Guy’s news: Disillusioned with uniformity in my artichokes

Last week I was singing the praises of hybrids, with just a few reservations. In the space of one damp week the first hybrid variety of my beloved artichokes succumbed to mildew and is now all but dead; what promised to be a bumper yield ended up barely paying for the inflated cost of the seed (four times the price of non-hybrids). Next door, in the genetically highly varied, open pollinated variety a few plants have been weakened but most have the genetics to resist the pathogen and are still doing well.

Hybrids can produce high yields and be uniform in appearance and maturity, making them quick to pick; but their narrow genetic base means they are often poorly equipped to withstand the challenges of pest and disease attack, weather extremes or areas of low fertility in the field. Farmers become enslaved to meeting the narrow needs of their hybrid seeds, whatever the environmental cost. Farmers and customers have come to expect, and even require the uniform vegetables hybrids produce, to the extent that it is getting harder and harder to find a market for the traditional open pollinated varieties which often look wild and woolly by comparison. Were we always drawn to that controlled, neat uniformity or have our eyes been trained to it by the environment we live in and more particularly, shop in, with all those neat parallel shelves?

Uniformity is an anathema in nature; it is inherently unstable and risky. When the meteorite strikes, the volcano erupts or the glaciers melt it is the freaks on the fringes that provide the genetic diversity that allows adaptation and survival. The uniform mainstream, specialised to narrow ‘normality’, is wiped out when normality shifts. Given the current market paradigm, it is hard to argue against the development of narrow normality as represented by hybrids (and GM in more extreme circumstances), but it will be wiped out; maybe not in my lifetime and maybe not by this freak, but it will happen. One day earthlings will look back on the lumbering and domineering Monsanto and Tesco with the dismay and disbelief elicited when looking up at T. rex in the Natural History Museum.

Guy Watson

7 responses to “Guy’s news: Disillusioned with uniformity in my artichokes

  1. love this stuff! Bravo – sorry about the artichokes!

  2. Sorry to hear of your artichokes, in terms of all your lost efforts and finances. I am getting more and more ‘anti’ the ever increasing neatness and uniformity all around, whether that be gardens, hedgerows, parks, shops, houses or just about anything. Quirky, odd, different, or as I see it ‘special’, is far better. So for me a veg box with contents that are irregular or mixed is a joy. Maybe I’m ‘different’ too?

  3. So sorry about the artichokes, but love this blog , it shows that nature knows best.
    Jenny

  4. Two fascinating weeks of Guy’s news on F1 issues, plus Paul’s mention of Dicamba herbicide which was a new one to me! All this tells me it’s a good point to celebrate the seed savers and swappers, the seed banks, including Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, and many similar initiatives, large and small, in UK and beyond. Let’s hang on to all this wonderful diversity!
    As a (less than efficient) gardener and allotment holder, I have always tried to use non F1 seeds and sources. Few amateur gardeners want the whole of a crop to mature on the same day!

  5. Hi Guy,
    My observation is while man made uniformity seems unnatural in Nature it is the same kind of our uniformity attitudes that will safe Nature, like all agreeing on folding Riverford boxes and returning them for reuse or returning plastic bags provided for them to be recycled and so on.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I truly hope the days of the supermarket are numbered. I fail to understand how people don’t recognise that supermarkets limit choice.

  7. Hi Guy,
    My observation is: while man made uniformity seems unnatural in Nature it is the same kind of our uniformity attitudes that will save Nature eg. like all agreeing on folding Riverford boxes and returning them for reuse or returning plastic bags provided, so they can be recycled and so on.

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