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Seeds and Bees

February 19, 2013

Is this Mortgage Lifter heirloom tomato a genetically modified organism (GMO)? Yes, it is.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
Your rating: None Average: 2.1 of 5 (7 votes)

Every seed you plant is a GMO (genetically modified organism), including heirloom and organic seeds. 

Given the current controversy over GMO seeds, you should be surprised.  I was.

The reason seeds are misidentified is that a hastily created label was created for genetically engineered ones—those that are genetically altered like corn, soy and cucumbers seeds that grow into plants unaffected by pesticides, herbicides and other adverse conditions such as drought. 

GMO seeds, most people believe,  are genetically modified with genes from fish, herbicide-resistant proteins and other chemicals, rather than DNA from another plant.

GMO, in fact, refers to a seed or plant that has different DNA than its parent.  Changes can be made by accidental cross-pollination, hybrid breeding or traditional breeding done for centuries by farmers everywhere. 

All these seeds are GMOs, heirlooms I've saved from plants in my vegetable gardens.

Charles C. Hart Seed Co., a 120-year-old company, decided to label their seeds as GE Free, to show the distinction between natural and hybrid crosses and those that are genetically engineered.  Without true GMO plant crossings, heirlooms like Silver Queen corn or the fragrant Bourbon Rose would not exist, according to the Hart Seed Co. 

My eyes were really opened after learning about these differences.  I have regularly made crosses between varieties of tomatoes and peppers in my garden to create new and unusual offspring.  Little did I know that I was actually creating GMO seeds.

Plant a Pollinator Garden

Honeybees, some butterflies and native bees are disappearing from our gardens, orchards and fields at an alarming rate.  Pollinators like these are essential to harvests.  That’s why the Home Garden Seed Association asks gardeners to plant more flowers that are the food source for butterflies and bees.  Plant flowers in the vegetable garden, among fruit trees, in beds and in containers.  Every flower helps.  You can click here to go to a site that has more information and to sign a Pollinator Protection Pledge.  Do your part and plant flowers in your yard.

Plant pollinator-attracting flowers in large blocks to lure a wide variety of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.


Plant flowers in clumps of at least four feet in diameter.  Large clusters are more attractive to pollinators.

A succession of flowering plants that lasts from spring through fall will support a wide range of bee species.

Flowers of different shapes attract different types of pollinators.

Pesticides are a huge threat to pollinators.  Keep your garden organic or use products that don’t harm pollinators.

Related Articles

Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.

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I am needing to know when it

By Laura todd

I am needing to know when it will be ok to place my tomato plants in the garden. I have just purchased them and I'm afraid it's too late to safely get them into the garden. A friend told me that farmers almanac said not to plant anything this weekend in my area. Lexington NC

Plant the tomatoes ASAP;

By Doreen G. Howard

Plant the tomatoes ASAP; position them in the garden where they get full sun in the morning and some shade in the afternoon.  You should be fine.

I am not sure if the person

By Imoksoami

I am not sure if the person who wrote this article is trying to be intentionally misleading or just isn't up on what is going on. Hiding behind GMO is a good idea if you're trying to fool people because Monsanto and others like them use GMO when they should legally have to use GEO - genetically 'engineered' organism. I question the authors motives in this article.

Unless you did this, then you

By johnp0311

Unless you did this, then you did not make a GMO plant in your garden.

Excellent animation by PBS to illustrate how a GMO crop is made: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/engineer/transgen.html

This is totally incorrect.

By johnp0311

This is totally incorrect. Per Wikipedia GMO definition is: A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

It sure looks like Mr Hart is trying to invent a loophole that is not there in order to sell GMO without specifying.

Here is more. The legal

By johnp0311

Here is more.

The legal definition is: specifically, "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology"

the last part "obtained through the use of modern biotechnology" that does not include open pollination.

Even more reading: The

By johnp0311

Even more reading:

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which is an international agreement on biosafety lays everything out as clear as crystal.

Many flowers have ways of

By Garden-nz.co.nz

Many flowers have ways of attracting pollinators from a distance. Their shapes, background colors, and fragrances bring the pollinator to the flower.Good information and tips shared, its very helpful, will keep these tips in my idea!

Why is Monsanto patenting

By healthymom

Why is Monsanto patenting seeds then. Seems like a lost cause agains the likes of Monsanto.

tomato plants have become vry

By AnonymouskenO

tomato plants have become vry confusing anymore. grew a 'pinkgirl' from previus yr plant and it grew, but never produced anything. the little yellow flowers bloomed, but no tomato. the silver queen cor grew nice last yr from seed I got at local nursery. if I use the seed from those plants this yr - do u think they will produce ears of corn, or are they another one-and-done plant?

Your tomato blossoms probably

By Doreen G. Howard

Your tomato blossoms probably didn't set fruit, because last summer's heat killed the pollen. When nights are above 70F and days are over 90F, pollen becomes sterile. If you only planted Silver Queen corn and no other variety, the odds are your saved seed will grow true. If there were other corn varieties in the area, they probably crossed with Silver Queen. You might come up with something interesting, though!

This is a great article,

By LillyA

This is a great article, thanks for sharing! I got a hummingbird feeder, http://www.kinsmangarden.com/category/Hummingbird-Feeders for my garden. It looks nice and attracts all the right garden visitors!

Do not forget that the

By jeeps

Do not forget that the companies like Monsanto will be suing for their patented GMO or GE plants that invade others' farms. They probably will not sue the person with a garden full of heirloom plants.

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