Demise of Vegetable Varieties
9th Dec 1998
Since I introduced my own vegetable seed catalogue which must be a few years ago now, I have constantly been on the lookout for new varieties that have the capability of winning at shows as well as having top quality pedigree for kitchen use. Some of the varieties that I introduced have more than proved themselves as they are still winning today, cultivars such as Buffalo onion, Corrie carrot and Archer and Javelin parsnip as well as Carmen Cucumber to name a few.
Other varieties that have also been excellent in every way have, unfortunately for us growers, been dropped off after a few years because the plant breeder decided it wasn't selling enough or the end product wasn't suitable for the purpose intended, whatever that might be.
Choice was one such variety, a lovely tomato from the new shelf life group that remained firm on the plant even when ripe and it tasted good as well. Another tomato variety that we have lost is Goldstar, probably in the breeders eye superseded by a better variety.
Only this month I have heard about yet another disaster for both the kitchen and the showbench, the carrot variety Barbados is being discontinued after only two years on the market.
Barbados was undoubtedly an excellent carrot in every way, nearly coreless with a bright red colour and a wonderful sweet taste, on the show bench it was becoming very hard to beat as you could get an uniform set relatively easy.
The fact that these vegetables are excellent for the show bench seems to imply to many growers and housewives that they are no good at all for the kitchen. The fact is that they couldn't be further from the truth; yes of course some of the monster vegetables that are seen at the giant shows are of no edible value at all, but they are fun competitions where the quality of the exhibit is often secondary to it"s size or weight.
The National Vegetable Society has a saying which I feel puts the whole thing in the right context, If you cant eat it, you don't show it; those words are really based on sound judging principals that have evolved over many years to ensure that quality is paramount. Of course size helps as well, it's much more difficult to grow a big good one than a small good one, but in my book, size should never take precedence over condition and quality.
So why have these vegetables been removed after only such a short period? The hard fact is that it's more to do with economics and nothing at all to do with showing or the kitchen. If the growers can't get the carrots out of the ground in an economical fashion, then, even the best tasting carrots will fade into oblivion. The truth is that the vegetable industry, like many other industries, are driven by financial considerations set out by accountants and not growers. If the bottom line doesn't make financial sense then regardless of how tasty the carrot might be, we loose that variety.
Acres of carrots are grown in this country and when it's harvesting time, they send a huge machine into the field that grabs the foliage of the carrot and pulls it out of the ground, the tops are then chopped off. Sadly Barbados, with it's lovely rounded shoulder, had no guts or strength in the foliage with a number of carrots being left in the ground with only the tops being removed. That in itself implies to me that Barbados carrot has hardly any core and probably has far better eating attributes that those that come out of the ground with much stronger foliage or tops. Sadly, because of this mechanisation and because the carrot is an F1 hybrid variety, it will no longer be available for those of us who have a simple fork to lift the carrot whole, top and all.
The same economics I'm led to believe was the down fall of Goldstar, the fruit was too soft for constant mechanical handling and bruised easily. I wonder if this really means that eventually we will have to grow and eat only vegetables that are capable of being knocked about by some mechanical contraption where they eventually land in boxes without a blemish on them and untouched by human hands.
Small Specialist Seed Firms
This I suppose is as a result of the demise of small specialist seed firms; most, if not all of the vegetable breeding work is now being carried out abroad by huge companies who seem to relish swallowing up all the small ones. Thankfully we do have one small British breeder who carries out excellent work with seed being available on a smaller scale. Tozers of Cobham Surrey who is run by Dr Peter Dawson continues a family tradition of breeding vegetables. They introduced the first F1 hybrid parsnip called Gladiator which has since been followed by another three, Javelin, Archer and their brand new release Dagger which is currently for sale in my new catalogue.
Tozers also bred the runner Polestar, hybrid January King, Cabbage Marabel, Brussel sprouts Wellington and Montgomery, lettuce Diana and Lakeland, hybrid celery Victoria and hybrid marrows Zebra Cross and Tiger Cross.
I have to say that I, together with hundreds of other gardeners, are grateful to Tozers for maintaining the breeding line of Corrie carrot otherwise we would have lost this one as well; by the way, don't worry unduly about supplies of Barbados, I have made sure that I have enough stock to hand for the immediate future.