Germinating old seeds.

What is it about  about seed packets that makes it easy for us to put them away and forget about them?  Their small size and their seasonality and  the fact that they are relatively cheap, the many tempting varieties, and the results so bountiful that there is never space for all the seedlings.  And so those little packets with their enticing photos and descriptions get put away for another year….

tomato 'noire de coseboeuf' from my garden two summers ago.

Tomato ‘noire de coseboeuf’ from my garden two summers ago.

Or, as with tomatoes, I take out and sow a few every year and keep the rest. One of my oldest and most treasured seeds were these French tomatoes called ‘Noire de Coseboeuf’, bought  in 1993 and produced by an organic farm called Ferme de Ste. Marthe, when organic growing and strange heirlooms were still unknown to most people.

These tomatoes proved super easy to grow  and turned out to be the most fascinating deeply-indented chocolate brown freaks. No two are alike and their shape makes them rather challenging to slice, but the taste is rich and wonderful, and the plants start bearing quite early in the season and keep on and on. Even the flowers look different and double and  it became a tradition to have a few plants of these every  summer .

 I saved a good quantity of seeds from the last crop, but somehow must have they gotten lost or mislabelled . When tomato sowing time came around this year, I looked inside the now folded and refolded packet and there were were the last five seeds!seed packet 2

seed packet 1Obviously  a special effort was called for and as usual a trawl of the internet was the place to start. A search through all the fascinating gardening forums out there turned up some hints. Soaking, weak tea and a bit of nitrogen seemed to be recurrent themes, so I duly soaked various tomato seeds in weak tea with a bit of seagro  for a few hours and planted them in trays which were put on a heating pad.

Three days later one was up! Not the frenchie but incredibly, that peeked out two days later. Only the one so far, but I hope more will sprout. Apparently the tannin in tea softens the seed coat, the soaking obviously hydrates the seed, and the plant food supplies nitrate ions- just repeating what the clever people say here.

Anything could still happen to my precious seedling from a 20 year old seed! It is being tenderly carried out every morning  for sunshine and fresh air like an invalid and tucked in over the heating mat at night.  As soon as there are four leaves it will go into a small pot, then a larger, and with a bit of luck we will have our favourite tomatoes again this summer. Seed will definitely be saved and passed on this time! I am also testing the technique on some other old seeds from similarly enticing acquisitions that have been hanging around for too long.

And lastly I have resolved to go through my seeds regularly and sow and share them before they become old and difficult!


Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

During last summer’s rainy weather, I realized that a cherry tomato has a better chance of ripening and producing a good yield in poor conditions than a big beefsteak, so it is wise to hedge one’s bets and have a few of them in the garden. Cherries are cute, child-friendly and useful. tossing a few in a dish is somehow less fuss than dealing with a large tomato.

I do appreciate the standard cherry tomato that pops up everywhere – and I mean in garden centres as well as sown by the birds in all sorts of places-but it has its drawbacks. With its tough skin and seedy, watery interior, I always seem to get squirted when trying to halve them for salads! The flavour is so-so, unless it is almost overripe, and they do make your salad or tomato tart a bit watery too.

The following two alternatives from the USA have both won taste tests for sweetness and flavour and are very worthy of garden space and some loving care:

Isis Candy

Pretty marbled  bicolor cherry tomatoes are red with a spectacular cat’s eye starburst on the blossom end. Shape and colouring apparently vary- it’s my first year growing this one. Rich, sweet, fruity flavor. Plants are loaded with 30mm fruits in clusters of 6-8.

Bicolor Cherry

Here’s one I did indeed grow last season. Bicolor Cherry is still unknown and rare. Having received a few seeds from the States, I planted one in a large tub on my stoep. In this protected spot it grew very tall, took its time to start producing, and then kept on bearing very sweet pinky-orange cherries until deep into winter. Even the last ones that didn’t fully ripen were supersweet and flavourful- and we’re talking August.

Tuscany is best known in Pretoria as a destination, source of Chianti, and a controversial building style.

But now we have Tuscan kale, a pebbly crinkly blue-black member of the cabbage family which possesses untold virtues.

In a market in a Florence, a shopper would find it labeled as cavolo nero (“black cabbage”), although it never forms a cabbage-like head and it is merely dark, not black. Some marketers and chefs call it dinosaur kale – dino kale, for short – possibly because its roughness suggests the presumably leathery skin of those long-extinct creatures. And some call it lacinato – a word probably derived from an Italian botanical term – laciniato – that describes the crinkly leaves.

Tuscan kale is extraordinarily nutritious: a cup provides more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamins K and A, and 88 percent of the DV for vitamin C. Like other members of the brassica family such as cabbage, broccoli  and Brussels sprouts, kale is a rich source of organosulfur compounds that have been linked to cancer prevention.

It’s also an ornamental and productive plant for the small garden. Aa healthy specimen of Tuscan kale can reach two to three feet tall, sometimes even taller. Their palm-tree-like appearance and interesting texture combine well with ornamentals, so you could group it in a flower bed with some orange nasturtiums or marigolds.

Kale can be snipped for salads, added to soups, or sautéed with garlic and olive oil.



Emeril’s Sauteed Tuscan Kale With White Beans



Black Krim Tomato

Tomato Black Krim


Originally from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union. It seems that the blackish-coloured tomatoes originated from Russia where they were bred this colour for maximum light and heat absorption during short and unpredictable summers.




