Growing your own Potatoes

One of the things that I learnt this week was that we are in for a potato shortage. OK I must admit, I’d read it a few weeks back in the Farmers Weekly and also heard about it on the radio, however. On Tuesday I went to see my friendly seed potato supplier to pick up the balance of a shipment that was short delivered. In chatting to Hennie it was clear that he was harassed. I asked him what the problem was and his simple answer was that he has no potatoes and farmers are fighting with him because he has no stock.

A bit later after he had vented his spleen he explained exactly what the problem was. There have been a number of crop failures throughout the country, some due to disease , others like in the north due to frost in areas where frost does not occur and this has lead to a sharp jump in the market price of potatoes.

Being a tad naive I wondered why that would hurt him, and said as much. Hennie looked at me with that look reserved for dolts, and slowly explained that he has contract growers that supply him with seed potatoes. If the market price exceeds what he contracted for, the farmers will exclude a portion or their entire crop from certification and sell them to the market for the higher price.

On Tuesday of this week he had 8000 bags and orders for 13 000 with no new potatoes coming in and more than a handful of irate farmers. The net effect of this is that we are literally eating our seed and this could have a knock on effect for the next year or two until the balance in potato supply and demand is restored.

So what is one to do? Simple, plan to grow your own. We have just managed to get a small shipment in of seed potatoes. (I begged Hennie for a few extra bags) and we will also be planning a late season supply so that you can plant two crops this year.

Below is some info on how and what to do to get the best out of your potato planting.

If your seed potatoes are slightly wrinkled when you get them don’t worry, just dump the whole lot into water overnight and they will quickly fill out. Your then have two options to plant them out.

The first is the direct method.

Basically take your seed potatoes as is and plant them directly into your prepared site. The sprouting will be uneven and you can enjoy your harvest from the plants that mature first while waiting for the other plants to catch up.

The second is the ‘Chitting’ process.

1)      Lay the potatoes in a box or crate in bright light. Not direct sunlight. (The shade under a tree would be perfect)

2)      You can cover them with some gardening hessian to help keep the moisture in.

3)      Sprinkle water over the potatoes at least once a day. The idea here is to get the potatoes to ‘chit’ or turn green.

4)      Once the potatoes have started to sprout eyes you can then plant them into your beds. This process will give an even maturing on all of your plants thus enabling you to harvest the all at once.

Note:  It is not essential that all tubers have eyes when planted, however it will ensure that you get the fastest growth from your plants.

In either case above the following care practices are used.

Plant the potatoes between 50 and 100mm deep in soil, do not plant them directly onto fresh manure, however soil enriched with well rotted compost is best. Be careful when planting the tubers as the eyes (if they have formed) are easily knocked off. Planting distance is 400mm to about 600mm depending on the size tubers you are looking for.

As growth commences, (approx 2-3 weeks from planting) be careful with walking on or working in the soil near the tubers as the growth points are very easily snapped by the lightest pressure. Once the stems start to emerge, slowly bank up the soil around the plant to encourage the development of new tubers. Without ‘hilling’ the plants your will greatly reduce the amount of potatoes that your will harvest.

Watering your potatoes is best done with a hose directly onto the soil. A number of points must be kept in mind here. 1) Potatoes do not have extensive root systems so frequent watering is essential. 2) Try to keep water off the leaves as a very humid environment is the perfect habitat for fungal diseases. 3) the most important part of the watering cycle is once the flowers start to show, this is when the tubers are busy growing, any water stress from this point will decrease your harvest. 4) Try to water in the mornings as evening watering will leave moisture on the plants, encouraging fungal infections and slugs/snails.

Harvesting. This is the best part. Once the leaves start to turn yellow, slowly cut back on the watering to encourage the potatoes to mature. You can now start sneaking your hand under the soil to pick baby potatoes for your dinner. Don’t be too greedy at this point as you want some to mature. Once the plants have died back completely your can do a couple of things. 1) Just leave them in to soil, as long as you are not expecting rain then they will keep for months like this. 2) harvest the whole lot and store them. Don’t wash them before storage. Best storage is in a cool dark place, with dry straw or dry grass packed between the layers. DO NOT use old potatoes bags for storage, you will lose the lot. As those bags often have disease residues in them.

