Wednesday, May 21, 2014

bean planting day

Dry beans are one of my favorite crops. They're hard to grow on a small-but-still-commercial scale, because without specialized equipment, getting those little food pellets out of their pods and into the clean form that people are used to buying is no small task. Luckily, people have been growing beans for thousands of years, and they've figured some things out. My friend and coworker Jennie, who spent a number of years farming in New Mexico, is going to teach me the Bean Dance this year. I'm thinking maybe it will be a fun end-of-season party.

Anyway, back to the other end of the process: the planting. I wasn't able to borrow the Earthway seeder that I would ordinarily use, so this planting was entirely low-tech: make a furrow (thanks again, Valley Oak wheel hoe!), drop the beans by hand, and cover with a rake. It was back-breaking work, stooped low over the furrows for several hours, but I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day.

One of the reasons beans are a favorite crop for me is the surprise of them. You take these small, brilliantly colored things, and cover them with soil. In time, plants grow, and they're green and lush and beautiful, but they give no hint of the things they hold inside. The plants die and dry down, and you're left with a crackly brown mass of plant matter and a multitude of pods, dry and rattly like dead cicadas. Then you crack a pod open, and the bean is revealed: color, and roundness, and a hard little packet that promises food for months or even years to come. You can run them over with a truck and they'll still be good to eat. Now, that's my kind of storage crop!

Jacob's Cattle beans
Jacob's Cattle has quickly become one of my favorite beans. Big, rich, and meaty, this is a chili bean that can't be beat. It also makes a great pot of beans to eat with tortillas and sour cream. Another fantastic bean for those Tex-Mex flavors is Black Coco. Black Coco beans are the largest black beans I have ever seen, and they are delicious too. You feel like you're eating a meal when you sit down to a bowl of these beans.

Black Coco beans
Some beans I grow for their flavor; others I choose for their looks. Tiger's Eye is one of the most beautiful beans I have ever seen. Burgundy swirls on a background of golden yellow: they are named for the gemstone, and it's easy to see why.

Tiger's Eye beans in the rough
The last stop in my bean tour is an unassuming bean called Brighstone, which looks a lot like a pinto bean, but with purple mottling instead of tan. I forgot to photograph it before it went in the ground, but you can check it out here. I'm a big fan of regional seed breeders, and Adaptive Seeds is one of them. They're doing great work to breed vegetables that grow well in our climate. And since all their varieties are open-pollinated (instead of hybrid), growers can continue to save and breed those seeds themselves for years to come. Think of it as open-source software, instead of copyrighted. I'm sure I'll be writing more about Adaptive and seed saving in future posts. In the meantime, according to the website, Brighstone was recovered from a shipwreck in the 1800s off the Isle of Wight. It's a survivor!

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