Showing posts with label beans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beans. Show all posts

9 Aug 2016

Love me Tendril - growing broad beans

Have I mentioned that I did a double sowing of broad beans this year? It was an experiment on several levels:  I wanted to see if I could successfully extend the broad bean harvest with two sowings, and this second sowing was also a trial of Marshall's Seeds Red Epicure beans which they kindly sent me.

Just over two months later, I'm very pleased with the results. I have a second crop of beans. The seeds were sown direct in mid-May, every one germinated within a couple of weeks and the plants grew strongly. There were no pests (the benefit of late sowings) and the plants quickly matched the first sowing in height. The flowers were as expected (white/black) and prolific, the promise of many pods to come.  Which they did. I picked a few at the finger pod stage; those tiny beans, eaten straight from the pod, were delicious - on a par with, if not surpassing, my favourite Karmazyn beans. The mature pods are beautifully shiny and bright green, the beans inside shiny skinned like little red conkers. The skins allegedly stay red when lightly steamed but I'll be skinning them for a summer salad or a bowl of Bean and Mint hummus.

Above: 5 weeks after sowing. Red Epicure in first rows in front of Karmazyn at back with pods.

7 weeks after sowing.  In flower while Karmazyn beans behind are ready for picking.

10 to 11 weeks after sowing. Pods looking good but leaves have a tiny touch of rust. Solution is to prune the leaves off.

Red Epicure broad beans
Red Epicure beans looking pink in the evening sunlight.

I'll definitely be growing these again next year, especially now I have the allotment space to grow a lot more - who wouldn't love the look of pink beans to brighten a plate of food!

9 May 2014

When seeds fail to germinate

Or, if at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again.

Like most gardeners (I imagine) I have a large box of seeds, the result of too many impulse buys online and in the garden centre. A magazine article or book has only to mention that this or that plant is edible and I'm straight off to find out more and, in all likelihood, add the seeds to my growing collection. I've tried to curb my curiosity but it seems to get the better of me fairly regularly so, with many tastes to try and with minimal space available, only a few seeds from each packet get sown*, the packet gets stored and, inevitably, there are still loads left for next year.  So is it a good idea to keep them?

Well, it depends on the seed and how they've been stored.  Store them in a cool, dark place (not the fridge) in paper packets (not plastic) and seeds should be good at least until their Use By date. A few will be duds from the off and will never germinate.  A few, like carrots, really are best used fresh for maximum success.  The other seeds, like you, me and the rest of the planet, are ageing slowly and imperceptibly, getting tired and, frankly, getting a bit past it. Of course I'm no longer talking about myself now. ;) Or you. Just the seeds. Plant seeds are a lot more reliable and vigorous in their youth.

This year when planning what to grow, I ruthlessly chucked out the seeds that should have been sown by 2012, if not before. It was a lot. (The photo above is the 'after' shot!) The packet of Canadian Wonder red kidney beans, exp date 2012, was kept.  I loved this plant - a bush bean, growing to about 2 ft tall with prolific fruiting.

Canadian Wonder bush beans in early August 2012
I had a long summer of all the beans I could eat from a May sowing and regular picking.  Wonder beans indeed.

Wonder beans in early September 2012.

This year's bean: After a 30 day germination, thought I may as well plant it out.
This spring, I blithely assumed that beans could be stored for years and confidently sowed about a dozen, just what I needed, into modules in fresh seed compost.**  Just one lonely bean emerged, after an extremely long wait and after I'd re-sown another 24 beans in a raised bed in the patch. Three weeks on from the outside sowing and there is nothing to be seen.  It's a mystery, especially as the soil is warm, the slugs have been kept away and there has been a good mix of sun and rain.  So, onto plan B…

Convinced the cause was the viability of the seeds, I decided to put it to the test. Seeds need warmth and enough wetness to swell and break the seed coat to germinate, so I put 40 beans on soaked kitchen paper in a plastic tray, covered with another sheet of damp kitchen paper, sealed with cling film and left on a warmish windowsill. After a six days of checking, 24 of the beans had produced a radicle (the root tip) while 16 had not.  The beans were in varying stages of germination, some with a long root and others just starting to sprout  - again, a sign of the poor quality of the beans.  Testing this way is a good way of removing the uncertainty over seed germination.  I tried the same method with some lettuce seeds and they didn't germinate at all - so in the bin they went!