For those of you that want to try the tyre stack method, here is a link that you can use to assist you as I have no experience with this method.

Finally don’t plant potatoes near tomatoes, they are incompatible crops and each will disadvantage the other. Your potatoes will be glassy and your tomatoes will not produce a proper harvest.


The Wilson’s get rid of the (City) menace… Part 2

[Here is part two of the Wilson’s efforts in becoming self-sustainable, in part 1 Tristram laid our the groundwork and what/why their family is embarking on this journey. Once again we wish him and his family well and all the best for the coming season.]

A nice frosty morning.. but watch out for the tender veggies.
A nice frosty morning.. but watch out for the tender veggies.

Well, it has been an interesting time. Winter has brought with it a few surprises. The frost has been slightly more than anticipated and I think I may have lost my beans in the result. After a little thinking as to how to overcome this, I have made a basic latte cover.  It is cheap to make and shouldn’t blow away- now we will have to see how the rest of the bed manages!

Simple and effective frost protection
Simple and effective frost protection

We have also since acquired a golden retriever pup and she has had a great time in the vegetable garden biting out my plastic (old milk bottle) row markers. I have managed to solve the problem by using large white river stones that were close at hand and then writing the description on them with koki.

We have been happily eating our lettuce, peas and radish; the poor old peas haven’t even had a chance to grow up, as we are consuming them at such a rate! (Our first heirloom crop I might add –thanks Sean!)

Plant markers
Plant markers

Of course being winter in the Cape we have plenty of rain, so at this stage we are not having to water at all, just a bit of weeding and mulching. I had originally had in mind to use the bottom of my compost heap for this, as it should have matured by now, but when recently checked out, we realized that it wasn’t ready enough. We may use some straw or dead grass clippings instead. The original compost layer (if you remember, started out at about 100mm high) is now starting to reduce. This is also a good sign as the earthworms are hopefully very active and it is all rotting down and enriching the unturned soil underneath.

Compost heap brewing in the sun
Compost heap brewing in the sun

The seed room is almost ready (Black wattle main posts with thinner latte for the roof). I am waiting for the cob walls to dry so that I can lime plaster them and put some old scaffolding planks on top as a surface for the seed trays.

Cob walled seed room
Cob walled seed room

We have also started a small herb potage garden also using cob for the low central wall. The idea will be to plant a bay leaf tree in a pot in the middle of it. We also hope to grow both culinary and medicinal herbs. Hopefully being able to include some weird and wonderful species!

The start of the potage garden
The start of the potage garden

For some or other reason my carrots have not been a success. I have a suspicion that when I first sowed them, the sun killed them off during the odd warm day and I hadn’t managed to surface water in time! I am considering trying out seed trays so we shall see. Be careful in this regard as it is very easy to get caught out.

Some veggies have not come up at all and to fill those gaps, I am planting both garlic and ordinary chives and some marigolds and nasturtiums as insect repellents.

Have also started a “manure” compost heap using dog doo and which will later be followed with our first compost loo. I used old pallets which I wired together to make four sides. An excellent book to read on the subject is Joseph Jenkins’ Humanure.

The pond is maturing nicely (dug out a few months back), with tadpoles aplenty (always a good sign). We have also noticed a visiting kingfisher and cormorant obviously enjoying the tadpoles. Some indigenous plant life has been planted around the edges and some waterblommetjies too. The pond has also been dug close to a willow tree to encourage the weaver birds. We are also hoping to introduce some indigenous fish. Dog of course loves this, and wet muddy feet in the house goes down a treat!

