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Seeds of Change

Frequently Asked Questions: Organic Seeds & Gardening


What is organic gardening?
Organic gardening is the practice of producing crops by avoiding the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and growth regulators. Instead, organic growers use cover crops, manures, compost, and natural fertilizers to maintain soil fertility; hand or mechanical cultivation and mulch to manage weeds; and disease resistant seed varieties, crop rotation, natural biological cycles, and beneficial insects and birds to manage pests. Visit the ‘Learning Center’ section of our website for more information.

Do you need organic seed to have an organic garden?
Yes. 100% certified organic seeds are harvested from plants grown without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides and therefore, harbor no residues from these chemicals. Organically grown seed produces hearty, robust plants already adapted to organic growing conditions. As an organic gardener, you are supporting the entire cycle of sustainable organic agricultural practices, which begins with organically grown seed. In October of 2002, the USDA established the National Organic Program which states that organic farmers must use certified organic seeds to grow crops.

Is it difficult to grow organic produce?
No. Organic gardening is easy and safe for you, your family, and the planet. Visit the Learning Center of our website for informative articles, videos, growing instructions and gardening tips to support your successful organic garden.

In addition, every gardener’s experience can be enhanced by knowing what grows best in his or her area. The back of our seed packets includes a map of the US along with recommended planting times for different regions. While most of our seeds are widely adapted to most growing regions, our product descriptions may contain information about the specific variety’s adaptability to special conditions.

What and when should I plant in my area/region/zone? (Frost Dates and Zone information)
Our annual vegetable, herb and flower seeds can be grown almost anywhere in the world, you just have to plant them at the right time of year for your climate. Cool season crops are planted in spring and fall, while warm season crops are grown in summer. Gardeners in the northern tier have shorter seasons and may need to select early maturing or frost tolerant varieties. Gardeners in the south have longer, more flexible planting windows and may want to look for heat tolerant varieties. These are noted in the variety descriptions.

To plan your garden, the most important piece of information you need to know is your last spring frost date and first fall frost date. Ask an experienced gardener in your neighborhood, or inquire at a local plant nursery. You can also contact your local Cooperative Extension office. Our ‘Grow Guides’ for each crop provide detailed information on when to plant based on your frost dates.

Successful perennial gardening requires an understanding of the USDA hardiness zone in your specific area. The USDA Zone information is really only relevant to perennial plants. The variety descriptions for the perennial plant seed that we offer include the information about successful growing zones. To see a Zone Chart and an extended answer to this question click here.

In addition, the back of each of our seed packets provides growing instructions including recommended planting times for that specific variety in different parts of the country.

How long are the seeds “good” and “plant-able?”
Each species is different, but most will last 3-4 years under proper storage conditions. The exception is alliums (onions and chives) which only keep 1-2 years. To keep your seeds “fresh,” we recommend that you store them in a cool, dry, dark place. One technique is to put the seed packets in an airtight container with some dry rice grains in the bottom to moderate the humidity (like mixing dry rice with salt in the salt shaker to keep it flowing). If space allows, you can also store your seeds in the refrigerator or freezer (in an airtight container). Allow seeds to return to room temperature overnight before opening the container to prevent condensation that may spoil the seeds.

What kind of seeds do you sell?
All of our seed is 100% certified organic. We offer a wide selection of open-pollinated and heirloom varieties, as well as a few organic hybrids (F-1). Many of our varieties are heirlooms (seeds that have been handed down for at least 60 years) and this is noted next to the variety name in the catalog and on the website. If there is nothing after the seed variety name, the variety is 'open-pollinated' which means it is easy to produce and save its seeds from generation to generation.

We also sell some hybrids, which are designated with an ‘F-1' immediately after the variety name. Hybrids can have advantages, including robust growth known as "hybrid vigor," uniformity, and the fact that they are often bred to be disease resistant. Since the 1920’s, many hybrid varieties have been bred using traditional breeding methods.

