I was sitting with a couple friends over the weekend and we got into talking about plants, which naturally led to us talking about the drought we are experiencing and how to plant indigenous and endemic plants. I know that planting seed is difficult with the water restrictions we are currently facing, but our discussion eventually led to us talking about growing our own vegetables.
What scared me is how very few people really know about the genetically modified seed that is being sold on the market at the moment. The definition for genetically modified organisms (GMO) is a genetic material which has been altered using genetic engineering techniques in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination eg: pollination.
Most seeds on the market which can be found at garden centres and most retail shops are F1 hybrids. An F1 hybrid seed is a genetically modified seed that has been mass produced for supply and demand. These seeds are generally more disease resistant; they tend to grow stronger and with more vigour and some varieties are drought resistant. These plants need fewer pesticides and other chemical treatments.
Doesn’t that make you wonder what you are actually growing, let alone eating? If a seed has inbuilt pesticides, does that not make you wonder what harmful effect it will have on your body? You have to ask yourself, why are there so many people with cancers and tumours these days?
Another down side of an F1 hybrid (GMO) is that the seeds it produces once it becomes a mature plant are sterile because it’s genetics have been modified. That means you can plant them but they will not grow the following season.
I got the shock of my life when I recently bought sunflowers for my wife. As kids we used to take the seeds out of the flower when they had passed their shelf life and plant them in our garden. These sunflowers had been genetically modified! I could not believe it… There was no seed within the sunflower seed. So this also brings up the question: Who has the monopoly over our seeds and food supply?
As a landscape designer, nature enthusiast and invasive species consultant I was alarmed when doing research on GMO corn and what affect it has on our bee populations. Did you know that most maize being planted these days is GMO and that it has its own pesticides within it, which means that locusts, bees and other pollen loving insects die when they come into contact with maize.
Heirloom seeds have come onto the market, this is a seed that has not been genetically modified and is openly pollinated, therefore characteristics of each particular cultivar is passed on exactly from year to year. The same growth habit, size, colour and flavour is passed from the parent plant of this year to the seedling of next year.
Some heirlooms can be traced back hundreds of years. Now is the time to ask your grandparents if they have any seeds which they have been growing for many years. On my trips to really rural areas, I try find seed that locals have been planting for year after year. These are heirloom seeds. You never know you may become a multi-millionaire selling seeds as old as time.
So how does one know if a seed is an F1 hybrid or a Heirloom? It is not difficult to tell. If it does not say heirloom or non GMO on the pack don’t buy it. I generally buy a product called Franchi Sementi which is imported from Italy other great suppliers are Living Seeds and Sow Delicious.
If you are looking for living examples of heirloom production, the Saxon Hotel in Sandhurst Johannesburg has the most exquisite roof top vegetable garden. If you are in Cape Town, it is best to visit Babylonstoren, their gardens are spectacular.
I hope this advice on seeds encourages you to be more aware of what we are planting and eating. Please let us know if you have any questions by contacting Spargo Landscape Consultants.
Who is Nicholas Spargo?
Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.
Landscaping and education are very close to his hear