Greetings Fellow gardener!
There seems to be a lot of confusion running around these days as to what varieties are Heirloom, what varieties are “Hybrids”, and what varieties are GMO.
It will be my attempt here to see if I can clarify that a little bit for you.
Here we go!
Heirlooms, Hybrids, GMO. What’s up with all that?
First off “Heirlooms” – Real simple. These are basically just older varieties that have been relegated to the care of those gardeners who care to keep them alive for future generations. These can include the children of those varieties as crossed by the backyard gardener who has crossed one older variety with another to get something new but genetically of older parents that were dropped by mainstream agriculture in favor of higher yields or disease resistance often times sacrificing things like flavor, color, and food value in the process. This brings us to the next item:
Hybrids – In essence, we are all hybrids. Being born of parents makes an individual, be it plant, animal, or person, a hybrid of Mom and Dad. This is a process of nature and how she does things so don’t let “Hybrid” scare you off of a variety you’re considering for your garden.
Most of our garden plants have been crossed with human assistance since the days when our species stopped being hunter gatherers in favor of a more stable agrarian society. Corn is a classic example. It was just another grass once upon a time. But one that had nice big seeds that were tasty. Our ancient ancestors just kept picking the plants that had the biggest and tastiest seed heads until what we know today as corn started coming off the stalk. Upon examination it isn’t hard to see why so many of our ancestors relied on corn. It grows just about anywhere and the seed keeps F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
Take an ear of that old Indian corn from the dust in Grandma’s attic and sow it. Chances are it’ll sprout and grow. I’ve had it grow in 8” of crushed lime in a corner of our parking lot and left it there for a season just so I could show folks the power of corn as a food source.
Back to the home “hybridizer” and how that works. Let’s say that we like Bell peppers a lot but we’d like one with some heat. To get that we’d plant a nice fat bell pepper variety next to a jalepeno and let the bees pop the pollen from one to another and vice versa. Or to have more control over the mating we place a screen box over each plant and do the buzzing from flower to flower with a Q tip, or my typical method of choice, finger tip. : )
At the end of the season we taste some of the fruits of this crop and save the seed from the fruits that are closest to what we’re looking for. Next year we sow that seed and at the end of the season do another selection for the qualities we’re looking for. After about 5 or 6 seasons of this we should have something pretty darn close to the “Bellapeno” we were looking for.
This takes us to the next level of current human biotech:
GMO – Those three letters stand for Genetically modified organism.
You’re probably not going to do this at home unless you’re a mad scientist with one serious lab in the basement or behind the door hidden by the bookcase.
The basic process is we decide we now want our Bellapeno that we just got stable with the breeding selection to now have the same omega 3 concentration of salmon. We isolate the protein strands in the DNA of salmon that make it grow omega 3 fatty acids. Then we find a carrier virus that easily affects peppers. We “infect” the carrier virus with the salmon strands and give our Bellapeno plants the “fish flu”. If you’re looking to get there from here you infect multiple plants and select the ones that show the best result for omega 3 concentration and pepper qualities.
Whoohoo! We got there! Yay! We’ve got peppers that give us omega 3’s! Sounds good? Maybe not so much…
Because we’ve circumvented nature we have no idea whatsoever what will happen when the “fish flu” we just created gets loose in the food chain. All of a sudden weird things can start to happen. Salmon start getting plant viruses, Peppers start getting fish diseases, God only knows what happens to us when we eat it and get fish flu. Wisdom would dictate to not mess with something so potentially dangerous unless we can see all the consequences of our actions. The simple fact is, we can’t.
Nature’s been at this biology thing for what we guess to be about 4 ½ billion years or so. Ya think maybe she’s just a little bit smarter than Homo sapiens sapiens who was treating diseases with leeches just 600 years ago, and prescribing things like turpentine and mercury for human ingestion just 100 years ago?
Observe the side effect lawsuit ads for modern “miracle drugs” on any given night of TV. Do you trust these people to monkey around with cross species DNA modification? I don’t. In my view they might as well still be prescribing turpentine and mercury.
But hey, we just got peppers that have omega 3’s and everybody wants them because they’re “healthy” and rich with Omega 3’s!
Now we go to the patent office with our virally modified gene structure for Megabellapeno and sell it to the highest bidder. And whenever nature carries the patented genes to somebody else’s pepper patch we can sue them for patent infringement.
That’s precisely what’s happening in our culture today.
As of a couple of years ago Monsanto was taking people’s farms because the wind carried patent genetics across the fence line from a neighboring farm growing a Monsanto variety of GMO corn, that you probably ate in the Corn flakes you had for breakfast.
As long as we buy the products and take the prescriptions manufactured by these companies they’ll keep on with it. Market demand for processed convenience foods and “whiz-bang” pharmaceuticals that’ll cure what ails ya has shown them that we’ll blindly buy whatever they sell us so why should they do anything different?
To quote one of my favorite science guys, “Just because one can do a thing, doesn’t mean that one should do a thing”… “Seek wisdom first, then knowledge”. David Suzuki
To quote myself, “It’s the right of a sentient life form, to have the freedom to choose, this world can turn for the better, it depends on the logic we use.”
That is why I choose to Just say No, to GMO. : ) Your path is yours to choose.
Hopefully I’ve helped you understand what’s up with Heirlooms, Hybrids, and GMO and the differences and similarities between them.
If you’d like to spend about 45 minutes of your life to gain a deeper understanding of the potential dangers posed by GMO in agriculture here’s a link to Silent Forest with David Suzuki. You can view it on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSl7sQXVzUQ
A wise man, that one is. ; )
‘Til next time,