What is the difference between heirloom, open-pollinated, hybrid and GMO seeds?

  • Open-Pollinated varieties are produced from a population of “parent” plants with very similar genetic characteristics. Open-pollinated plants, grown in isolation to prevent cross-pollination with another variety of the same species, will produce offspring that are very similar to the original parent population, allowing seeds to be saved and grown out ‘true-to-type’ year after year, generation after generation. These varieties can also be selected for disease resistance.
  • Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been maintained and handed down by seed savers for at least 60 years.
  • F1 Hybrid refers to the first generation of offspring plants produced by a cross of two genetically different parent varieties, usually of the same species. Hybrids can have advantages, including robust growth known as "hybrid vigor," uniformity, and the fact that they are often bred to be disease resistant. Since the 1920’s, many hybrid varieties have been bred using traditional breeding methods. Seed saved from F1 Hybrids will not grow ‘true-to-type’.
  • GMOs or more accurately, varieties created using 'recombinant DNA technology', can be either hybrids or open pollinated varieties. Recombinant DNA technology is the ability to combine DNA molecules from different sources into one molecule in a test tube. The inserted DNA may come from related or unrelated species, or created in a laboratory. GMOs are not permitted in organic farming systems. SEEDS OF CHANGE® seeds are developed through natural selection and breeding techniques and do not contain GMOs.

What guarantees do you get from your farms that your seeds do not contain GMOs?
Our trusted network of certified organic farmers takes great care to produce seed crops in areas that are as isolated as possible. In cases where there could be potential pollen migration (e.g. from commercially-grown corn, beets, chard) DNA testing is conducted to ensure the absence of any GMO material in any of our seed crops. To provide high quality 100% Certified Organic seeds, we follow the best practices available in the industry, specifically:

  • An internationally recognized independent laboratory tests samples of all of our seed lots of corn, soybeans, beets and chard at the time of production to ensure the absence of any GMO material.
  • Our seed production locations are sufficiently isolated from fields of conventional crops that could be a potential source of GMO contamination. For example, our corn seed is produced in the western U.S., not in the midwest where the majority of conventionally-grown corn is produced.
  • We are also signers of the SAFE SEED PLEDGE.

Is all the seed grown by Seeds of Change?
The majority of the seed offered by Seeds of Change is grown by our network of certified organic farmers throughout the USA. The balance is purchased from reputable breeding companies that produce their own 100% certified organic seed that meets our high quality standards. Seeds of Change does NOT buy or sell any seed varieties owned by Monsanto.

Who certifies our farmers?
Seeds of Change and many of our growers are certified by Oregon Tilth, which is an accredited certifying body under the USDA National Organic Standards Program. Some of our growers are certified by their state organic certifying agencies which are an extension of the USDA. You can view a copy of our official organic certificate here: http://www.seedsofchange.com/SOC_OGCERT.pdf

What is the best way to save seeds?
‘Seed saving’ generally refers to the practice of growing a plant to full maturity and harvesting the seeds produced to plant again the next season. As much as possible, we encourage people to practice seed saving so that each of us contributes to preserving our earth's amazing biodiversity.

Each species has different requirements for successful seed saving. We recommend the book “Seed to Seed”, by Suzanne Ashworth, which provides comprehensive details and instructions for saving seed from most common species: http://www.amazon.com/Seed-Growing-Techniques-Vegetable-Gardeners/dp/1882424581

Another good resource is the website of the Organic Seed Alliance, where you can download the free publication called: “A Seed Saving Guide for Farmers and Gardeners”: http://www.seedalliance.org/

What can you use for organic pest management?
Organic gardeners have several options for pest management. The most important methods work with natural systems to provide long term protection:

  • Beneficial Insects: Plant hedgerows and flowering insectary plants to attract beneficial insects that help control crop pests. See our flower section for the best varieties to use.
  • Companion Planting: The age-old practice of companion planting is another method used to repel and deter pests. Certain flowers and herbs grown in near other crops are known to deter pests, improve vigor, and increase yields.

