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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!

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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..

Recipe-

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

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