One of the things that I look forward to the most at the beginning of the gardening season is purchasing seeds. There are always so many to choose from and I always try to grow something that I’ve never grown before as a fun experiment.
But, if you’re anything like me when I first started gardening, you’ve probably wondered if your seeds should be organic. Well here’s the answer:
Your seeds do not need to be organic to grow healthy, beautiful, and delicious produce. Organic seeds do not produce healthier foods than non-organic seeds and many seed companies still use organic practices despite not being certified organic.
The word “organic” can be a loaded term but I’ll go over exactly what it means and what makes organic seeds different from non-organic seeds. I’ll also give you some recommendations for good seed companies to purchase from if you’re not sure where to start.
What does organic mean?
There are many different definitions and understandings of the word “organic” floating around in the food-growing world.
Nowadays, many gardeners are using organic practices in their gardens and are trying to purchase seeds and plant starts that are certified organic as a way to ensure that their produce is healthy for people and the environment.
But what does it mean to be certified organic? Here is the description of certified organic foods as listed on the USDA website,
“USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”
This definition certainly leaves a lot open for interpretation. To put it simply, a producer must follow a strict set of guidelines put in place by the USDA and go through routine inspections to obtain their organic certification. Without this certification, producers cannot label their products as “organic”. This includes seed producers.
How to know if your seeds are organic
For a seed company to sell certified organic seeds, the seed had to have been saved from a plant that was grown using the certified organic guidelines set in place by the USDA.
Many people believe that if a product is organic, then no chemical pesticides and fertilizers were used in its production. This is actually not true. Federal guidelines do not allow the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers but do allow the use of organic pesticides or fertilizers.
To know if your seeds are certified organic or not, take a look at the seed packet and look for the “USDA Organic” label. If you order your seeds online or from a catalog, organic seeds will have the letters “OG” listed next to them.
Without these labels, your seeds are not technically certified organic. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Can you grow organic vegetables from non-organic seeds?
You can still grow healthy, delicious, and organic produce from non-organic seeds. As home gardeners, we aren’t really worried about whether or not our vegetables meet federal guidelines because we’re only growing for ourselves.
You can still use organic practices in your garden like composting, crop rotation, no-tilling, and no-spraying as a way to create a thriving garden ecosystem and grow healthy produce. We even have an article about the best organic pest control methods that you should check out.
Non-organic seeds are not harmful to people and can definitely be used in your organic garden.
Are heirloom seeds organic?
Some heirloom seeds are organic and some heirloom seeds are not organic. It all goes back to checking your labels. People often think that the term heirloom automatically equals organic because heirloom is somewhat of a buzzword in the organic food-growing world.
But, the term organic has more to do with the growing conditions of a plant than the plant itself. Heirloom seeds can be grown with or without using organic practices.
Are hybrid seeds organic?
Similar to heirloom seeds, hybrid seeds can be organic and non-organic. Just make sure to check your labels. Many people may think that all hybrid seeds are non-organic due to the process in which they were produced.
But, hybridization is something that can occur in nature. Seed companies will often create hybrid seed varieties inside a closed greenhouse to prevent cross-pollination from undesired plants and to help speed up the hybridization process.
This doesn’t mean that hybrid seeds have had any sort of synthetic chemical inputs added to them. You can check out this article to learn more about hybrid seeds.
Are organic seeds non-GMO?
Any seeds you buy from garden seed companies are guaranteed to be non-GMO because GMO seeds are only available to commercial producers. In the U.S. only a handful of crops are actually GMO.
Some common GMO crops include corn, soybean, alfalfa, and potatoes just to name a few. No large-scale seed company would sell GMO seeds to a home gardener because it’s just not profitable for the seed company.
I just wrote an article all about GMO seeds so if you’re looking for more information on that, you can check it out here.
Where to get organic seeds
There are plenty of great seed companies out there that offer lots of organic seed options. Here are some of my personal favorites:
- High Mowing Organic Seeds– Based out of Vermont, this seed company provides only organic seeds and is one that I’ve always had great success with when planted in my garden.
- Johnny’s Selected Seed– Johnny’s is a larger company that offers organic and non-organic seeds for pretty much any crop you could ever want to grow.
- Sow True Seeds– This is one of my favorite seed companies because part of their work is to encourage people to save their seeds. They have lots of great organic options.
- Fedco Seeds– Fedco offers both organic and non-organic seed options and gives great discounts for bulk seed orders.
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds– Although Baker Creek does not offer certified organic seeds, their seeds were grown using organic practices and would fit well into any organic garden.
Here’s an article with even more seed companies to buy from, including companies outside of the U.S.
Keep in mind that organic seeds tend to be more expensive than their non-organic counterparts because of the labor involved in producing them.
Naturally grown as an alternative to organic
Here in the U.S., a new producer certification program has come on the market called “Certified Naturally Grown”. This program is different from the organic certification program in that it is more supportive of small local producers.
The naturally grown certification fees are significantly less than the organic certification fees making them more affordable for smaller-scale producers. There’s also less paperwork and the farm inspections are carried about by other farmers.
To me, it’s important to mention that while I am a big fan of the mission behind the certified naturally grown program and I think it’s a great alternative to the organic certification, slapping any kind of certification label on a product does not automatically make it sustainable.
It’s up to us as consumers to ask questions and make sure we’re looking into the growing practices of the producers we purchase products from. Especially when it comes to seed companies.
To sum everything up, no, you don’t need to use organic seeds in your garden unless it’s something that’s important to you. Non-organic seeds will produce vegetables that are just as healthy and delicious as organic seeds.
But at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to grow organically and in fact, I encourage it! Just remember that not every seed, plant start, or additive you use has to have the certified organic label attached to it.
There are plenty of ways to grow a healthy garden without falling into the trap of organic marketing. Your garden should be tended to with practices that constantly work to build up the health of your garden. It should be a regenerative system. Always remember to work with the land and not against it.
“Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means” U.S. Department of Agriculture https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means Accessed October 6, 2022.