Hungry looking Cormorant
Hungry looking Cormorant

Our rainwater tank is full and encourages one think of erecting another one. All our drinking and cooking water comes from this. It should also see us through summer. The plan is to purchase a much larger one and plumb it into the house for showering and the loo’s (Hopefully the compost loo will be kicking in by then!). Having thatch on the roof tends to make our water look a little brown, but hey, that’s part of the deal.

Until next time……


The Edible Quote

There is virtue in country houses, in gardens and orchards, in fields, streams, and groves, in rustic recreations and plain manners,  that neither cities nor universities enjoy.
~ Amos Bronson Alcott


How to make a simple Cold Frame

Here is the promised article on how to make a cold frame. This is a simple project that should not take more than 2 – 3 hours. I built both of these in 3 hours, the longest part of the job is measuring and cutting.

Standard pine shelving was used for the cold frame
Standard pine shelving was used for the cold frame
Cold Frame pieces cut to size
Cold Frame pieces cut to size

A cold frame is used specifically to allow for the germination of seeds and protection of seedling in sub-optimal weather conditions. Typically the cold fame is closed just before sunset so that the frame can store heat at night and opened soon after sun-rise, to ensure that the seeds or seedlings are not cooked during the day. This is very important and will need to be controlled as weather conditions change. We typically will have 3 lengths of wood that prop open the lid depending on what temperatures are experiences. During hot weather you will want to have the lid open on maximum and vice-versa for colder weather.

Watering is also important as the seed trays and pots used inside the cold farm will require at least an everyday watering and sometimes more, you will need to maintain a watch and if you see wilting use a watering can with a fine rose to water your seedlings.

Ok onto the cold frame. We used standard pine shelving (2400 x455 mm wide) from our local board centre. I bought 4 pieces but only needed 3, to make two cold frames. The wife is happy as she gets a new shelf in her pantry that she has been pleading for with the 4th piece.

I’m going to give rough dimensions as each person will have their own size requirements, and the two that I made will allow us to germinate over 4000 seedlings in one go. There are not many gardeners out there that need to germinate so many seedlings, unless you are supplying seedlings at a farmers market. So you can adapt this to your needs.

A few screws and some cold glue and the basic frame is completed. Note the handles made from scrap wood on the sides.
A few screws and some cold glue and the basic frame is completed. Note the handles made from scrap wood on the sides.

Basically the design will work on the following principles. The back of the cold frame (South side) needs to be higher than the front (North side) ours is 300mm at the back and 150mm in the front. We cut one of the shelves into two, lengthways to give us the 300mm high back and the 150 mm front pieces. The sides of this cold frame were cut from a full width board and we measured to the same height as the front and back boards.

These four pieces were screwed together with standard 40mm chipboard screws using a pilot hole to prevent the board ends splitting. Handles were cut and screwed on made from off cuts, this allows two people to pick up a cold frame and move it easily.

For the lid of the cold frame we used Thermoclear but you could use any rigid transparent material. We decided to use Thermoclear as a) we had a spare sheet lying around and b) it has a twin wall with wonderful rigid cells running the length of the sheet. It’s the perfect way to make double glazing with minimal effort. Although the boxes are a bit draughty, I felt that this little bit of extra insulation should keep the heat in and cold out for a while longer. When measuring your lid, have the material overlap by 15 – 20 mm all around as this will allow moisture to drip away from your wood and helps to preserve the cold frame.

Edge on view of the Thermoclear showing it being filled with silicone.
Edge on view of the Thermoclear showing it being filled with silicone.

This plastic sheeting is also great, because if you carefully cut through the top layer of plastic you have a hinge and it solves a lot of construction issues with additional hinges and effort. We sealed the ends with clear silicone to create a ‘double glazing’ effect on the lids. Just make sure you dry the silicone in the shade, as it’s amazing how quickly the heat (pressure) builds up in each tube and starts to push the silicone out before it has a chance to dry.

One everything is dry, oil the wood to keep it weather proof, we use Waksol (R90.00 for 5 Lt) but use up whatever you have lying in your workshop/garage.

