Minor Botanical Mysteries

So here’s a thing I tweeted about awhile ago, but I wanted to do a full write up. It’s an interesting botanical thing I figured out about beans!

Here’s four kinds of beans. Last year, I grew three of them!

beans

The Aztec Cave Bean keeps appearing under various guises in seed catalogs. The story goes that this bean was found in a sealed clay jar in a cave during an archaeological dig in the Seventies. Carbon dated to 1500 years ago!

Thing is…nobody knows anything about this hypothetical dig. Who ran it? Where was it? There is no info. Dig on a forum and you’ll get, “Uh…maybe Berkeley?” And then I went digging around in Google Books and found a reference to this legend from the 1800s (and the author was skeptical then, too!)*

Also, the Aztec Empire flourished from the 13th to 16th century, which by my math was at most 800 years ago, so if this WAS true, it’d be a Nahuatl Cave Bean. But never mind that. Let’s just say I am Very Skeptical.

The ones I got were a lovely maroon mottled bean. It looked like they’d grow into Holstein cows or tiny paint horses. Artist representation above!

I also grew the Tarahumara Red, a rare bean variety from the high desert, grown by the Tarahumara people. It’s one of those varieties that I don’t know why they’re rare–they’re tough as nails. It produces a small maroon bean with a black ring around the hilum. (That’s the white mark on the bean, or the “eye.”) The Aztec cave bean ALSO has a black ring around the hilum, or at least the ones I got did.

So I had both these beans and I grew them and at first, all was well. Aztecs produced and produced, Tarahumara were less productive but they kept going and going and going and they grew in crappy buckets I forgot to water.

Then an odd thing happened. The Aztec cave beans…vanished. Suddenly I was harvesting nothing but solid maroon beans with black hilums.

Okay, sez I! The Aztec beans melted in the high summer heat and humidity. This was the first year I grew them, I had no idea what to expect, and some things just melt in our heat. These are obviously the Tarahumara Reds (I had planted a couple extra about midway through the season when another set of beans had choked and died.)

And then one day I harvest some beans, shell them, and out come the Mystery Beans. Maroon bean. Single white splash right where the sprout would emerge.

I stared at them for awhile.

I finally decided they had to be an Aztec cave bean that just got weird. Okay. These things happen.

I harvested a few weeks later and got dozens more.

Had I somehow made a cross-breed between my Tarahumara and my Aztecs? Beans can cross-pollinate, but they usually don’t. Even when they’re grown on the same trellis, they rarely cross, unlike peppers or squash, who will joyfully sex up the world. Beans are suspicious of other beans. Peppers would cross with pine trees if they could reach that high.

And then, in late fall, the very last round of beans, suddenly I have Aztec cave beans again. Little Holstein cow beans. AND Tarahumara Reds.

What the hell just happened?

I was baffled. I threw them all in jars and eyed them suspiciously. Had I found two beans that were star-crossed lovers and crossed easily? Were these sports? (Some beans are sold with the specific note “Throws an occasional all-black bean” and so forth.)

And then, browsing seed catalogs in December, trying to keep my spirits up, I happened on a bean collector who has been growing beans since, literally, the year I was born. His site was an obsessive catalog of hundreds of varieties. And one of them was the Jacob’s Cattle Bean.

Jacob’s Cattle Beans are an old, old variety. They range from maroon to medium tan, and they are speckled and spotted and splotched with white. It looks like an acid washed kidney bean. It was grown by the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine, according to legend. Unlike the Aztec, they’re more…flecked, I guess? Appaloosa horses instead of paints.

What they don’t tell you, what I learned from our bean collector’s site, was that many, many spotted beans descend from Jacob’s Cattle types, and that if you grow Jacob’s Cattle in high summer temperatures, it becomes solid colored.

Now, I can’t know for sure, but I will bet you a dollar that my “Aztec Cave Bean” is a reasonably modern descendant of the Jacob’s Cattle Bean, and the high heat in North Carolina turned them solid red. Then, as the temps cooled, they got the first white splotch, and then finally reverted to their normal coloration.

“Okay,” you say, “but why do I care?”

I have no idea, honestly. It’s neat? It screwed up my counts because I kept thinking that the hot-weather Aztecs were actually Tarahumara Red, so I now have no idea what my total counts were and need to regrow both.

But anyhow, I thought it was cool that I finally got to the bottom of my mystery beans.

 

*There actually ARE a couple of vegetable varieties found from ancient dig sites–a very impressive squash was found on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. They named it the Gete-okosomin, and you can get seeds now, which I’ll try once I’ve got the Gem Squash reliable.

