A handful of beans

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Beans worth trading a pesky cow for

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: β€œThe 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.

my seedy saving plan

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wintercress

As I sit in my office overlooking my rain-soaked garden, the rainy season on my Pacific island has taken hold, I can’t help but think about what I’m going to do in the garden next year. There is still plenty to harvest, but the last thing for me to plant this year will be the garlic. Next year is open with possibilities and one of the things I’d like to do better with next year is seed saving.

I keep meaning to become a serious seed saver, but once again I’ve found myself with a few saved tomato seeds, a ridiculously large amount of wintercress seeds (they were so easy to collect, so I kept collecting) and chive seeds (again easy to collect and great for sprouting). Since my chives will reappear on their own, my seed saving efforts will net me only two, tasty, but not very filling crops for next year.

Although, I don’t view my gardening as a cost saving measure, not saving seeds feels like I’m choosing to be unsustainable*. Since one of my gardening motivations is to produce food low in food miles, it makes sense to save the seeds that I can leaving me pondering how to be a better seed saver.

Through a rather round-about way I discovered my local library has a seed library. Serendipitously, I discovered the seed library a week before the Dan Jason of Salt Spring Island Seeds scheduled to talk at one of their events. I dragged a friend to the talk set up outside on a day that turned out rather chilly (we had to rush off for hot chocolate afterwards to warm up).

Dan brought a tub of examples of seeds ready to save – starting with tobacco he originally propagated from 1000 year old seeds, to quinoa, amaranth, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, brassicas, radishes, corn, sage and more.

He filled my head (and notebook) full of useful seedy information. For example, I had no idea that seeds on ripe quinoa plant left outside in the rain would sprout right on the plant – Dan said someone described it as looking like quinoa crawling with maggots. He passed around an example of sprouted quinoa and I wouldn’t describe it that way. Or that quinoa in stores has been mechanically processed rendering them unlikely to sprout at all.

Dan pointed out that there are many varieties of most crops and that it makes sense to keep trying different varieties until I find one that reliably grows well for me and tastes fantastic (why grow anything that doesn’t taste fantastic?). He inspired me to give amaranth another try and to continue on with my plan to grow dried beans. Both of these plants are easy to collect seeds from. If I have success with lettuce and pepper next year, I’ll collect those seeds as well. Perhaps, I’ll leave a couple leeks in the ground to flower and collect those seeds too. There are plenty of easy options to try.

And the seed library doesn’t yet have any wintercress, so hopefully at the next meeting in March I can share my surplus (I plan on joining).

*I accept that I can’t be truly sustainable in any way on a small urban lot – but I can always do better.