Tomatoes without water or pesticides: a method that fascinates biologists

The man is 52 but looks ageless. This farmer’s son, who left school at age 7, says he is “completely self-taught”. He reared ewes and grew chestnuts before specializing in seeds. He now spreads his seeds on potting soil, in tired planters.

Then he places his planters on a huge pile of decomposing manure, whose temperature will soon reach 70 degrees for several days, heating the greenhouse and allowing germination of the seeds.

Pascal Poot and his warm coat in his greenhouse, in Lodève on February 26, 2015 (Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

The technique, called hot layer, is very old. It was she who allowed Parisian market gardeners of the nineteenth century to harvest melons in the city at the end of spring. It is this that allows Pascal Poot to sprout every year thousands of tomato plants, eggplants, peppers … Before planting on his land and not to take care of it until harvest.

The greenhouse of Pascal Poot, at the end of sowing, in 2014 (DR)

While sowing these seeds, Pascal reveals to me the details of his method:

“Most of the plants we call today” weeds “were plants that we ate in the Middle Ages, such as amaranth or quackgrass … I always thought that if they are so resistant today This is precisely because no one has been dealing with it for generations and generations. Everyone tries to grow vegetables by protecting them as much as possible, but I try to encourage them to defend themselves. I started planting tomatoes on this lot of pebbles about twenty years ago, at the time there was not a drop of water. Everyone thinks that if we do that all the plants die but that’s not true. In fact, almost all plants survive. By cons we get very small tomatoes, ridiculous. The seeds of the fruit must be harvested and sown the following year. There we start to see real tomatoes, we can have 1 or 2 kg per plant. And if we wait another year or two, then that’s great. At first they thought I was crazy, but after a while, the neighbors saw that I had more tomatoes than they did, and no more mildew, so people started talking and researchers came to see me. “

Pascal Poot in his greenhouse, Lodève February 26, 2015 (Tomatoes without water or pesticide, Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

Among these researchers are Bob Brac de la Perrière, plant biologist and geneticist and coordinator of the environmental association Bede:

“At the end of the 90s, at the time of the fight against GMOs, we decided that we also had to work on alternatives, and we began to take stock of farmers who made their own seeds. We had to find between 100 and 150 in France. But the case of Pascal Poot was unique. The least we can say is that he has a great independence of mind, he follows his own rules and to my knowledge nobody does like him. He selects his seeds in a context of difficulty and stress for the plant, which makes them extremely tolerant, improves their taste quality and makes them more concentrated in nutrients. In addition to that he cultivates several hundred different varieties, few farmers have such extensive knowledge of the species they cultivate. “

Pascal Poot chooses a label at Lodève on February 26, 2015 (Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

The researchers are only beginning to understand the biological mechanisms that explain the success of Pascal Poot’s method, ensures Véronique Chable, specialist of the subject at INRA-Sad in Rennes and who has conducted research on Pascal Poot’s selections since 2004:

“Its basic principle is to put the plant in the conditions in which we want it to grow. It has been forgotten, but it has long been part of common sense peasant. Today, it is called the inheritance of acquired traits, in short there is a transmission of stress and positive traits of plants over several generations. It must be understood that DNA is a very plastic medium of information, it is not only the genetic mutation that causes the changes, there is also adaptation, with for example genes that are extinct but that can to wake up. The plant makes its seeds after having lived its cycle, so it retains certain acquired aspects. Pascal Poot exploits this extremely well, his plants are not very different from others at the genetic level but they have an impressive ability to adapt. “

Pascal Poot in his greenhouse, in Lodève on February 26, 2015 (Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

This adaptability has commercial value. During my visit, several people called Pascal to order seeds. The farmer sells his seeds to several organic seed companies, including Germinance.

Kevin Sperandio, seed artisan at Germinance, explains:

White aubergines grow in Pascal Poot’s farm (DR) “The fact that Pascal Poot’s seeds are adapted to a difficult soil makes them extremely adaptable for all regions and climates. We do not have the means to do this kind of tests but I’m sure that if we did a test between a hybrid variety, that of Pascal Poot and a conventional organic seed would be those of the conservatory of the tomato that would obtain the best results . “

Part of these seeds are sold illegally, because they are not registered in the official catalog of species and plant varieties of the GNIS (national inter-professional group of seeds and seedlings). This irritates a lot Pascal Poot, so far very calm:

“One of my best varieties is the Gregori Altai. But she is not registered in the catalog, perhaps because she is not regular enough for them. Many varieties are like that. Last fall seed Seeds del Païs had a fraud control check which established nearly 90 offenses in their catalog. The principle is that we are allowed to sell only the seeds that give fruits that are all the same and give the same results in each place. For me, it’s the opposite of life, which is based on permanent adaptation. This amounts to producing clones but we also want these clones to be zombies. “

Pascal Poot’s box of labels, February 26, 2015 (Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

When asked about these controls, a GNIS delegate explained in March 2014:

“Our goal is to provide protection for the user and the consumer. The French seed sector is very successful, but it needs a proven organization and a certification system. “

Les Tomatoes by Pascal Poot, in 2014 (DR)

Except that the standardization of fruits and seeds is often at the expense of taste and nutritional qualities. And could, in the future, harm farmers, says Véronique Chable:

“The seed selection work shows that we can grow the plant to impressive conditions. But modern agriculture has lost sight of it, it does not rely on the ability to adapt at all. But in a context of rapidly changing climate and the environment it is something that the agricultural world is going to need. It will be necessary to preserve not only the seeds but also the know-how of the farmers, the two go together. “

To share this know-how, I asked Pascal to explain to me how he selects and harvests his seeds. Here are his tips:

The seeds of Pascal Poot, Lodève February 26, 2015 (Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

  • “We must take the fruit as late as possible , if possible just before the first frosts, so that it will have lived not only with the drought of summer but also with the rains of autumn. “
  • “Tomatoes are very special. When you open a tomato, the seeds are in a sort of gelatin, like an egg white. This gelatin prevents the seeds from germinating inside the fruit, which is hot and humid. Seeds do not germinate until this gelatin has rotted and fermented. “
  • “So you have to ferment the seeds. For that you have to open the tomato , extract the seeds and leave them several hours in their juice , for example in a salad bowl. There will be a lactic fermentation. “
  • “You have to watch the fermentation like milk on the fire , it can last between 6 and 24 hours but contrary to what we say, do not wait until a film of mold appears. We take a seed we put it on the hand , if we can move it with the index finger without the gelatin comes with the seed, it’s good. “
  • “Then we put everything in a tea strainer, wash with water and put to dry . Here we reach a germination rate between 98% and 100%. “
  • “The pepper is different, just wash the seeds , dry them on a very fine sieve and store them. For chilli it’s the same thing but it becomes dangerous because the seeds burn , it’s very strong, it even passes through the gloves. Once I harvested the seeds of a cage of Espelette peppers without gloves, I had to spend the night with my hands in the icy water! “

Pascal Poot in his greenhouse, in Lodève on February 26, 2015 (Thibaut Schepman / Rue89)

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