There is something almost magical about discovering heirloom vegetable varieties.  The colours, the textures, the wide variety of flavours.  I used to order an heirloom tomato mixed-pack from The Drift Farm, and marvel at the amazing kaleidoscope of colours that would arrive.  Black cherry tomatoes, stripey tigerellas, bright orange/yellow pear cherries.  Even green striped ones!

Each one tasted completely different.  Some were best for cooking, some were gobsmackingly delectable in salads with no adulteration required.  Some were just so pretty to look at I could hardly bear to eat them (but I did, of course!).

Compared to such abundance and variability, ordinary shop-bought tomatoes pale horrendously.  They lack the flavour (usually they’re picked green, and ripened artificially), and they certainly lack the fun factor.  A tomato salad made from black, yellow, green and pink varieties looks (and tastes) SO much better than a plain ol’ red one.

But, heirloom tomatoes (and other heirloom vegetables and fruits) are a little harder to come by than their more storable and transportable counterparts.  So, this year I will be growing my own.

I’m no urban farmer.  I have limited space, mostly pots, and am not nearly as attentive as I should be.  But, cherry tomatoes are really easy to grow, as are lettuces and chillis – so I will be taking advantage of the Summer Seedling Share from Harvest Share.  In fact, being one of the creators of The Food Collective, which runs Harvest Share, I have a bit of a vested interest in the project!

Basically, we source seeds from local companies specialising in open-pollinated heirloom seed varieties, and get someone green-thumbed to grow them for us. Last time, we worked with Soil For Life – this time with Alfa Variegata Nurseries, based in Klapmuts.

When the seedlings are big and strong, we offer a limited number of ‘shares’ to anyone interested.  By growing from a seedling, you have a bit of a head start (as anyone who’s attempted growing from seeds will know!) and should have an awesome crop of tomatoes, lettuces and chillis during the main summer season.

We’ve carefully selected the tastiest of summer’s bounty, which are all very easy to grow. You don’t even need a vegetable patch for this share, as these seedlings can be grown in window boxes or grow-bags.

With each share you buy, you will receive THREE 6-pack seedling trays containing the following heirloom vegetables:

  • 1 x Heirloom Tomato 6-pack
    (Containing a mix of: Black Cherry, Tigerella & Principe Borghese)
  • 1 x Heirloom Chilli 6-pack 
    (Containing a mix of Purple Maui, Fish Peppers, Malawian Peppadews)
  • 1 x Heirloom Lettuce 6-pack
    (Containing a mix of Merveille des quatres saisons, Parris Island Cos & Mizuna)

Shares cost R105 each (total number of shares limited to 30), and will be available for pickup at the Starlings Urban Farmers Market next week (14 December 2011).

I can’t wait to get mine – tigerella tomato salad, here I come!

To find out more, visit the Food Collective website.

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