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Organic, treated, or untreated seeds?

Is it better to use organic seeds for gardening?

As a novice organic gardener in beautiful tropical Zone 11, this question has been on my mind.  I was surprised to learn the local farm that produces the “organic” fruits and vegetables that I buy each week does not use organic seeds.  They use organic methods, but not the seeds.  This farm’s produce is not USDA Certified Organic, which is often the case with smaller farms that cannot afford the certification process.  Nevertheless, I wish they would use organic seeds because it’s healthier for the environment and thus for you too.

During my own recent online effort to buy organic baby bok choy (pak choi) seeds,  I learned that a seed is not simply a seed.

There are three types of seeds available:  organic, conventional, and treated.

  1. Organic seeds are untreated and must be grown in compliance with the guidelines set forth by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification program, which requires all organic foods bearing its label to meet strict standards for growing, handling, and processing.  Look for seeds that say “certified organic” or “100% certified organic” and bear the USDA organic label to the right.  There is one caveat:  untreated seed may be allowed in Certified Organic production if there is not a comparable variety available in Certified Organic seed.
  2. Conventional, untreated seeds are from plants grown conventionally with the use of synthetic and chemical products for pest control, weed control, and fertilization.
  3. Treated seeds have been treated with hot water, chemical, or biological methods to protect them from pathogens and hence increase their performance.

Non-GMO seeds

Organic seeds cannot be genetically engineered, but conventional seeds can be Non-GMO.  Check whether your seed source has signed the “Safe Seed Pledge,” which says

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically-engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families, or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically-engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and, ultimately, people and communities.”

Which seeds are best?

Using organic seeds is the best option for the health of the environment, which impacts personal health as well.  It means that chemical and synthetic treatments for fertilizing, pests, and weeds were not used in the production of the source plants.  These are the very chemicals that contaminate ground water and increase pesticide exposure, leading to health risks like cancer, nerve damage, and birth defects.  In addition, the DNA of the seed has not been impacted by exposure to chemicals.

Seeds of Change and Botanical Interests are two companies that offer organic seeds.  Seeds of Change carries only organic seeds and offers a wide selection of 1200 varieties. Organic seeds are more expensive, but the cost of seeds is already low, making organic a good investment.

Organic seeds are not available for all types of fruits and vegetables though.  In the end, I wasn’t able to find organic baby bok choy seeds.  If you ever come across them, please let me know!  Instead, I bought conventional, untreated seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds because they provide clear online information about which seeds are organic, treated, and untreated and they won’t send treated seeds as a substitute if you check the appropriate box on checkout.  Always check carefully to be sure you are not buying treated seeds.

Your health and the health of the planet are interconnected.  Every small step you take to live green makes a difference—for you and the world.

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  1. Great blog on a topic that my sister and I were just discussing. You beat me to the punch with the blog. I think I will link your site to mine because this is a topic that I think will get a lot more interest. Glad to have found your blog today! nadia

    • Nadia, what a terrific gardening and photography blog you have. I’m glad you found my blog today, so that I could discover yours in turn. I look forward to sifting through the archives. I’m a total greenhorn so I’m sure I will be able to pick up some tips from you. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it very much.

  2. Hello there,
    I live in a seed collecting community. Some of the old-timers here have been collecting seeds for 50 or more years. What this comes down to is seed collection and exchanges are quite common. Some very interesting older varieties that were not hybridized are quite popular where I live but it’s not easy to get some to part with the seeds. You have to have something of equal value and usefulness to barter.

    The label “organic” is not consistently defined and applied and I’m quite skeptical about dome of the “organic washing” we have been subject to.

    ultimately the best course of action is individual action. Collect and store as much seed as you can from truly outstanding plants and then exchange with friends. I’d like to see a seed exchange movement sweep across North America and then the world.

    • Time Thief, I love this idea of seed exchange and the principle of individual action. It can bring more simplicity and connection to life. Thank you for telling us about it. Once I have a garden actually growing, I will be able to start collecting seeds too. I would prefer not to buy seeds from a distance whenever possible. Our strawberry patch came out of nowhere, so I imagine this was self-seeding nature working on her own. I agree we have to be on the watch for “green washing,” (companies that claim products are organic when they are not). Thanks for your unique contribution to the conversation.

  3. Local seed exchange is such a great idea… wonder if I could get something going here where I live. Time thief you have some awesome ideas!

    • Nadia, with your energy and enthusiasm I have no doubts you could start the revolution in San Diego. I love your recent entry on the giving garden. Cheers.

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