Saturday, 27 March 2010

Seed guardian seeds

I should have posted on this days ago but was feeling too dreadful at the time. After sending the HSL a reminder, I got my Seed guardian info, followed a few days later by my seeds. I've taken on three varieties.

There's Mummy's Pea, one of several that the ancient Egyptian myth attaches to. I already have a few seeds of King Tut, which seems to be another of these.Egypt came under British domination after the Napoleonic Wars, and the first modern Egyptologists followed shortly afterwards. In no time, people were cashing in on all the publicity for ancient Egypt. Credulous tourists were sold peas which had been 'discovered' inside mummies, and seed merchants back home were soon offering peas with similar claims.

The remains of peas actually were discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb when it was excavated in 1922, and the myth transferred itself to this, with peas from the tomb supposedly having germinated. In fact, as you might expect, conditions in Egyptian tombs are not satisfactory for long-term seed storage. No seed from such a tomb has ever been found in a viable state, though a 2000-year-old Judean date palm from a dig in Palestine has been germinated, and found to be genetically quite different from any known date palm.

I suspect - though I don't know - that the various 'mummy peas' go back to the pre-Tutankhamun period, and those with variations on the Pharaoh's name come after. King Tut, AKA Prew's Pea (a name which has attached itself to several of these varieties) is grown in the US, and hasn't any history attached that I know of. Mummy's Pea, (also AKA Prew's Pea) comes from Durweston, near Blandford Forum, Dorset. The local gentry are the Portmans, who were friends of Lord Caernavon, who financed the Tutankhamun dig. Peas from Caernavon's kitchen garden may well have been passed on to their head gardener.

Then there's a climbing bean, Brejo, apparently a Native American heirloom. It's supposed to do well in wet springs, so it may turn out to be a winner. Finally there's an Estonian ridge cucumber, Izjastsnoi (I've no idea how to pronounce that!), which is said to be tolerant of poor treatment and cool temperatures, which is what I like to hear. Cucumbers are outbreeders which need to be isolated to prevent unwanted crosses, so it's going to be a bit more of a challenge.


  1. I've grown the King Tut peas that seem to be dong the rounds. These were nothing sepcial and actually quite variable.

    I will be interested in your rwesults with these veg. I've never attempted to isolate an outbreeder - I always tend to go for peas, beans and toms to save. I'll follow with interest!

  2. It's very noticeable that not many people try to preserve outbreeders; that's one of my reasons for trying! It shouldn't be that hard, and I'd like to encourage others.

  3. I'm very interested in this date palm you describe. We'll see how your King Tut peas go. Are you going to hand pollinate and bag your cukes or some other method?

  4. I have been growing Brejo for many years. One of my most favourite beans. They are flat, nearly a foot long and nearly an inch wide. They are light green with fine speckles of red on the side of the pod that sees the sun.

  5. I haven't got the Seed Guardian list this year as I'm already at capacity with the ones I've taken on in previous years, but if Mummy's Pea is the same as Mummy White (which I trialled last year) then it's an excellent choice. It's an umbellatum type, similar to Salmon-Flowered but white flowered and much higher yielding, with a superb flavour.

    It is amazing how persistent the myth about ancient Egyptian peas has proved to be. As you say, it started with a Victorian scam - and 150 years later you still see the claims being made. Although peas were found in Egyptian tombs, they were nothing like the ones we have today - they were tiny, black, hard and bitter-tasting and came from a wild plant that was not even cultivated. Mummy Pea has been around at least since the 1840s or 50s but ancient Egyptian it ain't! I grew Tutankhamun last year, which also has 'the myth' attached to it. It may well be true that it came from Lord Caernarvon's garden but he didn't get it from the boy king - one look at the large wrinkled seeds and it's obvious that they're a modern type which simply didn't exist before the mid 19th century.

    Still, Mummy Pea does taste good and looks amazing in the garden!

  6. I'll be hand pollinating and bagging the cukes, maybe some other squash as well. There may well be no need as I won't be growing any other cukes, and not many people on the site grow ridge cukes. With hedges, I imagine the chance of cross-pollination isn't grat, but I might as well do the job thoroughly just in case.

    I don't know a lot about the daye palm, but the story's been reported on some very critical academic lists, so it's unlikely to be anything but reliable.