The chives are almost done their spring-time race to re-seed themselves – part of what I suspect is a cunning chive-y plan to take over my entire garden. Innocent-looking purple puff-ball tops are threatening to over run the strawberries and basil I planted either side of them.
I have more chives than I could ever expect to use – but that’s okay because the pollinators love their flowers. As I approach the chive domain I can hear the buzz of insects collecting their lunch. A traffic jam of honey bees, bumble bees and mason bees visit flower after flower. Other insects with odd shapes (that are probably bee flies) add even more diversity. One category of visitor is so small and fast I can’t really tell what they look like.
More than once by daughter (two and a half) has followed the buzzy cacophony to the chives. She is fascinated by them. If I look away for a moment, she’ll climb among the chives to get a good look. I love that her curiosity drives her to discover more about the world going on right under our noses – reason enough to spend time in the garden.
I tell her that the pollinators have important work to do and that she is to look and not touch them (so far she hasn’t been stung). I point out the names of the ones I know – no doubt in a few years she’ll be telling me the names of the rest.
I went on a walking tour of local food gardens on the weekend – which resulted in me attempting to take notes while walking of new plant ideas (anyone heard of shisandra fruit?). I enjoyed peeking into other people’s gardens who were trying to do the same thing as me. So here are some pictures.
In the spirit of my ongoing garden experiment these are the beans I’ve planted. From left to right: Tiger Eye (from the library, I posted about them here), Ireland Creek Annie (seeds from here), Trail of Tears (seeds from here), Snow Cap (seeds from here), and Mayacoba/Limon (seeds from here) and Blue Jay (a green bean given to me from a friend). Common beans don’t cross readily, so they can be sown reasonable close together and still be saved for seed. Mine are all roughly three meters apart in my backyard, the front yard, and in my parent’s garden. I’ve not tasted any of these, so I’m hoping they are good.
I’ve also planted an assortment of other beans (see above) – from left to right: Blue Speckled Tepary Bean (seeds from here), Lady Pea Cow Pea (seeds from here), Black Jet Soy Bean (seeds from here) and Winnifred’s Garbanzo (seeds from here). Since these beans are all in different families, I don’t have to worry about crossing. Both the tepary beans and cow peas are a risk this far north as they came from a seed company very south of me. I’ve read that they like hot, dry climates so I’ll just have to wait and see how they do.
I’ve also planted Scarlett Runner Beans that I had in my seed stash for some time and red lentils I bought from a local farm. I did a germination check on the red lentils and I like them so why not plant them?
I have Anglo-Saxon roots and I live in the Americas – this often leads me to think about what my ancestors were eating before the new world was discovered. However, most of my favourite foods come from the new world like tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes, quinoa and a plethora of tasty beans.
To further my beany summary, here are the new world beans (old world beans are here) …
- The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) – originating in Central and South America, this diverse group includes kidney beans and navy beans and often goes under the misleading name of French Bean. There is evidence these beans were being cultivated as early as 6000 BC in Peru, Mexico and Argentina. At the time of the Spanish Conquest the common bean was introduced to Europe. The more I look into this group of beans the more amazed I am at the diversity, they can be black, white, buff, red, brown or any combination. And most aren’t available commercially, so to try their (so I’ve heard) diverse flavours, I’ll have to grow them.
- Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus). These beans originate from Mexico where the vine grows as a perennial – and it is a beauty, some varieties have flowers a rich red (scarlet) that hummingbirds flock to. Once dried down the moulted black and purple beans are huge. I’ve read they have a meaty flavour, which hopefully I’ll be testing soon.
- Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus). First seen by Europeans in Lima Peru, hence its name – likely originates from Peru. I don’t know if I have ever tried a lima bean, I have some seeds but forgot to plant them when the conditions were optimally cool for them (I’ll try to remember next year).
- Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius). I only just found out about this bean, considering its origins are relatively close to me. Our earliest record of tepary beans on the menu comes from Mexico around 3000 BC, however it might be native to Arizona. This bean can be white, yellow, brown, green, bluish-black or speckled is adapted to dry conditions, producing a small, but protein dense bean.
There are more like the Jack Bean (Canavalia ensiformis) and Sword-bean (Canavalia gladiata) from central and south America. Even the root jicama (Pachyrrhizus erosus) is a bean. I’m sure there bucket loads of other beans that I’ve never heard of but would be exciting to try.
Following Erica’s beautiful virtual garden tour (I love her orchard), here is one of mine. My orchard is newly planted this spring and something attached my apple so I don’t think we’ll get any apples this year, but I’m optimistic it will be productive and looking great in a few years. Berry season has already started and we have as much salad and broad beans as we can eat. I’m looking forward to tomatoes and cucumbers!
The tale of Jack and the beanstalk has ancient origins, which means beans have been on people’s minds for a long time. Dried beans are one of the oldest domesticated crops and provide a good amount of protein while improving the soil. They’re also easy to grow, to thresh and to store. But even in antiquity, not everyone was a fan – according to Rebecca Rupp in How Carrots Won the Trojan War Pythagorus’s clan of vegetarians wouldn’t eat beans because they believed that maybe, just maybe, people could be reincarnated as them. I’ll assume that is just a story and carry on eating plenty of beans.
