Earlier this year we had the delight of picking and eating our own tomatoes - truly one of life's joys - and hand grown, chemical-free produce is one of the sweetest taste sensations I know. And we are looking forward to an abundance of taste sensations to share with our customers in the coming months.
The image at left shows some of the first pickings from the tomato patch earlier this year, and they came from a mixed pack of heirloom seeds that Diggers Seeds supplied. Containing six varieties - Red Sugarlump, Black Krim, Orange Jaume Flammee, Yellow Peach, Green Zebra, and White Cherry - the seeds were not individually wrapped, so we didn't know what we would get until each seed had sprouted, grown and fruited.
On one hand this is not ideal - what if we'd only got a crop of Yellow Peach tomatoes? - however a range of types grew, and we had a variety of colours, flavours and differing harvest times that kept us in tomatoes for a good few months.
Aside from the culinary benefits of healthy produce that these activities produce, we also collected seed from the crop, followed the suggested procedures for tomatoes, and stored them appropriately through the winter. Then, come mid-August, just as the southern winter is starting to loose it's bite, the seeding begins.
Containers are filled with potting mix, seeds are planted, the trays watered, and moved into the protection of the poly house. Every second day, the containers are watered, while we continue to wait with anticipation.
Then about 10-14 days after planting, one of life's great mysteries shows itself again. Like magic, a little green plant emerges from the mix, and the circle of life continues for another year.
Collecting and germinating your own seed has many many benefits, and is quite easy to arrange. This enables you to breed plants that have desirable qualities, a practice known as selective breeding, and as successive crops will have been acclimatised to your particular site, each following year will provide plants that are suited a little better to your specific conditions. You can choose any number of desirable attributes to breed for - colour, fruit size, flower size, plant habit, time of fruit set/harvest, pest or disease resistance, drought hardiness, and on and on.
So each harvest you need to keep the best fruit for the seed collection - probably not the picture you had in mind when you planted your first seeds, but certainly the tact to take when saving seeds, as then all of next years plants have the opportunity to provide better fruit. If this practice is followed each year, over time you will improve the quality of your plants and harvest.
Another great advantage, in addition to knowing where your seeds have come from, is participating in the preservation of a whole range of plants that are slowly slipping out of circulation. Commercial vegetable growers and seed suppliers are limited by what the industrial food complex requires by way of produce that can store well, often for long periods, withstand handling and long distance shipping, be blemish free and be at peak colour at the time they reach the shelf. For tomatoes, this means that a very limited number of varieties are grown commercially, and you need to know that the range of colours, types, shapes, sizes, taste and uses is almost limitless.
For a wealth of further information on this topic, see the Seed Savers Network, a grass roots organisation founded in 1986 by Michel and Jude Fanton, to preserve the diversity of our cultural plants. Their worldwide activities include a newsletter, seed exchange, seed bank, frequent events and workshops and the publication of a best selling handbook on the subject.
Achievements of the Seed Savers Network include:
- Over 5,500 seed varieties have come through their seed bank;
- Over 10,000 people have been directly involved with Seed Savers;
- 23,000 copies of The Seed Savers' Handbook sold in the first ten years
- Over 1,300 varieties of seeds and other planting materials are offered in our Spring newsletters;
- Seed Savers' has helped to establish Seed Networks in a number of other countries such as Cambodia, East Timor, Ecuador, India, Japan, Solomon Islands and The Philippines.
For those interested in tomatoes, one lady following the biodynamic path is Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farm in California. Cynthia supplies produce for the Manresa Restaurant in the Los Gatos area of San Francisco, and details her market farming activities through her website at Grow Better Veggies.
A quick Google for heirloom seeds brought up these suppliers in the US :
In Australia, go to :
If you've got your own favourite heirloom seed supplier, forward their details on through the comments section below.