Close-up of the simple 'hinge'. The top layer of theroclear has been cut to 'create' the hinge.
Close-up of the simple 'hinge'. The top layer of thermoclear has been cut to 'create' the hinge.

The cold frame is then placed directly on a tarp which is laid on level ground, the seed trays and pots (for cucurbits and larger faster growing seeds) are then placed inside onto the tarp. The tarp is there for two reasons, 1) to prevent grass and weeds coming up through your seed trays and 2) it helps to keep the roots inside the cell divisions / pots. If you place the trays or pots directly on the soil then the seedlings roots grow straight into the soil and you destroy half of the plants root structure when you lift them to transplant. In larger more formal seedling operations the seed trays are placed onto a wire frame to discourage the roots from growing through, we are not quite there yet.

Job done, all it needs now is a layer of preservative to keep it looking good for years.
Close-up of the simple 'hinge'. The top layer of theroclear has been cut to 'create' the hinge.

That’s about it for making a cold frame, it’s simple and easy, and will allow you to get a good 5 – 6 weeks head start on the planting season.


Farmers Markets 101

Are you a market gardener, or are you looking at becoming a market gardener?

Market gardening is taking off at a pace that is astounding in South Africa, one can hardly believe the number of Farmers Markets and Local Produce Markets that have sprung up over the last 3-4 years.

Typically one finds that they are either an evolution of the typical Flea Market, all the way to full blown Fresh and Homemade produce markets that are supplied by Market Gardeners, small farmers or home industry type entrepreneurs. This post will focus on the market gardener and some things that you need to do, to literally stand-out from the crowd, while at the same time have your wares and name become a sought after attraction at your local farmers market.

Firstly you will need to understand who your target market will be. If you are selling at a farmers market in a low-mid income area, the chances that you can sell your high-end organic/biodynamic crops at a premium will be limited. However, if your Farmers Market is situated where higher income customers frequent, you will have a much better chance at moving your stock. That said there has simply never been a better time to be a fresh market grower and seller. These markets are thriving and customers are excited about locally grown food.  They will often brag to their guests where and how they purchased the unique tomatoes that are in the salad, or the stunning carrot/pumpkin/bean/cucumber variety that adorns their serving dishes. That bragging will bring new people to your stand, and it can only happen if you are the one that stands head and shoulders above your competition, and more importantly gets customers coming back week after week.

Pile it high and watch it fly
Pile it high and watch it fly

Below are a few hints/tip and suggestions that you can use to be the supplier at your local farmers market that stands out.

Specialise: Look for a gap in the market and capitalise on that gap. Are there already heirloom tomato suppliers at your local market? If there are, how can you capitalise on that? You could offer the makings of an entire salad instead and not just tomatoes. You could can your excess tomatoes into a ‘sous’ or braai relish. Another idea is to specialise in a crop family, like brassicas/beans/pumpkins or chillies. Chillies that are sold loose do well but if you package chillies into segmented punnets with different heat rating or similar heat ratings you will move so many more. In the off season, dried chillies or chilli products are great. Beans can be sold green and dried, speciality beans can be sold off by weight or pre-packaged. I love the sight of buckets of different dried beans that one can buy by the scoop.

Add History: If you can tell your customer about the origin or history of the particular fruit/vegetable you spark their interest, that interest makes sales. A good example would be to say that Carbon won the title of best tasting tomato in the world. Tell a story about your produce, like the Mayflower Bean was carried over to America before it became America and helped keep starvation at bay for the first pioneers.

Add Value: A free recipe card that is thrown in with their purchase for the items that they have bought will always bring a customer back… but only if the recipe is good. Try to keep the recipe simple, but it must make the dish memorable. Offer a bulk discount, one bunch of Purple Dragon Carrots for R10.00 but you can have 3 for R25.00. Or combine 3or 4 items at a special price.

Well labelled produces sells when you can't.
Well labelled produces sells when you can't.

Cross Sell: Group vegetables together that would make a meal, that way customers are more inclined to buy a number of items together, see recipe idea above. If you can’t group them because of your display then offer cooking suggestions with a combination of your veggies.