The good news is that I now have bean seeds that I'll pot up and know will grow. I also know to let the last pods dry on the plant so that I can save seed for next year. (And, just in case any of the outside sown beans are simply lurking and not deceased, I'll cover the bed with fleece for a week or so and see what happens. It will be their Last Chance; you can't say I'm not being fair.)

* For varieties where only a few seeds are needed, More Veg in Devon sell smaller quantities at a lower price and have a wide range of seeds.

** As a member of Which? Gardening, I always use their recommended Best Buy because compost compositions change from year to year.  Over the past couple of years, the best buy has been J. Arthur Bower's Seed and Cutting compost, a nice, fine, free draining mix.

13 Sept 2013

Broad Beans - Top of the Pods

Picked beans

The weekend before last, during a big garden tidy up, the last of the dried broad bean pods were cut for seed and the plants dug up and added to the compost. It's been a strange year for broad beans as they're usually cleared well before now but I was harvesting beans until end of July (maybe I sowed later) and there's even a couple of plants that are resprouting having been earlier hacked in half by kids playing sword-fighting with my canes. (Grrr.) This year I grew two varieties of broad bean; the Karmazyn beans from last year and a crimson flowered heritage bean for colour.

Shelled beans

cooked and peeled
Heritage beans on left, Karmazyn on the right. 

Karmazyn is a variety with white flowers, green pods and pink beans. The beans are rounded, heart shaped and sit apart in the pod so there's usually no more than 4 or 5 to a pod. (The heritage pods are firmer and smaller.)  Once shelled and deskinned, the young Karmazyn beans are the most beautiful bright green. Last year's end of season pods contained inedible but useful beans that were dried and saved as seeds for this year and all germinated from an early March sowing.

I sow my broad beans in spring (rather than autumn) so when I bought some Heritage red flowering bean seeds earlier this year, I was still in time to sow those as well. I wanted to grow them alongside the Karmazyn to see if there's a difference, other than flower colour. There were subtle differences,  mainly in the taste, with the Karmazyn beans being sweeter and nuttier. (Some of my seeds were given to a friend working at the local City Farm and he agreed about the taste, finding it very pleasant.) The heritage crimson beans had a more pronounced bean flavour and were slightly harder and more floury in texture after cooking. As a recent convert to liking broad beans, I prefer the Karmazyn beans.

The plants all grew vigorously to the same height.  Karmazyn were slightly quicker off the mark but perhaps they'd adapted to my growing conditions as they were grown from saved seed.  A few of the crimson flowered beans didn't germinate whereas, like last year, the Karmazyn beans all grew. The flowers have been so beautiful:

White flowers for pink beans

Crimson heritage bean flowers

and, strangely, also from the crimson heritage beans, striped pink flowers ... lovely!

Pink striped bean flower

In 2012 the beans weren't troubled at all by black aphids; I put this down to the nasturtiums that I grew around the edge of the bed. This year, one or two plants were heavily invaded (temporarily, as I was on squish alert) despite some lovely Milkmaid nasturtiums appearing by their sides.


As the pods started to plump up, I pinched off all the tops so that the plants put their energy into the pods.  I steamed the tops with a few of the de-podded beans for supper -  they were delicious with just a trickle of butter and grinding of salt and pepper.  Well worth remembering for next time as I've composted the tops in the past.

