Burmese Sour tomato (2)
Whilst filming in Myanmar developing a TV project about my work as a seed detective I found this very photogenic tomato in a market in Yangon. My Burmese cameraman Michael Zaw identified it as the Burmese Sour tomato. You can see a short video of me saving tomato seed and discovering this variety in the second half of this YouTube video


The Burmese Sour is something of a delight. It is a local variety and forms part of traditional Burmese cuisine. I am saving seed to share in 2017. The tomato is early, prolific and lovely simply sliced with olive oil and a pinch of salt. My beloved is making spicy tomato and chilli jam with them and lots of passata too.Burmese Sour tomato early August

I have blogged before about Syria and its plant breeding before the war.  Syrian courgettes have a wonderful flavour, crunchy and firm textured.In 2011 I was given some local courgette seed of a variety that has a conical shape.  IMG_3033 Finally I have managed to grow enough to pollinate and harvest my first seed.  I should have plenty to share in 2017, especially with Syrian refugees who want to grow the vegetables of their homeland .  The mature fruits are 50cms long and I have at least eight of these still to harvest!Syrian courgette ripe with seedSyrian Courgette seed

I would love to receive Syrian and Burmese recipes using these veggies please.


I am just returned from a manic but hugely enjoyable trip to Australia attempting to persuade some broadcasters that they should be commissioning a new series called The Seed Detective which would tell the amazing stories about how our fruit and vegetables found their way into our food culture.  These are stories about human colonisation, genetics, and the importance of conserving what is left of the genetic diversity of our food.  Saving, seeking out and enjoying traditional, ex-commercial, heirloom and native varieties is what makes me tick.

Simon & Adam med res

Victoria is a garden state and I met with cellist and heirloom gardener Simon Rickard who has written a wonderful book about heirloom vegetables.St Erth's pumpkin med res
Clive Blazey created a wonderful institution, the Diggers Club. He grows, tests and sells native and heirlooms from his garden centres near Melbourne. If you are in the area go and visit them. This magnificent golden pumpkin is nameless. Another case for the seed detective.

It has been an amazing winter for requests for seeds. I have been cleaned out by numerous enthusiasts who want to grow some examples from my library. As a result I am not sending out any more seeds until later this year. Do watch this space for further news.


Back in July I was filmed communing with my broad beans and runner beans for the next series of The Great British Food Revival.  I have just been told that my modest cameo part can be seen at 7pm on Tuesday 6th November at 7pm on BBC2.

But to more prosaic matters.  Today I have been enjoying working in the warmth of my polytunnels transplanting Winter Gem lettuce and two brassicas, All The Year round cauliflower and Delaway, a delicious open hearted cabbage that I first got from the HSL at Garden Organic, but now grow from my own seed.  I have had a few problems with mice eating onion sets and have had mixed success trapping them.  The wooden little nipper is really no good because the wood swells enough to stop the traps from closing.  I have some palstic ones which are better and it is official, mice prefer peanut butter to chocolate.  They go to the peanut traps before the chocolate ones!  I have ordered a new type of trap and will post result!

I have been having a few problems with my leeks because many have started to bolt.  It’s a bore, but I am still able to use them for soup, once the tough central flower spike is removed.  Tomatoes continue to ripen.  I am often asked about the merits or otherwise of removing the leaves as the fruits ripen.  I only start to remove any leaves once the lower ones have started to fade and only then will I take off leaves up to the highest ripening truss.  A good test of whether a leaf should be removed is to see if when you bend it upwards it snaps off.  If it doesn’t then I leave it.  the danger of removing too many leaves is that the plants struggle to photo-synthesis effectively.  The best way to encourage ripening is to leave a couple of ripe bananas amongst the plants.  The methane given off by the decaying bananas aids ripening.


It is now more than a month since I have returned from a very enjoyable trip to Oman; a country of mountains, desert, vast empty coastline, diverse wildlife, lovely people and some spectacular produce! There was one particular discovery I made that I hope will add to the pleasures of life in the kitchen.

