Nature and nurture

This is my 28th article in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement.

A couple of years back I planted a few heirloom Brandywine tomatoes. Growing them in our climate was not easy. The humidity encouraged blight and my tomatoes were very sad indeed. I had all but given up on them when we were hit by a fearsome hailstorm, that was devastating to all other crops but the tomatoes.

It was as if the battering had given them a new lease on life. They yielded the most delicious and succulent tomatoes I have ever tasted. They were large, a slice would fill a sandwich, with firm pink flesh and a taste that hinted at its own built in seasoning. Unfortunately, the need to focus on the bread and butter lines meant my tomato aspirations were put aside.

Brandywine tomatoes

Brandywine tomatoes

Until now. Our Daughters fiancée, Ryan, who has always shown a great interest in growing good food, presented me with an array of heirloom tomato seeds. The Brandywines were there, but so also were “Giant belgiums”, Tigerella, Pineapple, “Orange strawberry” and “Costoluto genovese” among others.

We took great care in preparing the soil. I dug in some of our best compost and Ryan laid out the best in drip irrigation. Apart from the fun of growing these amazing plants my other reason for the work was to observe which varieties were best suited to growing on the farm and which would be resistant to the old enemy, Late blight.

The tomatoes grew steadily and some had even started to fruit. We were well pleased, all seemed well. The next morning however when I went to inspect the crops my spirits sank. The enemy had paid us a visit. It appeared that someone had walked the rows with a blowtorch and sadistically tortured each tomato. As an Organic farmer I do not spray fungicides or any other “cides” but rather rely on mainly preventative measures to protect the crop.

Some so called organic fungicides based on copper do exist but I will not use them as the copper is toxic to beneficial soil fungi and it does not break down. One of the sprays I do use is bicarbonate of soda which is mainly preventative and completely harmless.

It was while spraying with bicarb that an incident occurred that reinforced my stand on toxin free farming. I was taking great care to wet the leaves both on top and bottom and was rather engrossed in the task. Suddenly a head poked out of a tomato bush, opened its mouth wide and indignantly hissed at me.

Flap necked chameleon

Flap necked chameleon

I started and nearly dropped the spray wand, but soon recognised the belligerent little fellow. It was a Flap necked chameleon, in bright green camouflage to match the tomato leaves. At least this fellow only had his dignity bruised. If I had been spraying with conventional fungicides he would not have survived.

We have a large population of chameleons and frogs on the farm and it is only the fact that we are organic that they are here at all. Latest research has conclusively linked fungicide and herbicide spraying with a vast die off of amphibians.

DSCF0033 2010-01-18 10-28-02 AM

Tree frog on pumpkin leaf

My tomatoes will be 0kay. They will thrive as the weather gets drier with the onset of autumn. I look forward to those Brandywines and Orange strawberries and I will be happy that my green friend is happily guzzling down pests amongst their leaves.


About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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One Response to Nature and nurture

  1. Pingback: Chameleon | The Farm Gate

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