Thursday, November 18, 2010

Maintaining our Heritage (pompous twit)

"Why is it that KY1 seedlings have disapeard of nursery shelves. they where my favourite and so easy to grow, is it just a lack of seed or something that there is no longer a market for the older varieties. In my long search for seedlings just about all the Nursery staff are bewilldered at the shortage, I wonder if anyone has any idea?" Anonymous

It's actually getting late in the Tomato season but I like this story.  It fascinates me how quickly the demand for Tomatoes drops away as soon as Cup weekend is over, we have grower orders for delivery in January but home gardeners appear to lose their appetite for Tomatoes very quickly.

So, KY1. My guess is Kyabram 1. It is certainly a variety bred by the Victorian Department of Agriculture. For the life of me I can't find when it was first introduced but I'm guessing 1950's-70's because of it's determinate growth habit. Determinate is Tomato tech. speak for bush type. Bush types are popular with commercial growers because the plants can be mechanically harvested, of course this makes them anathema to some Heirloom purists. The advantage of bush Tomatoes at home is there is no special need for staking and they are somewhat more suited to growing in pots, you'll note I'm not absolutely convinced by this logic. Some seed suppliers suggest that Scoresby Dwarf is an alternative name for KY1. If it is, my guess at the origin of the KY1 name is way out. Other sources suggest that they are distinct varieties so think they might come from the same breeding and have similar qualities.

The other important features of KY1 are it's 'oblate' fruit shape (some call this an Adelaide Tomato), productivity, excellent sauce qualities (meaty flesh) and superb flavour. Critically this older, "heritage" breeding is open pollinated. Plants in the garden produce perfectly usable seed that produces plants true to the parents unlike modern F1 hybrids that may or may not produce usable plants. Here is the essence of the vanishing varieties. KY1's older breeding is not ideally suited to modern production or vegetable retailing. Modern hybrid Tomatoes are more vigorous, disease resistant and prolific, the fruit is firmer and lasts longer. Breeders spend small fortunes developing new hybrids for the commercial producer and expect to get a return on that investment. Modern hybrid Tomato seeds cost 20 and 30 times the old varieties. Far too expensive for producing in punnets for home gardeners. The big seed houses have just stopped producing old varieties that don't produce big margins. So in a way we provide a service, keeping heritage varieties alive.

At least we try. About 5 years ago we found we couldn't't purchase KY1 seed any longer. No-one had any. Fortune smiled however and our friend Dangerous Don, an avid vegetable grower and marketeer had a thimble full of seed he had collected from his own plants. We bartered for some of Don's seed, I guess a few plants were exchanged for half of Don's seed. We then grew some in pots at Scotsburn and sent half to Royston Petrie Seeds. Royston Petrie does a great job of maintaining an extensive list of heritage vegetables, many of which they grow and harvest themselves. From the first batch we grew for ourselves we harvested a couple of buckets of Tomatoes which Nancy took home and duly produced a good sized batch of beautifully cleaned seed (it's easy to collect seed covered in fuzz and dried Tomato pulp, not so easy to clean it up thoroughly. It's much easier to sow large quantities if it is properly cleaned). I think we collected seed a second season but we have now found it much easier to go back to Royston Petrie to purchase seed grown and harvested professionally.

So there you are Anonymous. One small grower is still supplying Tomato KY1 to Melbourne nurseries in punnets and small pots. Unfortunately you'll have to nag to get more nurseries to stock this terrific variety.

1 comment:

  1. hi pete, loved the recipe for the zucchini salad, we are adding it to our menu for our garden challenge in Jan. Thanks,


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