There are literally DOZENS of seed catalogs to pick and choose from to fill your vegetable garden. I often end up ordering from at least 2 or 3 catalogs each year. But purchasing one thing here and one thing there would be tedious, time-wasting, and rack up shipping charges. So here are some things I keep in mind:
- The source of the seed: I want my dollars to go to companies I love and want to support. I have some personal favorites, and some new ones I’m quite curious about that I’ve just discovered this year.
- Minimize the amount of time that I spend so I don’t take absolutely forever deciding on and ordering seeds for my garden. As much as I enjoy flipping through catalogs… there comes a point when the decision has to be made and I need to place my order.
- Minimize costs. This mainly concerns shipping costs since seed costs are somewhat consistent. If you are ordering a large amount of seed, it can still add up. But I can almost guarantee that it will still be less expensive over the course of the year (and healthier!) than purchasing food from a grocery store.
Knowing the source of your seeds is an interesting and very important part of purchasing seeds. If you’ve ever read Seed to Seed (a seed-saver’s manual) or any other similar books, you’ll know that seed production/saving/distribution is quite a process, and is something that I think many of us don’t appreciate enough. (But then, there are a lot of things that I think are amazing and underappreciated. )
Seed is important and very valuable. And there are so many different varieties and kinds of food in the world, because of the variety of seeds and plants. It’s just extraordinary!
Now, the main reason I wrote this post is to answer one of the questions we get asked most often:
“What vegetable varieties are owned by Seminis/Monsanto?
And which ones aren’t?”
Overall, the Monsanto company (Monsanto plus all its subsidiaries) probably owns more seed varieties, seed patents, and gene patents than any other person or company. They also do a lot with GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). But they’re not the only ones. Some other big names include Dupont Pioneer (apparently they’re merged now), Syngenta, Bayer, and a handful of others. Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto/Seminis are USA owned companies, and Syngenta is from Switzerland. But regardless of where they’re based, they’re affecting seeds, food, money, and lives all over the planet, including Mexico, India, Thailand, Europe, South America, the United States, etc. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere where they’re not.
It seems like every year there are more and more seed varieties that are owned, marketed, and distributed by Seminis/Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta. Why is this important to know?
Well, the first thing is that GMO’s are …. questionable. Especially after the research that recently came out from France where rats developed massive tumors after eating GMO crops. Not to mention the disheartening news one hears about these big multi-billion dollar companies suing many small, family-owned farms (learn more here, here (CBS news), here, and watch the video here). A lot of what they do is revolved around another of their products (the chemical Round-up) which most gardeners have heard of.
As far as understanding your own seed that you’ll be planting in your own vegetable garden this year, there’s a couple of things everyone ought to understand.
☀ Most of the vegetable varieties that are owned by these companies (primarily Seminis) are not GMO’s. A lot of them are normal vegetable garden seeds that people grow every year in their gardens. That’s important to know because it means even if you purchase seeds that are “GMO-free,” that doesn’t necessarily mean they are (as one commenter put it) “Monsanto free”.
☀ The difference between hybrid and GMO seeds.
I. When hybrid seed is produced, two parent strains are intentionally crossed by plant breeders in a delicate and time-consuming process, with the intention that the resulting seeds will have particular characteristics from each parent plant, usually for yield, disease resistance, etc. The two parent strains are often kept secret be the company producing the hybrid seed.
II. When GMO seed is produced, a gene from a completely different organism (it could be from an animal, bird, plant, fungus, amphibian…) with a specific desired trait is identified. The gene that produces that trait is isolated, and then it can be ‘inserted’ into the seed. ’Gene guns’ can be used (which literally shoot the isolated gene into the seed) or the seed can be inoculated with a bacteria carrying the gene. Exactly how the gene is then incorporated into the seed’s DNA is not fully understood, even by the companies producing the seed.
☀ A bit about the definition of open-pollinated seeds and heirloom seeds, and how they differ from hybrid seed.
I. Open-pollinated seeds are produced exactly how it sounds. The plant is open-pollinated, without any specific crosses. To continue to produce seed true-to-type to the parent plant (so the seed company can sell seeds that produce consistent types of plants), the different varieties are often isolated by distance. The distance needed between different types of vegetables varies. Lima beans, for example, must be isolated by 1 mile from other types of lima beans, or they’ll naturally cross. (I would highly recommend getting a copy of Seed to Seed for more in-depth explanations on seed saving).