I've managed to save a couple of large bags of parboiled beans for the freezer but I'm already looking forward to  next year's crop.  My Veg Planner advises that broad beans can be sown in October and November and then again in January.  I usually sow in early spring, i.e. late Feb/early March, but this year, I'll give an autumn sowing a go, protect the seedlings over winter with cloche protection, and see if that makes for an early harvest next year.

Broad beans 25th June
My little patch of broad beans in June this year.

24 May 2012

Borage: it's almost Pimms O'Clock

Borage flower

Borage flowers are one of the unmistakeable signs of summer.  Borage is one of the prettiest summer herbs with both edible and medicinal uses and easy to grow from seed. Once pollinated, the flowers develop large black seeds (the size of peppercorns) - be quick to gather these if you don't have the space to let the plant self-seed.

Growers of the herb know that the flowers can be frozen in ice-cubes and used to glam up summer drinks; they have a slightly sweet cucumber flavour that goes particularly well with Pimms, that quintessential English drink favoured by Wimbledon devotees. In her book 'Good Enough to Eat', Jekka McVicar suggests sprinkling the flowers into a salad, crystallising for decoration on cakes or adding to chilled summer soups; she has a nice recipe for mixing the flowers (stamen and pistils removed) with creme fraiche and layering this with a fruit purée for a lovely summer pudding.

purple borage flower

The whole plant is edible: freshly picked young leaves have a salty cucumber taste and can be eaten as part of a salad, or with cream cheese and tomatoes in sandwiches. They're very bristly so are best chopped finely and mixed with other leaves if you're going to use them for this.  Both leaves and flowers can be used to make a nice refreshing tea which is said to have a slightly diuretic effect (not dissimilar to normal tea or coffee).

This is the same plant which is elsewhere known as Starflower (you can see why) and whose seeds have a high concentration of Gamma Linoleic Acid, a valuable oil used to regulate female hormones.  For me though, it's best use is as a companion plant.  Bees absolutely love it so it's a great herb to grow next to your beans for an increased yield. It's also attractive to blackfly which could be off putting unless you grow some as sacrificial plants.

I have a tray of borage, grown from seed, ready to go out into the veg patch but, just in case those didn't work out, I also have two bought borage plants growing on my balcony. A few days ago I noticed that these had produced clusters of buds:

Borage bud

24 hours of sunshine later and warmer temperatures have coaxed the flowers out, first pink then turning a beautiful deep blue.

Bright blue borage flowers

I have gardener Naomi Schillinger to thank for these seeds.  I admired the borage growing in her garden last summer and she swiftly removed a handful of seeds and popped them in an envelope for me.  Naomi has done marvellous work with her neighbours' front gardens and the tree pits in her local streets;  check out her inspirational blog or if you can get to North London, she's participating in the Chelsea Fringe.

The broad beans are also beginning to flower and I'm on blackfly watch for the broad beans in the veg patch.  I spotted a couple on one of the plants this afternoon but I'm afraid that aphids are building in numbers elsewhere - I just hope that the ladybirds can keep up with the feast!  For some reason, I thought that my pink Karmazyn beans would produce pink or red flowers but, no... Unless something dramatic is about to happen to these creamy buds!

Broad bean flowers

13 May 2012

Shoots and leaves

Pea shoots

I only just started to sow my seeds at the end of March. Does this make me badly organised? Maybe, but hopefully not.  Remembering that last year the early warm weather was followed by cold, wet and windy weather before we properly got going with the British Summer, I decided to delay so that I didn't have to keep plants hanging around indoors.  Last year I nurtured beans and sweetcorn inside, hardened them off and planted them out in early May; I lost the lot that very night due to gales and lashing rain.

This year I'm determined that my work won't be wasted;  seeds for my Lab Lab (Hyacinth) beans went into modules on Monday, germinated Wednesday and are unfolding their first leaves today. Impressive. It's the same story with the round cucumber, Crystal Lemon, that I'm growing.

