What the hell is an outlawed vegetable?
It’s a frequent question at the garden where we grow French beans, peas and tomatoes that are illegal to buy in the shops.
Why illegal? Well under EU regulations each variety of vegetable seed has to be put on the National Seed List, and this costs money.
As most of our seed companies are now owned by the big bio-tech companies that are trying to force GM (genetically modified) greens down our throats, they aren’t really bothered about a ‘Carnival’ lettuce that only flogs a few packets. Or ‘Champion of England’ which grows too tall for the mechanical pickers. And the supermarkets don’t want a tomato like ‘Tangella’, with beautiful soft, orange skin that would turn to mush on the long food mile journey of most supermarket food.
The British Isles has one of the richest garden heritages in the world. For years, scores of gardeners and smallholders have nurtured thousands of unique vegetable varieties. But in the last hundred years most of these varieties have all but disappeared.
Thousands more are under threat from climate change, loss of habitat, invasive alien species and the desire for ‘perfect’ vegetables.
Does it matter? The Heritage Library think so.
“Every variation and strain is remarkably different. Each with its own taste, growing habits, cultivation time and heritage. Just as we value the diversity of plant and animal species, we need to keep the gene pool of the plants we grow to eat as big as possible too. It’s not just vegetable varieties that we are losing, but the local history, culture, tradition and skills that go with them. Once the varieties are extinct, we will never be able to get the seed or heritage back.”
The Heritage Seed Library work around the EU regulations by getting people to join the library. They send us a catalogue and we order some seed. We also save seed from varieties that we like the taste of. But they don’t just taste good, some can look spectacular – such as the ‘Kent Blue’ Pea currently growing at the forest garden.