By Kate Jerome
The seed catalogs are piling up on my coffee table, and every time I have a few minutes free I sneak a peek. One of my dear friends calls it “seed porn.” Even though it’s certainly easier to order online these days, there is nothing like sitting in a comfy chair with a cup of tea and thumbing through the pages of delicious descriptions and pictures of every imaginable vegetable and flower.
As you start to make plans for next spring’s garden, it might be worth a refresher on some of the lingo in the catalogs. Another reminder is to find a few friends who also want to order and put in a joint order and share seeds. Do you really need 25 green zebra tomato plants? Sharing the order and seed packets makes sense financially and is also a great way to bond with gardening friends.
— Heirloom: We see this term frequently these days. A simple definition is a variety that has been around for more than 100 years and comes “true” from seed. They are open-pollinated.
— Open-pollinated: These seeds will reliably produce plants that are exactly like the parent plant. If you plan to save your seeds for the following year, the seeds from an open-pollinated variety will result in plants identical to the plant you saved seed from.
— F1: This means the variety is a hybrid rather than open-pollinated. In other words, humans have taken two varieties and cross-bred them to result in a third variety that is the F1 hybrid. These seeds are usually more expensive than open-pollinated seeds simply because of the human labor involved in producing them. Hybridization is often done to produce new colors, to produce a plant that is higher-yielding, or to breed in disease-resistance. It has nothing to do with genetically modifying the seed: F1s are not GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
— VFN: These initials stand for verticillium, fusarium and nematodes. These are all pests that can affect tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. If these letters are listed in the variety description, it means that the plant has been bred to be resistant to the pests. You may also see any combination of the letters or a single letter.
— Organic: These seeds have been grown with certified organic methods. If you plan to become certified as an organic grower, you must use organic seeds. For the home grower, it is simply a comfort to know that no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers were used to produce the seed. For me, it is also a nice reassurance that the farm producing the seed is taking care of their soil and land.