Edible beans are diverse – many of which can’t be found at the local super market or even the hippy-est bulk store. They come with great names too like: tiger’s eye, black night fall, lablab, Atawallpa’s fingerprint, yellow-eye, … and I could go on an on. What do they taste like? It seems the only way to try many of these is to grow them. From a seed saving point of view some bean types cross readily with other closely related types (i.e. those in the same family) and some don’t. How many varieties in each family one can grow to save seeds can come down to how big your garden is.
I thought I would do a brief summary of the types of edible beans I’ve stumbled across starting with the ones that originate from the old world (I think), and I likely haven’t come across all the edible types.
- Broad Bean (Vicia faba) – also known as fava beans. These are the only bean that can be sewn in the fall and harvested the next year (assuming a relatively mild winter). This bean is native to northern Africa and southwest Asia. These were domesticated in neolithic times (i.e. When humans started farming using stone tools) in the eastern Mediterranean.
- Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) – People have been eating chickpeas in Turkey from at least around 5000 BC (hummus has been popular a long time!). In ancient times this bean was grown all around the Mediterranean and in Ethiopia and introduced to India around 2000 BC.
- Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab) – Originally from India, this one was grown in the Biodome 2 experiment, I have their cookbook and was thinking of growing this one, however I’m likely too far north to get a crop. Hyacinth Beans are often grown as an ornamental vine.
- Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan) – this is a perennial shrub commonly grown in India, probably also originally from there. I can only grow this as a house plant and I have one going, if it thrives I’ll take some pictures.
- Soy Bean (Glycine max) – an ancient Chinese crop that can be made into all sorts of tasty things like tofu, tempeh and soy milk.
- Lentil (Lens culinaris) – one of the most ancient crops, there is evidence these have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean since at least 6700 BC. Their name relates back to optical lenses due to the shape of some lentil varieties. The big advantage to lentils is they cook up relatively quickly.
- Cow pea (Vigna unguiculata), this family includes the blackeye pea and yardlong beans and originates from Ethiopia around 4000-3000 BC. Currently this bean is grown extensively in India and west Africa. And is the traditional bean of the American south. This bean doesn’t need to be soaked before cooking, speeding up its preparation.
I’ve skipped the peanut – another tasty legume that has become almost ubiquitous. And, coffee beans are not beans at all, instead they are the seed of a tropical fruit. Next up is the new world beans…
* my main reference was The Random House Book of Vegetables by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix
We harvested our first strawberries yesterday (they went directly into my daughter’s mouth). Last year the strawberries were ready mid-June on the same plants – things are early this year. I’m okay with early strawberries, I just hope we aren’t facing a drought this summer. Perhaps, there will be early tomatoes too.
Look a handful of beans! Just looking at them makes me oddly happy, as though I traded a prize cow for them. They aren’t magical (I think) just a heritage bean called tiger’s eye* – one of the diverse group of new world beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) that includes the ubiquitous kidney, navy, and black turtle beans.
Although tiger’s eye beans originate from Argentina, I took these ones out from my local library. The Victoria Public Library has a seed library that has been in operation for just over a year. I think this seed library was the first one in Canada, now others on the mainland have been started. I hope seed library’s spread as it is a great way to create local sustainable food system. The deal is I grow my tiger’s eye beans then return a handful to the library in the fall. All the tiger’s eye beans get mixed together ensuring ongoing genetic diversity and a bean variety selected for this area.
I love the idea of a public seed library especially when there is constant news of attempts to keep seed saving out of the hands of individuals like the laws the European Union have been trying to put in place restricting seed distribution and diversity. Or, according to the Huffington Post: “The US has been trying to force El Salvador to use Monsanto’s GMO seeds rather than their own indigenous seeds or risk loosing nearly $300 million in aid.”
According to Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington’s ‘Heirloom Beans‘ cookbook (which I also took out from the library) tiger’s eye beans fall apart when cooked making them ideal for making refried beans or adding to chili. There is way more diversity in beans that what I can get at the hippy-est bulk store and I’m looking forward to trying them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about growing beans, so expect a few more blog posts on them.
* they are also called ‘eye of the tiger’ which has caused me to roam around humming the song of the same name since I got them.
I don’t grow a lot of flowers just because they are pretty – I like them to have a secondary role like drawing in pollinators or feeding my resident hummingbird. Cosmos, sweet peas and nasturtiums I grow out of nostalgia as my parents grew them when I was a kid.
Last year, when I was pondering what to start from seed, soapwort intrigued me. I had no idea what the flower looked like, but the idea that a soap could be made from a plant hooked me. I’ve made soap in the past, but it’s a bit of a chore that I can’t be bothered with right now. Soapwort contains the same cleaning compounds as soap and sounds much quicker to make in a zombie apocalypse when I can’t get to the store. Apparently, one can even make shampoo from this plant.
This spring my soapwort bloomed and I was surprised at how pretty it is and it has been blooming constantly for a month. Even though it isn’t edible, this perennial is going into my embryonic food forest. Apparently it tolerates a bit of shade and neglect and becomes a nice ground cover (with a slight risk of taking over).