Wednesday, July 22, 2015

return of the sisters

Fantasy and failure marked my gardening efforts in 2010. I bought a plethora of seeds, set out innumerable tomatoes, and reaped almost nothing. Perhaps my most pathetic failure was the Native American three sisters tableau (corn, beans, squash) I started in the front garden, where only the pervasive, quasi-perennial scarlet runner beans (SRB) survived to haunt me this year.

Older and wiser, I sorted my seeds this spring and found many from 2010's shopping spree. All these, along with any purchased before 2014, have gone to the landfill to sprout or rot as conditions allow. I envision a tangle of SRB infesting someone's moldy sneaker.

Last fall, as you may be aware, I had an epiphany on the value of companion planting, and this, followed by my attempts to grow chayote squash and my success with Peruvian red lima beans (I try to remember to pronounce it LEE-mah, but cannot overcome my central Ohio heritagein the general area of LYE-muh). Thus when I transplanted three struggling chayote plants to where they could climb a south-facing wooden fence, I purposely created a pre-Columbian environment for them by giving each one a companion Peruvian lima bean. Additional pole beans and cukes have joined the party, which may also accommodate a few stalks of corn when all is said and done.

Where the chayotes had originally been planted along a north-facing fence, I have gone almost whole hog with the three sisters concept: corn, bush beans, miniature pumpkins, and yellow crookneck squash. I say "almost whole hog" because half of the bush beans are edamame, native to Japan. According to Wikipedia, "The earliest documented reference to the term edamame dates from the year 1275, when the Japanese monk Nichiren wrote a note thanking a parishioner for the gift of edamame he had left at the temple." Pre-Columbian, indeed! Could it be that beans, carried along by the south-bound immigrants who grew them and passed them along to the Conquistadors, were brought to the Western Hemisphere via the prehistoric land bridge from Asia? But, if so, why didn't they take the edamames?

"History ain't what it used to be.*" When most of us were in school, American history started with Columbus, east was east and west was west, and we knew where our beans came from. 
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*I'd like to attribute these words to someone, but the best I can do is refer you to Another History Blog. If you think Yogi Berra said it, you're close. His words were similar in style but different in content: "The future ain't what it used to be."

Saturday, July 18, 2015

nasturtiums restrained

In April of 2012, I learned that the 'Weed Watch' campaign includes nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) among the species NOT to plant if we are to "Stop the Invasion" of plants that "fuel wildfires, degrade grazing land, contribute to soil erosion, clog streams and rivers, and increase the risk of flooding." Therefore I have exercised considerable restraint in allowing nasturtiums to appear in my garden. In winter and spring I let them take over the strip devoted to herbs and veggies and climb to the top of our chain link fence. When peas, beans, and tomatoes need the space, I rip the nasturtiums out and let their bouncy seeds fall to the ground, where they will almost immediately germinate. This 'second coming' of nasturtium plants is thinned repeatedly but allowed to play their traditional role as companion plants to attract pests away from wanted plants.

In the photo below, you can see how this works. Two well-camouflaged green worms appear to be relaxing on the nasturtium leaf at upper left, possibly dreaming of the day they will morph into white moths. Meanwhile the tomato leaf at upper right remains untouched.

Though it shows oregano, tarragon, and marjoram to good advantage, I do not like this photo. The sun was so bright that all I could see on the screen of my smart phone was my own reflection. I showed the worms and the photo to Steve, and he wisely offered a solution: "Why don't you take off the leaf?" Why, indeed? So I carried the leaf and its little sunbathers inside and placed them on a piece of band music. What a lovely setting:

After snapping this photo, I gently placed the nasturtium leaf, worm-side down, in a compost digester. A couple of hours later, the worms had vanished while the leaf was virtually unchanged.

Though I often choose a politically correct option when facing a moral dilemma, I feel no guilt about harboring nasturtiums. I have repented my old way of letting them run rampant, but I have have never believed that, in the context of my urban, self-contained garden, they would "fuel wildfires, degrade grazing land, contribute to soil erosion, clog streams and rivers, and increase the risk of flooding." Even so, I keep an eye on them. A good way to see a flower or two.

This photo, taken earlier this morning before the sun hit this part of the garden, shows at least two nasturtiums keeping watch over some small Swiss chard. Unfortunately in this case the pests seem to prefer the chard.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

year of the bean

I haven't blogged about growing beans since June of 2010, when I wrote look at them beans in the misguided state of euphoria I experienced after getting scarlet runner beans and hyacinth beans to grow on our chain link fence. By January of 2012, I had given up my fascination with hyacinth beans and their alleged magic, and today I view the scarlet runner bean (SRB) as a threat to civilization as we know it.

When I re-read look at them beans this morning, I was astounded to see that I had bought four SRB plants as soon as we finished putting up the fence in 2009, and had saved the seed to plant the next year and, indeed, just about every year since. In other words, all the SRBs I have grown here are descendants of four plants. I still love to see their blossoms appear on our side gate:

The huge pods, however, attract a thick powdery mildew that fills me with fear and loathing. The photo of the ungainly specimen below was taken after I had cut the vine at ground level so that the nearby leaves had totally shriveled:

The green leaves at the right belong to a much better variety of bean, the Worcester Indian Red Pole Lima (aka Peruvian Lima), grown from seed I had ordered on line from Amishland Seeds in 2012. According to Amishland's descriptive catalog, the Incas dried these beans and ground them into flour. I let them dry on the vine and then use them to make soup or stew along with other veggies, usually spiced with East Indian sambar masala. I enjoy the juxtaposition of a pre-Columbian New World bean with an Old World spice.

When I ordered bean seeds from Amishland Seeds, they were offering a promotion: one free variety with four. How could I resist? I don't remember which was the free one, but I was delighted when I received five packets of 10 seeds each in the mail: Peruvian Lima, Amish Gnuddel, Lazy Wife, Anellino, and Cascade Giant. Of course I should have planted them right away, but for some reason I waited till fall of 2014 and then chose the Peruvian Lima.

It was in fall 2014 that I first planted veggies following the principles of companion planting and crop rotation. Previously I had relied solely on aesthetic principles: if I had four boysenberry plants, I spaced them evenly along the fence. Same thing with tomato plants and bean or pea seeds. It didn't work very well, and so last fall I moved the boysenberry plants into the same section of of the bed. But beans are supposed to be good companions for any other veggie, and besides they 'fix' nitrogen. And so I started my saved SRB seeds and my new Peruvian Lima seeds indoors in toilet paper tubes and planted them evenly all along the fence in November or December. They soon started producing tiny white and yellow blossoms:

Fortunately 100% of the Peruvian Lima seeds germinated, and they turned out to be extremely prolific. I pick some dried pods practically every day, and when I get enough to cook I make sure to save at least 15 for seed. Here's today's harvest:

Of those saved for seed, some have become companions for chayotes, and some for gourds. Because the seed pods 'shatter' when mature, some have come up volunteer on both sides of the fence. I cannot imagine planting a garden without Peruvian Limas, though I've learned that boysenberries dislike pole beans. I took out all the pole beans from the berry patch and I think the problem was competition for space on the fence. Anyway the boysenberries are looking happier, even with tomatoes encroaching a bit.

What of the other four Amishland bean varieties? Due to my having aged them so long, the germination was spotty at best. I currently have ONE Amish Gnuddel plant, THREE Lazy Wife plants, and THREE that may be either Cascade Giants or Anellinos. A report on their progress, if any, must wait until another day.

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