Built a proof-of-concept today. I don’t even know what this is–a mini-chinampas-inspired tub concept? Or is this something everybody already knows about and I just can’t get the right search terms to spit it out? Or has everybody tried this already and failed and now we all know better except me?
Well, I had pond liner and a whiskey barrel planter and Azolla caroliniana and I’ve been making grow bags, so let’s see what happens.
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!
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.
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…
People ask if gardening is hard
but that’s not the problem
the problem is it’s easy
and it really ought to be impossible.
What is this
putting stuff in dirt and expecting to get food back
what are you, a communist?
You bought a bag of cowpeas
not even a proper seed packet with a glossy picture on it
and shoved a couple in the ground.
You know it can’t work.
Even fairy tales know better
everybody laughs when Jack trades a cow for beans
a cow is worth something, after all.
The whips that twined up into the hydrangeas have three green leaves
so they must be poison ivy
that’s probably it
the things that look like bean pods are a coincidence
it’s a new kind of poison ivy
you’ll probably be even more allergic to this one.
And the funny thing is that I know this
when they come for me and say “You have to stop now–
you know people aren’t allowed to do this sort of thing,”
I’ll bow my head and say “I know.”
It was much too easy
it had to be illegal
or at least in very questionable taste,
thinking you could put almost nothing into dirt
and get everything back
almost for free.
I can’t quite express how wild the oakleaf hydrangea is right now. It has these big loose cones of flowers, but the inside of the cones are clouds of stamens dripping pollen. Honeybees are swarming all over them, rolling around in it, covered in yellow. There’s a few flower beetles and so forth, but I think our neighbor’s entire hive of honeybees is here.
Sort of in recharge mode, I think, after all the travel recently.
The Sheep game is a weird little visual novel game I started to learn the Ren’Py engine so I could do Cryptic Stitching, and now I switch back and forth and as I learn something on one, I have to go apply it to the other one. Nameless Sheep will probably be done sooner, though, as it’s much, much shorter.
They both feature Sheep Shamans, though. Apparently I have a theme.