Winter Beans (a homestead staple)

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Beans are the epitome of security.  They are inexpensive, easy to grow, easy to cook, satiate hunger, and are full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, protein, and vitamins and minerals.  A pantry filled with beans means a winter without hunger.  A pot simmering on the wood cook stove symbolizes love for the recipient.

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I am in love with all of the old heirloom varieties.  I am addicted to their stories.  Like Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg variety.  The beans were brought to the west by Lina’s grandmother by covered wagon.  They are the larger beans with the red speckles.  They are delicious and colorful.  Yellow Indian Woman is the yellow variety that I grew and was quite prolific this year.  It is a variety that is hundreds of years old and was used as trade by the Native Americans.

I grew black beans and cannellini beans.  There are pinto beans and Anasazi beans to grow.  Or Lima beans or red beans for Cajun food.  The only thing difficult about growing beans is what variety to choose!

In my new garden here on our homestead I will be planting a long row (34x 2 feet) of beans and garlic.  The garlic will be planted the next few weeks and as they pop their cheery heads up over the soil I will be able to plant a bean in between each one next Spring.  Some need to be trellised but many do not.  Look for the bush variety or simply put creative poles up around them.  They also do well climbing up corn.  You can even plant uncooked organic beans from the health food store.

Shelling beans can be eaten just like green beans when their pods are soft and small.  In fact, they look like green beans and you are sure to question what you planted.  Leave them on the vine until they are brown and crisp but not too long that their pods reopen and plant themselves!  Around late August to the end of September you will be harvesting winter beans.

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They must be quite dry so I keep them in baskets until I am certain they are void of moisture.  Then the fun begins.  It becomes much like the puzzle that sat out at home waiting for the next participant to place the next piece.  I leave the whole pile on the table and as we walk by we shell another bean.  It is quite addictive and rather fun.  It feels like I could be a housewife in any era shelling beans to make sure that we have enough to store.

The key is growing enough to at least put on a pot of soup!  I tuck the beans in anywhere there is a spare six inches all the way through mid-July.

I love to peruse the Seed Savers Catalogue for new varieties.  Being a history lover as well as a lover of great food makes heirloom beans a part of this homestead.

The Romance and History of Seed Saving (now how the heck do I do it?)

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I have been listening to lectures and reading about seed saving.  It is something I have wanted to do, but then at the end of the season I either get lazy, run out of time, or run out of plants to save!  This idea appeals to me though and makes so much sense.

There are the practical reasons, of course.  When you patent something, you own it.  When you patent a seed, you own life.  Dow, Dupont, and Monsanto would very much like to own life.  These are mega corporations that seem to have no soul.  They are made up of people with well lined green pockets and their friends in politics benefit too.  Dow and Dupont create the most powerful pesticides and herbicides on the market made from leftovers of chemical warfare, slowly killing populations of species including people.  These require plants that can stand up to them.  Monsanto, with their genetically engineered seeds, are patenting all types of seeds.  They are open pollinated so if it drifts into your garden, they own your seeds too.  If one was to stop and think about it, it is all very terrifying that a large entity could own our life force, our food, and not just any food, poisonous food.  They are already poisoning millions of Americans every day with their GMO’s that are in practically every processed food and in more and more produce.

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I am blessed to live in an area that is not known for farming (lucky me, there is a reason for that!) but the benefit of that is that I have no drift from GMO crops.  I should be saving my seeds!  I would also save $600 a year on seeds that I starry eyed buy in January.

I am also struck by the romance and the history of saving seeds.  Our grandparents that came over from other countries with seeds in the lining of their jackets.  Our Native American ancestors saved seed to take from place to place.  There were no glossy seed catalogues for them to order from each year.  Seeds were a source of trade.  Seeds were gold.  Over 94% of all seeds are gone.  Forever.  We will never know many of the delicious foods that our ancestors ate.  Even from the 1940’s.

Maryjane's first radish.

We have selected hybrid seeds to choose from.  This is a great reason to choose a seed company like Seed Savers.  They have successfully saved hundreds of seeds from extinction.  To plant a seed that was brought over by covered wagon or a seed from corn that was used as cornmeal are all gifts from a past time.  Then save the seed.

A beautiful story I read in a magazine years ago has followed me in memory.  After the Vietnam war there were several refugees.  I believe this happened in Louisiana.  The Catholic ministries bought two apartment buildings to house these refugees.  These folks were missing their homeland and their families.  With them when they fled their war torn country were seeds.  The people started a garden at their new place and planted the seeds from their homes.  They created an oasis of foods of comfort that are not grown here.  Vegetables their mothers grew, recognizable and tactile pieces of home.

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I know how to save seeds from squashes and tomatoes, that type of plant.  I just need to do it.  I do not have a clue how to save things like collard greens or lettuce or radishes.  I left  some of them up and their flowers are beautiful waving daintily over the other plants.  Now what?  Will the seeds come after the flower?  Do I need to chop their heads off now?  Oh bother, I need a book and a teacher!

This year I will at least save seeds from pumpkins, from squash, from potatoes.  Start slow and work my way up to a collection.  Create my own chest of gold.

 

The History Mystery and Whispering Seeds

The Three Sisters method will be employed.  This town is called Kiowa after all and the soil belonged to tribes.  Smoke Signals will be planted in the far center garden bed.  The rows will look over the rest of the garden beds, standing proud of their heritage.  Their multi-colored, brilliant ears will provide delicious popcorn.  How many American Indian ladies planted this same corn?  And the Black Aztec will be in the next bed to try my hand at making blue cornmeal.  Did my great, great grandmother use the same varietal?  And the Golden Bantam, the original sweet corn, will adorn the other side.  Ancient seeds carried in covered wagons and in pouches.

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So many choices!  Buy organic seeds?  Or conventional seeds?  For me the clear choice as a history buff with too much imagination are heirlooms.  Who doesn’t want pink and brown pumpkins scrambling around their Aztec corn?  The colors excite me.  The histories enthrall me and I feel connected to every farmer, every family before me who fed their family using these seeds.

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Heirlooms are an important part of sustainability.  They are not genetically modified. They are pollinated by bees and birds and butterflies and the seeds can be saved so that my great, great grandchild will wonder who I was but know that I planted orange watermelons and that I may have been a little eccentric thanks to the multicolored beans I saved.  And heirlooms whisper about history.

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Imagine perusing a seed catalogue of seeds that are ancient!  Like the seeds that were just recently rediscovered.  These Morning Glories are not your typical shape but frilly raspberry colored petals.  I cannot wait to see them scrambling up the trellis.  Purple carrots will taste so much better than orange ones.  I do love to choose the prettiest colored vegetables, many that had to grow in this climate so they ripen early.  I plan on watering this year (whoops) so I do plan to have the most beautiful and productive garden I have ever had.  And walking through it will be like walking through a history book of covered wagons and pioneers, strong willed women and gracious, hard working men who fed their families using these very seeds that I will feed my family with.

Save a seed!  http://seedsavers.org (pictures were taken from their catalogue!)