This rare, and outstanding tomato yields 3-4″ slightly flattened dark-red (mahogany-colored) slightly maroon, beefsteak tomatoes with deep green shoulders. Green gel around seeds. Fantastic, intense, slightly salty taste (which is great for those not wanting to add salt to their tomatoes).

An early,  dependable and prolific  tomato in the garden.


It is indeterminate, which means it will need a support. Heavy bearer of large fruits.

I thought it best to start this post with a photo, as very few of you will have heard of this amazing vegetable. In fact, a photo gallery will tell the story better.

One lone seedling, nurtured and transplanted into a richly composted bed, even covered with a cage in case a bird got any ideas, watered deeply and mulched with  some dried lucerne, and …

With its Italian names being tromboncino, or little trumpet, and zucchino rampicante, this is baby marrow’s out-of control relative, with even more  productive bounty and myriad uses in the kitchen. The fruits are pickable from baby size, but remain crisp and tasty until they are about 40 cm long!

A bonus is the huge crop of squash blossoms, the fashionable darlings of the food world for the last few years. They can be sauteed and folded into omelettes and risotto’s, or stuffed and steamed or deep fried.

Cooking young pumpkin leaves and tendrils is a well-kept secret of old-timers in Southern Africa. This falls in the morogo/imifino category of traditional foods.

Try steaming these delicate bits with a few baby fruits attached and you will be spoilt for life! Combined with onion, potato, tomato, raw peanuts, or au naturel, you will never again want those expensive baby leaves that were flown in from goodness knows where..

More perks: going vertical is a space-saving bonus. And of course the funny factor as the tromboncino grow into all sorts of fairly rude shapes and squeeze themselves through the fence while growing a few centimetres every day. Kids fall in love with this wow factor instantly and they all want to try and grow one- which is exactly what they should be doing to connect them to where their nutrition is coming from.

Throughout this very rainy summer, I anxiously watched my only child grow and bear, and tried to snip off every leaf that showed signs of mildew.  Luckily the pumpkin family have a wonderful habit of outgrowing pests, and I was able to layer a few shoots into new plants in pots to set out elsewhere and share.

A few fruits had to be left to mature into monsters in the hope of getting a crop of seeds. The seed cavity is only in the bulbous end and the rest is flesh. Yesterday at last I was able to smash a metre-long freak and extract those sought-after seeds- how very satisfying on more than one level!

One of my layered plants will be set out against another fence to try and extend the harvest a bit. Mutsa- if you’re reading this, you can relax and stop peering anxiously through the window to see if I have ‘the stuff’!

The others will go to market on Saturday and the seeds will be dried and packaged for next spring, and I am already greedily eyeing my swimming-pool fence as a likely spot..


Courgette fritters.

Serve the fritters when they are hot and crunchy with some tzatziki

2 cups  grated courgettes

1 large finely chopped, ripe tomato

1 small finely chopped red onion

1 tbsp chopped mint

3 tbsp of self-raising flour or more if your mix is too runny.

2 eggs

Salt & pepper

Sunflower oil

1. Mix the courgettes, tomatoes, onion and mint in a bowl. Add the eggs and stir the mixture until all the ingredients have combined.

2. Add enough flour to bind the mixture together (add more flour if the mixture is still runny). Season to taste.

3. Heat 1/2 cm of sunflower oil in a shallow frying pan until fairly hot.

4. Spoon dollops of the mixture into the oil and turn the heat  down to medium. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden.

6. Drain on some kitchen roll or crumpled newspaper and serve hot with tzatziki.

Makes 18-20 fritters

Last week all my tomato plants were in quarantine for possible fungal diseases after all the rain. However, the following heirlooms will be available in limited quantities tomorrow:

Great White, Cherokee Purple, Wapsipinicon Peach, and Ildi- not an heirloom but a brand new yellow plum that bears literally hundreds of fruits. Also still some Black Krim and Green Zebra… In other words- a rainbow feast of every colour tomato except red! Wait, there are a few plants of Montserrat, a Spanish tomato that was an unknown regional treasure until it was put on the map by the famous chef Ferran Adria. My seeds came from Spain years ago when my artist friend Hannetjie de Clercq wanted to bring me something special from her trip to Spain and this was recommended by the locals, along with some seed of psychedelic purple carrots! Here is a link to a description and photo’s:


Montserrat grows well in hot summers, and the large hollow fruits have an old-fashioned thin skin and a mild sweet taste.

As for the others, here are some photo’s to whet your appetite:

Cherokee Purple

Transparent Tomato

Wapsipinicon Peach

Great White

Ildi Tomato

All plants have been growing like mad after the rain and there will be some herbs and other seedlings available. If your rocket has lived up to its name and bolted, I recommend the yellow-flowered wild rocket, Diplotaxis Tenuifolia. It will supply you with small tasty leaves all summer without bitterness setting in. Flowering stems can be cut back and the basal rosette will keep on sprouting new stalks. Ordinary rocket should only be sown when the days shorten again.

Wild Rocket

Green Zebra Tomato

I felt a small pang selling my last potted Green Zebra seedling at the market today. However my one transplant in the garden is already outgrowing the other varieties that were planted at the same time, and making interesting semi-double flowers. Its growth has been so impressive, not to mention the write-ups about its taste, and lastly the intriguing colouring that I am going to sow my remaining seeds at once and share them. An extremely vigorous plant bearing clusters of 5cm  tomatoes in stripey green ripening to a yellowish green. The emerald coloured flesh is very tasty and this tomato often wins taste tests for its mild yet tangy flavour.green zebra