Oman has some of the most fertile and productive land in the Arabian Gulf. It is home to the widest variety of flora and fauna in the region and grows the finest dates I have ever eaten. The mountains are full of wadis and springs that provide water to some of the most amazing and impressive terraces I have ever seen. The Sayq plateau is where roses are grown to make Oman’s famous rose water. On the terraces are also grown pomegranite, olives, mangoes, dates, oranges and lemons, apricots and almonds.

When I visited these terraces in early March the roses were still in bud as were most of the fruit trees. But there was one crop that really surprised me, a delicious purple garlic, which I found growing in a large terrace – a variety I understand was introduced to the region centuries ago and is now effectively a native as farmers grow from their own saved cloves. I was able to buy some garlic locally which I now have growing in one of my raised beds and as of today it is looking good!
Oman’s fertile and productive plains north of Muscat are where most of the vegetables are grown and I was able to see just how varied and productive the country is when I visited the main fruit and vegetable market just outside Muscat.

Seed hunting in Syria and catching up at Easter

I recently returned from nearly three weeks travelling in Jordan and Syria.  Although my principal reason for the trip was to visit ruins and walk in the mountains and desert, I didn’t need any excuses not to go in search of vegetable seeds.

Syria was especially interesting.  The country grows a huge amount of food and at this time of year the fields in the fertile valleys and in the terraced hills and mountains are full of crops of cucumbers, courgettes, tomatoes, egg plant, cabbages, salad crops and young wheat, flowering apple trees, cherry blossom everywhere and pistachio, fig, almond and apricot trees all coming into growth.  Olives are grown at every elevation from mountain terrace to desert plain.

The cucumbers and courgettes are especially interesting as Syrians eat their cucumbers now when they are no more than about 12 cms long.  They breed a particular variety to eat very young.  Their courgettes are interesting too.  Although they do grow American hybrid varieties including one called Babylon, some farmers also grow a native type which has a lower water content than the courgettes we are used to eating.  These little Syrian beauties are firm, flavoursome and I found a refreshing alternative to the rather dull vegetable we usually grow.

I visited a food market in Aleppo and found two stalls selling vegetable seed, all locally grown.  As soon as I got home on 19th April I sowed two varieties of courgette, one produced by a company called ocal Seed(!) and another which came loose from a horticultural supplier.  I also sowed a local variety of mini-cucumber.  Today, Easter Sunday 24th April and everything has germinated.  Very exciting.

In both Jordan and Syria they like to eat young broad beans, chopped up and blanched before mixing with olive oil.  This dish is a great delicacy and I was keen to find some local seed.  In Damascus in the old souk I found a horticultural supplier who had sacks of seed.  The bean is very small and the pods quite short and variable.  I plan to sow some tomorrow.  Fava beans are also popular and I ate them in a rich, creamy sauce flavoured with cumin.  I was able to buy about 100 grams of this seed too.  So it will be interesting to see how they grow although I am tempted to wait until next year to sow some as I want a long growing season to ensure I get a good crop of dried Fava, (broad) bean.

In both Damascus and Aleppo I found some interesting sweet peppers and some mild, large chillies.  In this part of the world the locals do not eat very spicy food.  Again, the seed I found in the market will have to wait until 2012 until I try to grow them.

Now, back home, I have been catching up with my veggie plans.  Capsicums and the last of the tomato plants have been planted into the poly tunnels.  A major weed on the allotment, sowing of roots and salad crops, transplanting under cloches of beans, sowing more peas, runner beans and French beans continues.  Hopefully, with a dry Easter Monday I will be fully up to date.

Early potatoes soon ready for digging.

Aquadulce broad beans with good flower set.

It is a joy to have polytunnels.  My early crop of the potato Rocket is in flower and I scrabbled around a few plants to see how the tubers are doing.  There is certainly a meal now so this week i will be eating my first potatoes of 2011.  The broad beans I sowed in another polytunnel are doing very well.  Although, not the mos prolific flowers, Aquadulce gives a good crop and I have had a very good flower set.  Today there are many pods, just a couple of inches long, starting to fill.  I’ll be eating whole juvenile beans on May Day!