The pea family are now out in the mini-greenhouse on the balcony ten days after sowing. I'm only growing a few of each so that I can fit lots of variety in to the available garden space; so purple podded peas and yellow mange-tout are destined for the veg patch and a bush type dwarf pea (and dwarf beans) for the balcony. For would-be growers without gardens, I'm pretty sure that both of those could be grown in containers. (If interested, the dwarf peas, Tom Thumb, came from Jungle Seeds and the dwarf beans, Annabelle, from More Veg.)

Antalya Melon seedling
Galia Melon, Antalya. Suited to outdoor growing in UK
Elsewhere on the windowsills, two types of courgette, red kidney beans, dwarf french beans and butterbush squash are up and running but the trailing courgette and spaghetti squash are still to reveal themselves. Globe artichokes will have to wait until I've cleared a space for them (another long walled border filled with honeysuckle and ivy), chilli and bell pepper seedlings have all been potted on and melons are looking stronger each day.  Amongst all these, do I have a favourite? You bet. This bean has more than a touch of magic about it:

Lazy Housewife bean

This is Lazy Housewife, a heritage bean donated to the veg patch by Matron over at Down on the Allotment. She very kindly sent half a dozen beans last year, all of which were killed in the aforementioned May gales. I was dismayed and not a little disappointed that I'd wasted these precious beans. Amazingly, going through my seed box a few weeks later, I found one last seed in what I thought was the empty packet.  I carefully sowed it and it germinated successfully. I planted it out and managed to kill that one as well (I stuck one leg of the wigwam through the root *hangs head in shame*). So that was that, then.  My second chance was blown... or so I thought until I looked again this year and saw, like Mary Poppins carpetbag, that the packet had offered up one last bean!  This one has to work; as a heritage bean, I really want to have some seed to keep at the end of the year. I'm keeping a very careful eye on it...  it's looking good so far, don't you think?

Edited to add: Although this sounds like quite a lot of work has been going on, this is by no means the full list.  I forgot to mention the sweetcorn, blue popcorn and red/white/blue sweet peas I'm growing and I've yet to go back to the seed box to see what needs to be sown in the next round - better get going then!

20 Apr 2012

Sunshine, Rain and Perennial Cauliflowers

Perennial cauliflower
~ Perennial Cauliflower, looking good (and tasty) ~
I've heard so many people bemoaning the "dreadful weather" this last week: wind, rain, sunshine, as well as thunderstorms today. Welcome to April in the UK.  (I think it's great.)  There's a hosepipe ban in the south so all this rain is sending deep reserves of water into the ground and the veg and fruit will be fully refreshed.  Luckily I was able to find time to go down to the veg garden on Monday where I got quite a lot done.  I stayed really focused as I thought it might rain at any moment!

I earthed up my bag grown potatoes for the first time as they'd put on a good 4 inches of growth.  I sowed Italian parsley, coriander and 3 types of carrot seeds: purple cosmic (for fun), Amsterdam 3 (my usual) and a new one (to me) called Little Fingers as it's supposed to be harvestable (is that a word?) in only 8 weeks!  I'm growing these in deep tubs to see if it makes a difference; previously I've interplanted carrots between the onions and garlic which seems to have thwarted any carrot fly.  Let's see how the tubs do. (The theory is to grow a few at a time and re-sow at monthly-ish intervals so that I don't end up overwhelmed with carrots.  Or anything else for that matter.)

The pink broad beans are all doing really well - I sowed them in a raised bed that had been manured last autumn and I've left a space to plant beans or peas (not sure which yet) at the north-east end of the bed where they'll get plenty of sun without shading the broad beans. The sacrificial nasturtiums planted at the same time have yet to make a showing; I want them there to tempt any aphids or blackfly away from the broad beans... )

Meanwhile, back upstairs in my flat-turned-greenhouse, the artichokes, dill, borage and melon seeds have all germinated and been potted on successfully. They'll stay upstairs for a few weeks until they're strong enough to fend for themselves in the veg garden. I sowed a tray of 12 Jiffy 7s with bell peppers (purple and orange), capsicums and chillis and the seed saved from my Yellow Banana chilli grown last year (the one still fruiting at Christmas). I reckon the son of that plant deserves a space on the windowsill this year if I can successfully nurture it to maturity. I suspect it's not really called Yellow Banana but the plant came from Homebase when the fungus gnats munched my own chillis into oblivion and that was the name conferred on it there. The seeds went into the modules at the beginning of April and are over an inch high already.  I hope this bodes well for raising mature plants as I may have left sowing them a bit late.

