Understanding Garden Terms

Do you find yourself confused by terms like: hybrid, genetically modified, heirloom, open-pollinated, heritage and microsystem? In this article we will go over some basics that will help clear up some of the confusion.

First, let’s look at the difference between a microsystem and an ecosystem. To gardeners an ecosystem would be used to describe the region’s average high and low temperatures, sea level, rainfall and moisture and the zone. A microsystem could be your entire property or sections of the property. For instance, if you have one corner that tends to remain moist, and another that gets mostly shade, while a different area has full sun… those are all examples of different microsystems. Each microsystem will have plants and wildlife that will thrive in those particular conditions.

Hybrid seeds are created when two unique parents are mechanically or purposely cross-pollinated. Introducing foreign genetic material on a molecular scale produces genetically modified (GM) crops.

Open-pollinated means the plants produced naturally with nature doing all the work.

Heritage has come to mean open-pollinated seeds known to have been grown for at least one, and often several, generations.

Heirloom refers to seeds varieties that go back much farther than just a few generations.

Did you know that in some cases, it is illegal to save GM seeds? A registered trademark indicates genetic manipulation and that is the legal property of the labs that designed it.

Bio-piracy and bio-prospecting, involves patent rights over the development of certain gene combinations. They have even found a way to incorporate terminator genes (a.k.a. suicide seeds) – this means that while the plant may produce quality food with seeds, those seeds will not germinate. Hybrid plant produce, too, will not produce true to form. Instead, it will begin to revert to one or another of its parents and its seeds will be different and quite possibly weakened every year thereafter. While open-pollinated seed will always produce true to form as long as proper seed-saving procedures are followed.

Large commercial agriculture uses monoculture methods (fields of one crop), often with little to no pollinator and windbreak or water runoff planning. There are no-till (not turning the earth with machinery), organic (grown without chemicals) and biodynamic (considering the relationship, cycles and needs of all forms of life) methods.

Permaculture involves the scientific evaluation of the land, mapping, working with nature, using what is available on site or nearby, eliminating waste through reuse).

Succession planting involves the gardener having transplants or seeds ready to plant as soon as one crop is harvested.

Interplanting (planting closely together), bio-intensive (using the soil surface more efficiently) and companion (working with plants that benefit each other while avoiding those that are direct competition with one-another) are other terms you are likely to come across.