Heirloom seeds root of healthy veggies

THERE’S nothing to beat the flavour of green beans, just-dug new potatoes or a freshly picked salad straight from the garden. Grow your own vegetables organically and you know exactly what has not gone into your supper salad or stir-fry – no food miles, no packaging, no pesticides, no genetically modified plants.

Growing from seed offers a vast choice and is a great way to learn about different varieties of vegetables, when to plant which kind and which do best in your garden. You will also learn about the delights of heirloom vegetables.

New traditionalists believe the key to future plenty lies in the rich gene pool of these old varieties. Stick to open- pollinated and heirloom seed, they advise, and you’ll be eating well and doing your small bit for the environment and the world’s food supply.

“Open-pollinated” means plants pollinated by insects, birds or wind, not by artificial means. The US Seed Savers Exchange defines an heirloom as an open-pollinated variety more than 50 years old which has been handed down through generations.

STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY Until a century ago, seeds were part of every rural family’s heritage, passing from generation to generation. With the development of large-scale commercial farming the focus shifted to a smaller number of crop varieties. The aim has since been to breed uniform plants. This makes food production vulnerable to blights and pests, say traditionalists.

Sean Freeman of Livingseeds, South Africa’s largest supplier of heirloom seeds, says: “Mankind has reduced his agricultural dependence down to a handful of crops, and there is no longer a vigorous genetic reservoir scientists and agronomists can draw on. If a disease or plague had to strike, we could be left holding an empty grain sack.”

WHERE TO FIND HEIRLOOM SEEDSWorldwide, alternative seed suppliers are flourishing. Such seed banks hold a cornucopia of delights for the adventurous gardener. Vegetables unlike anything ever seen in a supermarket, pleated tomatoes in every shade from lemon to burgundy, purple carrots, multi-coloured sweetcorn and many more.

In South Africa, the largest Livingseeds (www.livingseeds. co.za) started out in 2009 with only 34 varieties and now lists over 300 on its website. Sought After Seedlings (www.soughtafterseedlings. co.za) imports Italian Franchi seeds and the Gravel Garden (www.thegravelgarden.co.za) offers an intriguing collection of vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers. Major seed companies such as Mayfords, Kirchhoffs and Starke-Ayres offer a wide selection of open-pollinated varieties. © Home Weekly

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