The best part of the week is that I've enjoyed the first of my perennial cauliflowers! The main cauli head was quite large so I cut just a few chunky stalks.  It was cooked with the sprouting stalks from the bolted Brussel Sprouts plants and both were utterly delicious. (Served up with just butter, salt and pepper. Yum.) I wondered in my previous post whether the sprout stalks would be edible and now I know that they are. They were not unlike PSB so it's good know that the sprout tops and stalks can still be eaten even after the plant has bolted.  Lesson learned: don't be hasty in chucking your bolted winter veg onto the compost heap.  I can honestly say I enjoyed every mouthful of that particular lunch.

Tomorrow I'm off early for a long drive to Bristol.  Jekka McVicar's herb farm hosts occasional Open Days with talks by Jekka and farm tours around the herbs.  I'm booked onto the workshop "How to Design a Herb Garden" which I treated myself to for my birthday last month.  I'm really excited to be going, even though the weather forecast is not good, and I'll hopefully be able to post all about it when I get back.

Have a good weekend everyone!

7 Nov 2011

From has-beans to stored beans

Looking out of the window yesterday morning at drab skies, I was happy to spend some time in the kitchen de-podding a stack of beans.  Having recently spent less time in the garden than I'd like, the last of my Cosse Violette beans were left to grow big and warty on the vine and, in truth, I'd had enough of eating beans, beans, beans.  The York Rise children grew beans up wigwams on their balconies and bags of beans were taken to elderly neighbours but, even so, I had plenty.  I've frozen a few but, having only the bottom half of my fridge/freezer for storage, there wasn't much space left after leaving a respectful amount of room for ice-cream (made in the New Forest, ultra-yummy, very essential).  Last year the elderly pods were chucked out with the vines when the beds were cleared;  this year, I'm thinking that there's food still there for the taking, a handful of beans will bulk up a soup or stew nicely. And, anyway, I haven't done this before so... why not?

So, before clearing away the vines and wigwams, I asked UK Veg Gardeners for advice and Elaine (truly a Woman of the Soil if ever there was) recommended cutting off the plant at ground level and, preferably, hanging the whole plant upside down in a garage until dry. As this method was impractical for me (small flat, no garage, dampish shed), I left the plants and pods in-situ which seemed to work quite well. (Probably due to mild weather.)  As the vines died back, the pods turned yellow and dry-ish which is what's needed.  I picked them before the drizzling weather started a few days ago and have had them finishing off indoors in my nice warm kitchen, laid out flat across those wire trays usually used for cooling cakes.

When the pods become dry and crispy, that's the time to shell the beans.  They reminded me of something mummified, perhaps to be found in the Ancient Egyptian section of the British Museum!

Yellowing bean fingers

But I digress. A twist of the pod will snap it open and inside the almost dry beans are waiting to be pushed out with a finger or thumb.

drying bean pods

(I think perhaps mine wouldn't have had that orange "belly button" if they'd been dried more swiftly indoors.)

