Monday, May 17, 2010

mixed messages

In hyacinth: bean, bloom, britcom I reported that only one of my five hyacinth bean (HB) seeds had germinated. That was on March 19 and nothing has changed. Yet.

Last Friday, I located another packet of HB seeds. Unlike the packet of ten I'd bought in Idaho in February for $1.79 or less (most of the seeds there were on sale), this $2.99 full-price-plus-tax beauty included eleven seeds. Cost per unit was not the only difference.
  • Packet 1 (from a company in Norton, MA) was illustrated with a photograph showing dense clusters of lovely fabaceous blossoms very much like perennial sweet peas. The terse printed matter promised vines of 10-15 feet in height from seeds that would germinate in 7-10 days, advised "needs support," and promised "Purple pods produce edible seeds for fresh eating or drying." Naturally I was enthralled, especially after reading Wikipedia's description of HB's culinary and medicinal uses (cited in seed stories, part 3).
  • Packet 2 (from a company in Broomfield, CO), bore an artistic rendering of leaves, flowers, and pods in various stages of development. A broader range of heights (6-20 feet), and a potentially longer wait for germination (7-20 days), were accompanied by a choice of three ways to plant: "Twining stems quickly climb a fence or trellis, or allow them to trail across the ground for an attractive ground cover. Can also be grown in containers." The most striking difference, however, was this caveat: "Contains toxins -- not recommended for eating."

Both packets advise planting the seeds outdoors, directly in the garden, but I'm always afraid that seedlings will fall prey to snails, slugs, sow bugs, and earwigs. So I've chosen four HB seeds, soaked them for 24 hours, and planted them in a recycled '4 pack' with the bottom slits enlarged so that the roots can emerge easily. A covering of bubble wrap keeps in moisture and heat. Now begins the vigil of up to 20 days.

Meanwhile, the single HB seedling from March, which I'd been tending in a 6' unglazed terracotta pot, has been planted pot-and-all by the chainlink fence with a liberal dusting of Sluggo Plus to protect it from predators. Of course we'll try eating HBs, lightly steamed or prepared in one of the African, Egyptian, Indian, or Southeast Asian styles found in an on-line recipe source.

BTW, Packet 2 also provided "much more information" inside, so I pulled back the flaps as directed, moved the seeds to Packet 1, and read on to learn that HB is a "tender perennial grown as annual" and was grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. The cover artist's brief bio revealed that she had been a glass blower.

I wonder whether Thomas Jefferson's HB stock came from Africa with slaves, who would have known that: "In Kenya, [HB] is known as 'Njahi' and is popular among the Kikuyu group. It is thought to encourage lactation and has historically been the main dish for breastfeeding mothers. Beans are boiled and mashed with ripe and/or semi-ripe bananas giving the dish has a sweetish taste" (Wikipedia, op.cit.).

No comments:

Creative Commons License
POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License