The Great Hot Tub Massacre

A saga in a series of tweets, with commentary by some VERY clever Twitter-peeps…

 

Stuff I Published in 2016

It has been so long that the early reaches of the year seem an impossibly long time ago. Nevertheless! If we do not keep track of what we did, how will we know!?

Short Stories

Razorback – Apex Magazine

Novelette

The Tomato Thief – Apex Magazine

Children’s Books

Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic – Dial Books
Hamster Princess: Ratpunzel – Dial Books

Novel

The Raven and the Reindeer (as T. Kingfisher)

If Summer in Orcus wraps by the end of the year, as I am hoping to make happen, it’ll count here too. (Oh god, I need to make an e-book cover…)

I honestly had hoped for another novel this year (and I keep forgetting that Summer counts as quite a long novel, because it’s a different thing in my head) or at least a novella out this fall. The election season turned the last half of the year into a dragging pit of unproductivity, though. Nevertheless, I’ve got an anthology, a novelette, and the next hamster book all slated for early next year, so that’s not too shabby, and Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, some of these half-done things knocking around will fall out onto the page sooner rather than later.

Chapter 26

It’s up!

Also, looking at the schedule–it would appear that the story, as currently scheduled, would only run over into January by one week. So for the last week of the year, we’ll get double helpings of the story, and wrap it at the end of the year. It seems tidier. And also…well, I kinda feel like I can’t do much to make the year end on a positive note, but by god, I can do this!

I’ll scramble to get my e-book versions together so they’ll be available in early January too. (Patreon sponsors will get access to free versions, because you’ve made the whole thing possible! And I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. It’s been really awesome!)

Early December Journals

journal12-03-16
journal12-04-16

I am embarassed by the relatively meager looking size of the harvest, but in my defense, like half the early crop got swept into a slow cooker (and I have no idea what was in it! I think a lot of Yoeme Purple. There were words.)  and I sacrificed a load of Trail of Tears and Tarahumara Red to chili. But a couple just plain did not perform–I’m done trying to make the “ojo” types work. Whatever they want, it’s not what I’ve got here. And the Aztec Cave Beans are very pretty and don’t hold a candle to Mother Stallard in terms of production and flavor, so they’re out.

On the other hand, I just went and looked up standard yields for dry beans, and a lot of them average something like 1.5-3 lbs per 25 foot row, and even 25 plants per pound of beans. So given that I have maybe 25 feet of beans TOTAL, and that heavily intercropped with tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and squash, the fact I managed at least three or four pounds worth is not too embarassing at all.

Next year, I’m looking at Trail of Tears, Mother Stallard, O’odham Pink, Tarahumara Red, Rattlesnake Pole and probably Yoeme Purple. We’ll give it a year or two and see how those fare…

Gir the Beagle 2001?-2016

I am sad to say that Gir the beagle passed away this morning. He had been in a slow decline for…well, the better part of decade, frankly, but in the last few weeks, he seemed less cheerful and the skin around one of his eyes got swollen and odd and made him look like a prizefighter who’d lost badly. The young vet did not know what it was (mange? calluses?) and was baffled–the older vet, who owns the practice, took one look and said “cutaneous lymphoma,” and that was the end of the road. Lengthy chemotherapy for an ancient dog who can already barely walk…no.

I take a rather odd comfort that it’s an exceedingly rare lymphoma, and that cancer rates are already much lower in beagles than most other breeds, meaning that Gir died as bizarrely as he lived. You hate to think that something normal got him.

He was, if I’m being honest, not exactly a good dog–he was incontinent, largely untrainable, deafeningly loud, food-aggressive and prone to casually chewing holes in himself. His health issues were legendary and his pill case was bigger and more complicated than mine (and his pills substantially more expensive.) But he was cheerful and generally good-natured and we loved him dearly, and he lived so long with bits falling off that we started to wonder if he was the harbinger of some kind of canine zombie apocalypse.

“Ah, Gir,” said the vet at the end. “Genetics weren’t in your favor.” And lord, they weren’t, but he lived halfway to forever anyway.

Cave canem.

New Chapters Up

Today I am thankful for all you wonderful people who support me making weird things by buying or reading or commenting or just hanging around and enjoying! Thank you! You let me be me by being you, and that’s a great thing.

This week’s Summer in Orcus!

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

I am also grateful that Hound has someone to play Chew Your Face Off with, which they are currently playing with great enthusiasm as I try to type.