The outer pods can be chucked onto the compost and the beautiful beans must be spread out on trays to further dry for a few days.  A warm airing cupboard is ideal but anywhere indoors will do.  Once that's done, and you're sure the beans are thoroughly dry, put them in an airtight container and store in a cool dry place until needed.  The beans will need soaking overnight before using, then drained, rinsed, topped up again with water and boiled vigorously for 10 minutes before simmering until tender  - or keep a few back to sow back into the veg patch or garden next year.  (If this whole thing doesn't work, the beans can be strung onto a long string and used as decoration;  it might look rather jolly strung around a christmas tree instead of loathsome plastic tinsel. Apologies to anyone who likes tinsel. )

Pebble beans
Hmm, just like pebbles on a beach...  
As I'm new to this drying lark, I turned to Piers Warren's 'How to Store Your Garden Produce' for clarification and followed his advice.  His article lists varieties of beans that are recommended for drying which could be useful next year;  these are: Marie Louise (pink/purple two toned beans), Czar (large butter beans), Pea Bean (the one that looks like tiny killer whales), Borlotto (we all know this one with its lovely red speckled pods) and Cannellini beans (good for making your own baked beans).  I also like the sound of Canadian Wonder, a dwarf French bean whose young pods can be eaten whole or can be left to mature for red kidney beans. I do love a nice chilli!

3 Jul 2010

Blooms, beans, bees, bugs… and fox cubs!

The annual event which truly heralds the arrival of summer for me is the glorious sight of a mass of unfurled mesembryanthemums.  I  have two of the Schiaparelli Shocking Pink variety in my balcony 'earth box', planted 7 years ago as tiny succulents and which now tumble in a riot of colour over the edge despite being cut back each year.   Sadly this magnificent display lasts for just a few short weeks before the flowers die back and the 'leaves' take on the appearance of samphire.   As the roots have taken over the balcony space to the detriment of any other plants which I try to grow alongside them, this year I vowed to remove them once flowering was over.  (Although I may just take lots of cuttings and then try to transplant them.)

I'm having a modicum of success in keeping the pigeons at bay - 45p wisely spent on bamboo skewers at the supermarket, fashioned into mini wigwams (pointy end up) seem to have done the trick. (Although I recently discovered that my balcony neighbour is encouraging them by letting them breed on his side of the balcony, 3 pigeon-ettes so far.  Eeuch.)

But with one pest semi-sorted, another has appeared: (and don't get me started on the human variety - the ones who didn't help us, but nevertheless help themselves. You know who you are. ) Anyway, back to foxes:

Just a cub (one of three), but part mole given the way he's been digging up the veg overnight!  Just a couple of days ago,  I sowed more salad leaves, spinach and coriander  as the last lot had bolted; I tied a string fence around the seeds, thinking this might form some kind of protective barrier but, no, all dug up again in the morning.  At this rate, the VP will quickly resemble a giant earthworks.

And the broad beans which survived last time?  In the ground with bees a-plenty buzzing around, pollinating those flowers.  They're dwarf beans (a fact only recently discovered when I read the packet) and should only reach a height of 18" but, even so, they're still more than slightly vertically challenged at the time of writing.  I'm doing regular checks for blackfly and wiping it off as soon as I can although this is a vile task which I'd cheerfully pay someone else to do for me - even the children won't do it which shows how high it is on the yuckyness scale.

We're finding lots of new ladybirds in the VP. I deliberately left the over-wintered-now-bolted spinach and kale as a Bug Stop for them until late May. Lots of tiny wiggly caterpillars on the kale meant they weren't munching elsewhere and regular sightings of blue/yellow larvae bugs shows the plan worked for the ladybirds as well.  Very satisfying as I seem to be swamped with black- and white-fly this year. So munch on my little heroes!

Elsewhere, one of us is a year older (heh, heh, not me this time around, thankfully) so a cake was baked, strawberries were picked and chocolate butterflies and flowers made:

Ah yes, looking back that was a very tasty (and simple) cake: vanilla sponge, whipped vanilla buttercream and organic strawberry jam filling, glacé icing on top to hold the fresh strawberries in place, piped buttercream to hold the chocolate decoration.  Yep, yum, yummy, yum.  (BTW, chocolate decorations like these are very easy to make.  If you don't know how, let me know and I'll post a quick tutorial. )

Now back to digging - and fox-proofing - and re-sowing/planting ….
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