Banter: Talk to browsing customers and offer tasters of unusual vegetables. While a client is paying, offer cooking/eating advice that other customers can hear, that you can expand on once the paying customer has left. Combine your banter with information and how you grow your produce, tell them what’s coming in a few weeks time, it all helps to sell now and bring them back later.

Stack it High: A Madeiran friend of mine says that veggies only sell if the pile is high. So don’t put out a few of your veggies, stack them out and way high. It’s visually appealing and helps to draw the feet… those feet need your veggies. If you have crates, fill them and then tilt the crate up so the customers will notice your amazing produce. Next time you are browsing a farmers market look at who is busiest and what their stand looks like. I can almost guarantee they have produce stacked high. If you can bring feet to your stall, others want to know why everyone is there, that’s when you start selling.

Colour: Try to arrange all colours together to create a mass of individual colours, Reds together, yellows, greens etc. This is more visually appealing than a kaleidoscope of colour that tends to confuse the brain. This will also get you noticed from across the farmers market.

Use bright colours to attract people.
Use bright colours to attract people.

Be ahead of the pack: Try to get your new produce onto your display as early in the season as possible. If you are the first one with a particular type or cultivar at your market you start to build a loyal client base. Capitalise on this and work it. It may require you to plan ahead and invest in cold frames or tunnels. If it’s worth it, do it. Also, don’t drop out of the market suddenly, your clients can be very disappointed. Make sure you can supply the whole season, it need not be the same produce but your face needs to be there, with the same, new or different produce.

Mailing list: Work up a client mailing list that you can send out every Thursday/Friday with a produce list for Saturday and possible idea’s that they can cook up with your produce. This will ensure that a higher number of clients are coming to your stall for your produce. You may even find over time that they will drive out to you during the week to buy straight off the farm, or you can use the newsletter to start of a box-scheme.

Quality: It goes without saying, your produce needs to look as good, if not better than the stuff at your local supermarket. It’s a Farmers PRODUCE Market, not a place for you to sell soil samples and the occasional earthworm. You may think it shows freshness, your potential clients only see extra work and ‘dirty’ produce.

Glistening: Take a hint from the flower sellers on the street corner, mist your produce often. A spray bottle is cheap and will make your produce look so much more appetising while at the same time keeping it cool.

Signage: The little bit of effort you put into making nice signs for your produce will pay you… literally. Some hardboard, a few lengths of wood and a small tin of blackboard paint will allow you to chalk up specials and prices for your produce. Many people will walk past a stand with no prices without bothering to stop and ask.

Smile: This should go without saying, shake hands and tell them your name, this makes it a personal shopping experience for them, and helps to bring them back.


The Wilson’s get rid of the (City) menace

[Below is an article written by one of our clients, Tristram and his family have made the break and are settling down in their own piece of paradise. This is his initial post describing their beginning, we at wish him and his family every success and joy in their courageous descision]

At the beginning of 2010 we made a conscious decision to leave the city to start on our journey of self sustainability. We took a conservative approach and retained our suburban home whilst taking up residence in our very basic small country cottage. The idea being to at least start the journey and make that first “city” break, sever the ties as it were.

The advantages (depending on how you look at it of course!) was to be able to leave behind the clutter, gadgets, crime, and general consumerism. We became sick of crime, not only because of feeling threatened, but because of having to constantly watch your back and be “expected” to do neighborhood watch.

At the end of last year we had made a decision to home school as we had totally lost faith in the sausage machine education system and were keen that our children get as much time to be children. The underlying pressures (peer and marketing/in your face advertising) in a City environment certainly don’t promote this. Children need to be able to free play, to be able to create, and more importantly to self stimulate (boredom is a swear word!). It is also important for them to develop self confidence through making things and seeing the result. For this, the countryside is a canvass of opportunity.

