I AM a plant scientist working in the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University. I have a research project that I have been working on that involves the Isle of Man and I was hoping that you could feature it in Smallholder Magazine.
In 2006 I successfully reintroduced the 'Blaby Special' tomato, which is a historically important variety from Leicestershire. Spurred on by the success of this project I searched for other local varieties that might have been lost from cultivation and came across the 'Manx Marvel'. The 'Manx Marvel' is an heirloom (heritage) tomato variety that as the name suggests is thought to have originally been bred on the Isle of Man. To my knowledge it is not currently cultivated on the island, however with your help I hope to get this variety growing again in Manx soil.
Last summer I obtained a few seeds of the variety from a 'seed bank' in the United States and grew four plants in Lancaster. These plants were particularly vigorous, producing extremely strong stems, large leaves, with the red fruits ripening late in the season. Owing to the large leaf area per plant they were exceedingly thirsty, but I was rewarded with a heavy crop of juicy fruits from which I have extracted the seeds. I am now offering these seeds to anyone on the Isle of Man who wants to grow this variety. People can obtain packets of 'Manx Marvel' seeds and help resurrect the variety if they send a SAE (before 1 March) to the above address. Obviously they must use a ROYAL MAIL stamp for the return envelope. People outside the Isle of Man, may be considered for seed if there are any left after the Islanders' seeds have been dispatched.
Little is known about the history of the variety, so hopefully if any readers know more they could get in touch with me and I can put together a history of the variety and tomato cultivation on the island. It could be that the fruits are the perfect accompaniment to other Manx delicacies, such as the famous kippers!
It is not surprising that a tomato variety was bred on the Isle of Man. Many islands around the British mainland have had thriving tomato industries, as well as massive potato production (both the potato and the tomato species belongs to the same group of plants; Solanum). The success of growing tomatoes in these locations is due to a combination of a warm and wet climate, good soil, and reduced pest and disease infestations due to the geographical isolation from mainland Britain. The Manx Marvel may have been selectively bred from plants that grew particularly well in Manx soil and climatic conditions.
The majority of my work involves investigating signalling pathways in plants and developing techniques for exploiting these signals to grow ornamental plants. However, my research interests span a number of different areas of botany, for more information about my heirloom tomatoes and other research projects see: http://russell.g.sharp.googlepages.com/home.
Dr Russell Sharp, Lancaster Environment Centre