GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds definition and meaning | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Seeds and Bees

Is this Mortgage Lifter heirloom tomato a genetically modified organism (GMO)? Yes, it is.
Photo Credit
Doreen G. Howard
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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.

About The Author

Doreen G. Howard

Doreen Howard, an award-winning author, is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day. She has gardened in every climate zone from California to Texas to Oklahoma to the Midwest. She’s especially fond of unusual houseplants and heirloom edibles. Read More from Doreen G. Howard

2023 Gardening Club