So, I had 2000 square meters and a small house to start with. My first priority was to get the veggie garden going and so I demarcated an area of 3m x 20m. Up until this point I had been reading and tinkering around with a small veggie bed to give myself the best head start. A small garden is a good start, firstly because it is easily manageable and secondly it teaches you how long growing times are, what seeds look like, and collecting them. It also teaches you as to what is eating the veggies and moulds and how to overcome these issues. Yes, I had my fair share of issues; letting the mint get out of control, snails, caterpillars, aphids and generally not keeping on top of things!

View of all our vegetable beds
View of all our vegetable beds

I decided on 10 beds which would be laid out down the left hand side of the property as it is the “driest” part in winter and closest to the house. The grass had to be cleared, irrigation installed, and compost laid down. Unfortunately I had none of my own compost yet, so had to get in a truck load. This was after doing a little research and listening to some recommendations from the locals into organic compost.

In the meantime I had got a few old pallets together and set them up against the back fence and added some sides. Initially, to start the heap, I went to the local dump to collect greens (fresh grass and leaves) and browns (dead grass and autumn leaves) and layered them with some horse or cow manure and kitchen scraps and a little wood ash in between. To maintain this, I am adding my lawn clippings and any other of my neighbors’ dump material.

The beds were laid out 1mx3m. I opted for drip irrigation with the main line running down the side of the property and the smaller feeder/drip lines running perpendicularly off of this and over the beds. Each bed has 3 lines running along the length with drippers spaced approx 300mm apart (I figured this would be a good standard spacing). I bent wire into 300mm long “hoops” and pushed them into the soil over each dripper which helps to keep the dripper line straight, and when the compost was laid down, helped me to locate where the drippers are were (I figured this may be good when it came to planting, i.e. plant near the dripper!). 100mm of compost was laid over the top of each bed, burying the lines under it. There was a little experimenting here as this is a half mulching and half raised bed method where the set up is fairly minimal. I took up the grass which is very intensive, but I had no cardboard or plenty of newspaper to sheet mulch. The flexible polypropylene irrigation piping was purchased in rolls from a national agricultural supplier who had their “own” brand of drippers.

Irrigation pipes into beds
Irrigation pipes into beds

Then came planting. I had various sources of seeds, and although wanted to plant the basics, I was keen to try out different crops, specifically heirloom. The reason for this was to rediscover crops that had been lost through the modern marketing forces of today, and of course variety.

I decided to plant about 10 -12 rows, depending on the crops, along each bed. Although many people write about companion planting, I decided to basically plant whatever I felt like next to each other, onions being the exception! I will fill in with some of the pest preventing plants like chives, nasturtiums and marigolds etc later. I started with carrots, beans, peas, beetroot, NZ and Swiss chard spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, chives, radishes, lettuce and cabbage.

The challenge has been to try to figure out how many of each variety to plant for my family of four, and how to stagger the planting times to ensure a continuity of crops. Here I have flown by the seat of my pants and letting experience be my guide. There are always ways to improve, for instance I got caught out with frost with my beans and had to make a simple tent system until I work out something more permanent. Common sense and a little creativity is all that is required; see what you have lying around.

I set out an excel document, documenting each bed; what had been planted, where and when, and who’s seeds were used.

Time passed and the crops began appearing. Peas had to be staked and the crops checked for bugs and a bit of weeding etc.

After about a month and a bit I am already eating lettuce, radish and NZ Spinach.

So let’s see what happens! Watch this space.


The Edible Quote

“The art of taxation consists of so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.”

~ J.B. Colbert, French Statesman, circa 1665


Are Heirloom vegetables important?

The very idea of eating a carrot that is possibly the same as Jesus Christ ate, or beans that were on one of the first ships that landed in America (before it was America) is unique and romantic. Eating food that has been passed down from generation to generation as a precious gift, is something that most people do not think about, it’s just not important in today’s age. One can easily walk into the grocer and pick up a bunch of carrots or tomatoes without a second thought of how those carrots got to the shelf.

