Tuesday 26 January 2010

Jersey Beans

the jersey bean

These beans came to me from the Heritage Seed Library last year and as I remember it they were described as the traditional bean of the Channel Islands. Unfortunately I can't find last year's seed list nor is the bean listed anywhere obvious on the HSL webpages so I can't confirm my memory is correct on this. Which is a problem since other researches on the web have turned up nothing about beans of this sort being traditional to Jersey, just that beans and Jersey have a long association - oh, and one of the commercial seed outlets is offering a bean called Jersey but it doesn't look like this one and is being sold for its round green pods, not its dried beans.

So, this rather rambling stream of misremembering and hearsay isn't terribly helpful to the seed saver with OCD (that's me, by the way) particularly since I've seen a bean listed called the Brittany bean that seems very similar (and equally untraceable) which could well be the same as Jersey is just a hack and spit over the waves from Brittany. The beans themselves resemble any number of 'pinto' bean selections and don't seem distinctive enough for easy identification.

All that aside the beans grew well for me last year, cropped reasonably heavily and now I've cooked some I can confirm they are mildly and pleasantly flavoured with a nice texture. Good beans by any name.

The plants are dwarf haricot type, don't need support unless the weather is very windy and are pretty much a sow and forget crop with flat pods which are very lightly shaded with purplish red markings. This rather scrappy picture seems to be the only record I took of the growing plants.

Now included in the seed swaps.

Monday 25 January 2010

W...WW... WWoofers


One of the problems with managing more than 9 Hectares of land by ourselves is that two people simply can't do all the work that's required to keep the boundaries, ditches and fields in good order. In the past we've got around this by allowing local farmers to pasture animals and take hay passing on some of the work of land management to them as our reward, but it's a dangerous practice in France. If the loan becomes established the borrower may have more rights over the land than the owner and we don't want to find ourselves invaded by squatters. So far, everyone has been most gentlemanly but it really would be better to keep full control ourselves, if only we could.

Which brings us to the need for organising additional help. We've tried offering working holidays to friends and families without much success - my brother was a star last year but mostly when people holiday they want to do as a little as possible and so don't find the thought of hacking back brambles or digging ditches terribly enticing.

Enter the Wwoofers. They're a charitable initiative matching volunteers who want to learn about natural and sustainable organic techniques with farmers and small holders who can offer experience of that nature. No payment exchanges hands, volunteers live as family and receive board and lodging for their efforts.

I've known about them for sometime but I'm a bit hesitant about it. The fragmented nature of the individual country organisations makes our particular cross channel straddle difficult to place and, if I'm honest, I'm a bit doubtful about my ability to direct and organise worthwhile projects for the volunteers.

Has anyone tried this, either as a worker or host? I'd love to hear about your experiences and any advice you could offer.

Monday 18 January 2010

Peas and Qs

Black Crowder and Red Ripper Cowpeas.

Vigna unguiculata, cowpeas, southern peas, crowders are legumes originating in central Africa which were transplanted to America and the Caribbean along with the slave trade and are now well established as favourite traditional crops. They are also grown across India (some sources suggest they originated there) and anywhere where difficult conditions require a robust economical protein source for man and animal. A drought tolerant crop, they need little fertiliser and are fairly resistant to pests in good conditions although in Africa the harvest is subject to severe insect attacks which rob the farmers of a lot of their work. The plants need warmth and so have not been grown much in northern countries where the cold and wet are enough to prevent vigour and flowers. As a result they are not as popular as French (Phaseolus vulgaris) and runner (Phaseolus coccineus) beans

There are several subspecies within the genus. The yard long bean, Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, is sometimes attempted in greenhouses in Europe for its green pods which are popular in oriental cooking but this needs very good weather to succeed in most summers.

The black eyed bean, known mostly to Europeans from its association with Caribbean peas and rice is another subspecies, Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata. I don't know of anyone growing these in the UK or France so if you are, please comment and let me know how it goes.

I've decided to try a couple of types of this bean this year. It was not that easy to find seed so I've chosen open pollinated heritage varieties from the southern states of the USA where there seems to be more diversity than what's available to me from other parts of the world. Both types are claimed to mature in 70 days although I suspect it may take a little longer than that over here unless the hot weather is exceptional. Whatever, I'm hoping that 3 months of summer should be sufficient.

Red Ripper is a variety that is apparently popular in Texas so it should be good! It's a climbing vine with crimson scarlet pods and red beans. The pictures look dramatic and I'm hoping to get a crop of beans which can be eaten green or dried.

The other variety I've chosen is Black Crowder. This is a bush bean, unsurprisingly with black beans tightly packed into long green pods held above the foliage.

Like all beans I've ever grown it seems that they may grow short or climb at will if soil fertility or growing conditions set them off but I'm hoping that they will stay true to type so that I can properly assess them as permanent members of my core vegetable varieties.

Varieties will cross unless isolated at about 150m so I won't be saving seed from these this year, just trying hard to get them to grow but if they do well it might be worth starting a selection programme to choose cultivars that do well in Normandy conditions.

To learn more about cowpeas look at the Lost Crops of Africa or this article by the Thomas Jefferson Institute.

p.s. Apologies for the poor photo, all my cameras are out of charge.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

A year of Cats


The 14th of January is the anniversary of the date we brought the kittens home for the first time.

We love them very much.

crow not wanting his picture taking

rook posing

raven in the snow

The full year of kitten pictures can be seen here.

Sunday 10 January 2010

Peruvian Tubers update

seeds and oca
Oca tubers and squash seeds.

Happy New Year.

Just like last year, we arrived a couple of weeks too late to harvest the oca and ulluco before the hard frosts came. As a result, there is almost no ulluco - so nothing for swaps this year unless I have already made you a promise and not a lot of oca either.

I have reserved enough to secure a new planting for next year but to be honest I'm beginning to wonder if it's all worth it. I love the novelty of these plants but the main reason for my gardening is to provide food for the family. There is almost never enough crop from these tubers to provide one square meal to justify their space and trouble in the vegetable plot. I think I'll give it one more go this year, with extra mulches and fleeces and if that fails, they may just fall by the wayside for failing to make the grade, if that isn't mixing a metaphor too far.

I'm also going to give Chinese Artichokes (crosnes, Stachys affinis) another go after finding a tub of them in the supermarket but my hopes aren't high. The last time we grew them the plants were fine but the ground was too wet and heavy and there were no tubers, just a few thickened bits of root that had come to nothing. The plants, which are considered perennials, failed after the first year. The plan is to use part of the newly recovered herb garden with extra sand and grit to improve drainage for these members of the mint family and hope for the best.

Not a terribly optimistic first post for the year but come back soon as I hope to have more exciting news about other plans for the farm this summer.