated with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers not permitted by the National Organic Program.

Petroleum-based synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used on most conventional crops. Generally, any of those crops grown for their seed receive heavier applications since they grow for a longer time. Regulations are lenient that control the amount and type used.

Organic. Only Way to Go?

From the above definitions alone, one might think that organic seeds are the only way to go.

In addition, you find people with influence promoting “buy only organic” and leaving out an important part of the story.

Let’s use Maria Rodale as an example.  She is the granddaughter of J.I. Rodale who founded the organic movement in America in 1942 by launching Organic Farming and Gardening magazine. (Now Organic Gardening Magazine. ) Rodale was a trusted name.  One you could bank on.  Ms. Rodale is now Chariman and CEO of the Rodale publishing company.

She is a staunch promoter of “buy only organic” without a word about circumstances that would justify the use of something else or in some cases make it preferable to organic.

I think in the vast majority of cases buying organic is a good policy.  It is also a way to refrain from supporting the misuse of chemicals etc. But, in some circumstances there are other considerations that need to be addressed.

Examples of Another Consideration that Needs to be Addressed.

Example #1

Certified organic growers are required by law to use only organically-grown seed  when it is available.  Otherwise the crop will not be considered organic even if they follow every principal of sustainable, organic gardening. Not a good thing in all cases.

J. L. Hudson, a Seedsman in California,  reports in an essay that several organic growers of medicinal plants have expressed concern that the crops in cultivation are in serious need of greater genetic diversity.  An infusion of wild genes from wild plants could easily remedy this.

However, under the law, plants in the wild cannot be labeled organic. Diversity  – like air circulation – is an organic principle. But the law is promoting the same genetic uniformity in the organic market as one found in conventional agriculture.

So there are cases where one would be better off buying seed from a source that is known to use organic principles and is not necessarily Certified Organic if —   they are keeping to true organic principals even though the law won’t allow them be certified.

Example #2

Another example is on the website of Southern Exposure Seed Exhange.  (They offer a good diversity of heirloom seed emphasizing those that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.)

They explain on their Home page that some of their seed growers have not chosen to become Certified Organic, but use natural ecological methods.

Because professional growers are required by law to use certified organic seed if their crops are to be labeled organic, SESE prioritizes offering USDA certified organic seed.  Fortunately for us, in addition they offer a variety of seed to the home gardener that has been raised by folks who follow ecological principals but are not certified. And it could be we — the home gardeners — who will be the last hope in preserving this diversity.

I for one am very appreciative of their openness to acknowledge growers that choose not to be certified,  but follow the ecologically sound methods of organic gardening.  And thus, in keeping with the principle of diversity, make available to us a greater variety of plants.

Danger of Loss of Diversity (also known as Genetic Variation)

Because professional organic growers are not being allowed (in many cases) to plant the best seeds and the best varieties they can get, there is danger of the loss of genetic variation.

Remember diversity is an important principal of organic gardening.  Not only does it insure greater strength in many plants, but in every day terms — it’s backup.  If one thing fails, better have something else that works.

Further Promoting the Confusion

To further promote the confusion there are websites of seed suppliers (that are held in high regard) that indicate organic seed will give a more superior plant than a non-organic seed.  They say that plants from organic seed have a “strong interaction with their growing conditions.”

As you can see, their wording is vague.  Nonetheless, you get the drift.  One could just as well say that plants from conventional seed can have a “strong interaction with their growing conditions.”

The key to the seeds performance – the quality of the seed — is in the genetic content of the seed. (The DNA) Conditions after that ——-production, harvest, drying and storage —-even though they can make a big difference — are still  secondary.

If You Don’t Believe it, Do Your Own Test.

Plant a quality organic seed and a quality conventional seed of the same variety in the same conditions and see if you can tell the difference.

I am NOT saying to buy all conventional seed. I do NOT favor the use of all the chemicals used to raise most of the conventional seed.  I am saying that genetic content has more to do with performance than whether the seed was produced from organic plants or conventionally grown plants.

Free from contaimination? Not hardly. But I made a committment to strive for it 33 years ago.

One of TMG’s readers wrote to me recently and said she was wondering how I felt about using only organic seed and starter plants.  She closed with ” I am absolutely positive that your commitment to purity exceeds my own and am very curious on your thoughts with this.”

The dictionary gives the definition of purity as freedom from contamination. In the world we live in it is all but impossible to totally avoid contamination. Nonetheless,  I am committed to keeping the “contamination” out of my life and out of my garden in every way I can.

  • I try to buy organic when it makes sense and when it’s available.
  • I find that organic starter plants (that I start) perform much more robustly than seedlings purchased elsewhere that have been raised on a chemical diet.
  • If I wanted a certain variety that was not available as organic  – I would buy it.
  • In the past, when I have purchased plants from a road side stand or nursery (and believe me they are all raised on a chemical diet) they all go through withdrawal from chemicals after I plant them. They look pretty awful for a while. Then after their crisis they recover and thrive in my wonderful soil.
  • I have also found over 33 years that a seed raised in organic conditions that is allowed to reseed (or you can save the seed) for several years, will produce plants that seem to adapt to my growing conditions and out-perform any plants grown from newly purchased seed.

Final Words

The more you know about what’s going on, the better off you are.  But that does not always make the decisions easy.  Use all your experiences and all your knowledge.  Make a commitment to yourself and keep it. Make the best decision you can.  It will take you in the right direction.


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  • This is very hard to say but…I think…this may be my favorite recent post! WOW! And THANK YOU! This is WONDERFUL information, so easy to understand, and incredibly informative. The bottom line, for me, is to buy organic seed when at all possible but the world will not end if you buy conventionally grown seed if you have to. Wonderful! Bravo!!!!

  • Hi Patricia,

    I am very glad you liked the post and that you found it easy to understand and informative.

    There is a lot of confusion out there regarding organic anything, and I think the more correct information you have the better off you are.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • You out did yourself on this one. Very good.
    Thank you.
    A note: I picked and ate fresh lettuce yesterday from my little cold frame.
    Can’t believe it. It’s all your inspiration.

  • Hi Beppy,

    It’s very rewarding to know that my efforts have been of value. Indeed, iron sharpens iron — so it works both ways: You have been an inspiration to me as well.

    I’m excited for you about the lettuce. Picking lettuce in the winter (especially when there is snow on the ground) is one of life’s joys! I think I’ll go out and see what I can find under my coldframes. I’ll be thinking of YOU!


  • Thanks for another thought provoking subject. Until this, I hadn’t paid much attention to organic seeds. Now, I have a better understanding what all is involved.

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