In days gone by, almost every household had a veggie garden and grew at least a few food items. The seeds that were used were open pollinated and heirloom seeds that they had saved, shared and swapped with neighbours friends and relatives. Only the best was considered worthwhile and the home gardener would specifically select those that produced well, were tasty and disease resistant. This was because 50 or 100 years ago we did not have the plethora of fungicides, pesticides and various assortments of chemicals for dealing out indiscriminate death to the malicious critter that dared to snack on “our” food.

Gardeners and farmers in days gone by used mixtures of soap, garlic and natural elements like sulphur and copper (you know… substances that actually have a number on the periodic table) that occur in nature to help them combat their common garden pests. In today’s world of new is better, we have chemicals that have lingering effects on soil for over 15 years, rendering the soil unfit for any type of food production.

OK back to heirlooms…. as I was saying, only seed from the best plants were saved. From this selection our renowned heirlooms were formed. I say formed as the continuous selection of plants and fruit caused distinct varieties to be created. These varieties sometimes created a cult-like following where gardeners made sure that every year they planted at least a few of these plants, so distinct and superior was the flavour and production of these plants.

In addition to the above, disease resistance was also important. What point would a well flavoured vegetable be if it succumbed to environmental stresses and pests before it could produce fruit? Now, I’m not saying that heirlooms are more disease resistant than hybrids (often they are not). Hybrids have been bred specifically for certain traits. Chief amongst these is disease resistance. In the process of creating a “good disease package” flavour is the hardest to keep and is not reliant on a single gene that can be turned on or off, much to the dismay of the GM market.

The biggest difference with heirlooms and hybrids is the genetic diversity of the individual variety. Let’s take a look at corn or as we South Africans prefer to call them…. mielies. In the Eastern Cape it was estimated that there were over 300 different landraces of mielies grown by individual communities. These landraces were distinctive in the fact that each community that lived in the isolated valleys saved and planted their seed for generations. Over time distinctive varieties were produced that could thrive in the unique microclimates where they were grown. This was only possible due to the inherent genetic diversity that was available in the original seed that was planted, this allowed natural selection (by nature and man) to winnow out the mielies to a point where each valley in the eastern cape had a distinctive variety that was accustomed to the specific environmental stresses that that valley experienced.

With Monsanto’s “upliftment” program (aided by our myopic government) they have been handing out “free seed” that has all but destroyed these unique varieties. The seed supplied has come from a very narrow gene pool where it has been engineered, re-engineered, hybridised and modified to a point where almost no genetic diversity remains in the seed to allow for unusual circumstances. One good example is as follows.

All of the GM and hybrid seed is currently being designed for today’s environmental conditions. With ‘climate change’ (the scientists have not quite decided if it’s warming or cooling) if there are any severe changes, all of the seed currently in production by the big GM houses will be worthless to farmers, no matter what chemicals they might desire to throw at them. Where do you think that will leave the average consumer that would like to eat a meal occasionally?

Heirlooms are our genetic guarantee of future food supply. No matter what nature cares to throw at us, if you have a handful of heirloom seeds you can be assured that firstly you can plant the seed, secondly you are able to save the seed for the following year and thirdly, if environmental conditions change the plant will have the internal genetic diversity available to adapt via natural selection. Something that cannot be said for any hybrid or GM seed.

It is interesting to note that ALL hybrids and GM crops have their roots in heirloom and open pollinated seed. Heirlooms were (and still are) used by breeders to create hybrids and GM crops. Heirlooms are the original source of their technology. So when you see a seed house or article denigrating the heirloom or OP vegetable, know that they have used these selfsame vegetables to create their frankenfoods.

So do I believe that heirlooms are important? Yes, without a doubt! We seed savers are literally the protectors of vegetable genetic diversity. One day scientists could call out to home gardeners to provide real vegetable seed that will feed the world, because the GM seed houses are busy engineering themselves and the farmers into a blind corner, and they can’t see what conditions are waiting around the bend. Look after your heirlooms and share them, the world may one day need them!