In addition, there are many products that meet the USDA National Organic Standards Program to combat pests and disease. Please check our merchandise section for an assortment of basic essentials. Here is a general list of some of the most common solutions:

  • Insecticidal Soaps: Some come pre-mixed while others are just mixed with water and sprayed on plants. These are effective for controlling aphids.
  • Diatomaceaous earth: A fossilized shell which when ground-up, breaks the outer layer of an insect and dessicates them externally on contact or internally by digestion. Useful to control slugs and snails, among other pests.
  • Bt - Bacillus thuringiensis: This is a naturally occurring bacteria with many powerful insect-specific strains that effectively kill caterpillars and insect larvae, minimizing the harm to beneficial insects. This is usually applied to plants and then ingested by pests.
  • Pyrethrins: A natural insecticide derived from a specific species of chrysanthemum, these are often combined with soap to provide broad spectrum control of pests. Use only as a last resort since this will kill the beneficial insects as well as the pests.

What can be used for organic fertilizers?
There are many organic fertilizers on the market today, and sustainable agricultural methods, such as cover cropping, composting, and rotating crops will provide most of a plant's nutritional needs. In addition, our merchandise section provides an assortment of basic fertility supplements. Here is a general list of some of the most common materials:

  • Compost: Well decomposed compost is the best thing you can add to your soil to improve its structure, fertility, and water holding capacity. Make your own or buy from a reputable certified organic source.
  • Manure: Well decomposed animal manures provide nitrogen, but care must be taken to ensure they are fully composted to prevent potential health issues. The National Organic Program does not allow the use of fresh, raw manures in organic agriculture.
  • Fish and Kelp: Liquid fish emulsions supply nitrogen, while liquid kelp extracts supply micronutrients and help support strong roots and stems. These are especially useful for fertilizing seedlings until they are ready to plant outside.
  • Ground Rock Powders: These can be mixed with soil to provide Phosphorus and essential minerals. Phosphorous supports lush flowering and fruiting.
  • Natural Fertilizers: Dry powders derived from vegetable and animal sources can provide nutrition and modify the pH of your soil. These include alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, bone meal, blood meal, and greensand among others.

What are the economics of growing my own organic vegetables? Besides tending the garden, I need to purchase seeds and organic gardening products.
There’s no price tag on knowing exactly where the produce you feed your family comes from. Home gardening can be a very affordable option based on the yield from the seeds, and it gives you the added benefit of doing something good for the planet. For example, from the 500 lettuce seeds in one Seeds of Change® packet which sells for $2.00-$3.49, a person could potentially grow 500 heads of organic lettuce which would cost hundreds of dollars to purchase at the market.

What does Seeds of Change do for local communities?
Seeds of Change has a long-standing commitment to support community efforts, gardening initiatives, and sustainable, organic farms. For example, through our “Sowing Millions” program Seeds of Change has donated more than 125 million seeds to individuals, schools, and non-profit organizations to inspire them to use organic gardening to make an impact in their communities. Please visit our website to learn more: http://www.seedsofchange.com/GrowingCommunities.aspx

Mars Ownership
Seeds of Change was founded in 1989, to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable organic agricultural practices. We fulfill our mission through three diverse branches. First, we offer gardeners and farmers a unique range of 100% Certified Organic vegetable, herb and flower seeds. Secondly, we offer Certified Organic food products. Finally, we are dedicated to providing information on sustainable agricultural practices and biodiversity though published materials and on our web site.

In 1997, we became a member of the Mars, Incorporated family of companies, before many of the recent mergers in the natural products industry. Mars is a privately-held company, in food, confection, pet care, and other categories. They are committed to continuing the mission of Seeds of Change and are actively involved in many projects to promote sustainable agriculture. Also, they are actively pursuing environmental stewardship through many activities including packaging reduction, wastewater reclamation, and energy management at all our facilities.

For more information about Mars and its diverse global businesses, please visit www.mars.com/principlesinaction.