II. You’ve probably already read the hybrid explanation above, but I’ll add that a lot of gardeners say that if you purchase and plant hybrid seeds, you won’t be able to save that seed and plant it again the next year. This is partially true and partially not. A lot of hybrid plants will still produce seed, and those seeds will still produce viable plants during the next growing season. However, the 2nd generation of plants is not likely to be true-to-type, meaning that they will not produce vegetables like the plants the year before. (For example, say you plant a hybrid variety of yellow corn that was crossed from two plants to breed for 1: sweetness, and 2: resistance to a particular disease. If you save seeds from those plants and plant it the following year, it is likely that those seeds will revert to one or the other of the parent strains. Some plants may produce very sweet yellow ears of corn… but will be susceptible to disease and won’t thrive. And some plants may grow healthy and strong, but produce bland ears of corn.) The other thing that can happen is that the seed really won’t be viable at all, which does happen sometimes with hybrids. So the ‘myth’ that you can’t save seed from hybrids is partially true and partially not. It depends. And you don’t always know which category your seeds saved from hybrids will fall into.
☀ Monsanto is known primarily for their work on GMO’s. What’s less known is that they own the rights to a lot of seed varieties that are non-GMO. This primarily happened when they purchased Seminis, which was, at the time, one of the biggest owners of vegetable seed varieties. That means the majority of their garden seeds are just normal seeds that everyday people plant in their gardens. If you purchase the seeds from a company that purchased them from Seminis, then Seminis (and thus Monsanto) is getting a cut of the profit. There are several common seed companies that purchase some of their seeds from Monsanto, including Burpee’s, Johnny’s, and others (see the list here for more information).
☀ Some of the seed varieties on the list below are relatively new, like the Burpee’s Big Boy tomato. And there are some varieties that are much older and have been around a lot longer. Some may even be considered ‘heirloom’ varieties. Yes, Seminis does produce some seeds for heirloom varieties.
☀ So this explains why you may see some varieties listed in a catalogue that sells strictly open-pollinated seeds. Seminis (or some other company) has taken a seed variety and ‘hybridized it’, with the intent of creating a better product that only they can own and sell. It’s turned into quite a lucrative business. But whether or not the hybrid is actually a better product is, in my experience, just about as variable as any other seed. Some hybrid seed does seem to produce better and more flavorful vegetables and are more resistant to diseases… and some doesn’t.
So does it matter if you purchase seeds owned/produced by Seminis if they’re not GMO? Well, that’s up to you. Knowledge is power and gives you greater understanding in your choices. The upshot is, if it matters to you, inform yourself and find out where the seeds came from before you make a purchase. That’s the goal of this post, all the seed catalog reviews we’re doing, and the list of seed companies we’ve compiled.
The culmination of all of this are the seed lists (below). I went to the Seminis website and created a spreadsheet of all the varieties they listed there (both for the professional seed producers and the home gardener). Then I compared the lists from external sources to the varieties listed on the Seminis website. Then I did the same thing for Syngenta. The result are the spreadsheets below. (I also looked at Dupont’s website, but they didn’t seem to have many vegetable varieties. Mostly just corn, soybeans, and a few sunflowers, which weren’t likely to make it into the home garden.)
I’ve done my best to turn them into an easy-to-read and downloadable picture so you can stick them on your smart phone, or print a copy of them and keep them somewhere for easy access and reference, no matter where you go.
(OP = Open Pollinated; I know that there are more that are OP than are marked here… I just haven’t found and noted them all yet.)
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I know the spreadsheet above looks a little technical, but it’s easy to understand: if it’s in yellow, it comes from other sources that claim they’re owned by the specific company (Seminis/Monsanto, or Syngenta). If it’s any other color, it was listed directly on the source’s website (Seminis or Syngenta). The other colors are just to separate different vegetable groups. That’s it.
Then I started the rest of the project, marking seed catalogs as quickly as they’ve come. Red = the varieties listed on the Seminis website, and Orange = all the other varieties. Syngenta varieties are highlighted in blue. You can see an example in the picture to the left.
To make it easy for you to highlight your own catalog(s), I’m writing an article and making a video/podcast (if necessary) for each catalog. Remember, the ultimate point of this is just to be more educated and informed on where seeds come from. And since Seminis/Monsanto are one of the biggest owners of seed varieties (if not the biggest owners), it’s easy to start with them.
The best compliment you could give us is to SHARE this post and the list of seed catalogs with your friends, family members, neighbors, mailman, car washer, dog walker, babysitter, etc. (Facebook it, Pinterest it, re-post it, tumblr it….)
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