What bean is that?

Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) have the most colourful and rewarding of seeds, which probably explains why gardeners have been growing them on now for over 6000 years. Given this length of time since beans were domesticated in the temperate regions of South America (Peru), it is no wonder that hundreds of varieties of beans exist today.

In general, what kitchen gardeners call ‘beans’ are either the French bean, eaten when tender and green, or the dried Kidney beans stored for later use in soups and stews. So this range of beans excludes such ‘beans’ as Broad beans (Vicia fava), Guada beans (Trichosanthes anguina), Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus [P. limensis]), Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), Snake beans (Vigna unguiculata var. sesquipedalis), Soya beans (Glycine max), Winged beans (Psophocarpis tetragonolobus) and Yam beans (Pachyrrhizus erosus).

French beans and Kidney beans are further divided into dwarf (or bush) beans and climbing (or pole) beans. Climbing beans needed richer soil than dwarf beans, but produce over longer periods. Climbing beans are grown on stakes or trellises, whereas dwarf beans are self-standing as a small bush.

My own interest in beans was fired many years ago by Bill Hankin’s collection, shown during a talk Bill gave in Adelaide to home gardeners back in about 2003. Bill’s bean seed collection consists of some 72 bean seeds, which sounds like a lot, but which represents just a fraction of the hundreds of varieties known. Still, it was with great pleasure that I was able to look over this collection at close quarters for myself, as Bill lent me the lot to show off in public at our local seed-savers display in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens today.




Some of the beans in Bill’s collection have been attacked by bean weevils, which lay their eggs under the skin of the bean while they are still in the pod, and which hatch out in the stored beans and bore small holes through the beans, destroying their fertility. DSCN0030 (The solution to weevils is to seal the beans in an jam jar and place them in the freezer for 48 hours to kill the eggs. The jar has to be airtight to prevent the seeds dehydrating in the freezer, which will kill the bean).

All of the beans in the collection have faded somewhat with time and are likely no longer viable, as bean seeds cannot usually be stored beyond three years, and those in this collection are over eight years old. Nevertheless, here they are (below) in close up, to help identify the shape and colour of various beans collected by Bill from heritage growers and commercial seeds companies over many years and grown on before the thrill of it all wore off, and Bill just put the remainder into this collection.


Top from left: Rattlesnake pole bean, Macedonian butter bean, Bert Goodwin’s bush bean.

Bottom from left: Nardi Zebra bean, Ukrainian butter pole bean, Magpie bush bean.


Top from left: Honduran Landrace bean, Yin Yang pole bean, Scarlet Beauty (runner) bean

Bottom from left: Deb’s Greek dry bean, Pearl climbing bean, Macedonian pole bean


Top from left: Honey Key bean, Vermont Cranberry bean, Macedonian Twiner bean

Bottom from left: Ah Chow bean, Tarahumara Laja bean, Croatian bush bean


Top from left: BOG (Brisbane Organic Growers) Half Runner bean, Hawkesbury Wonder, Sun… (illegible)

Bottom from left: Green Flax bush bean, Krasner Barlotti bean, Swedish Brown bean


Top from left: Garcia Twiner bean, Staley’s Star bean (Bill Hankin believes that this bean is extinct now), Lemon Yellow Twiner bean

Bottom from left: Maine Yellow Eye bean, Purple Queen bush bean, Bellotti Twiner bean


Top from left: Lohrey’s Special pole bean, Spanish climbing bean, Penguin bush bean

Bottom from left: Yugoslavian Purple Twiner bean, Zera climbing bean, Goodwin’s Purple bush bean


Top from left: Wondergold climbing bean, Yigevano Fire Tongue bean, Windsor Longpod bean

Bottom from left: Hayes Brown bush bean, Admire bush bean, Redlands Pioneer bush bean


Top from left: Yates Romano bush bean, Sunray bush bean, Baker bean

Bottom from left: Victory Green bush bean, Coco Bicolor bean, Zagreb Soldier bean


Top from left: Low’s Champion bush bean, Black Runner bean, Tan Yugoslavian Twiner bean

Bottom from left: Scottish pole bean, Jacob’s Cattle bush bean, Black African Wax bush bean


Top from left: Tasmanian Heirloom pole bean, Anderson’s Purple King bean, Macedonian bush bean

Bottom from left: Painted Lady Runner bean, Hutterite Soup bean, Dutch Brown bean


Top from left: (illegible) bean, Preston bush bean, Agate Pinto bean

Bottom from left: Dragon Langerie bean, Cuban Black (USA) bean, Westralia climbing bean


Top from left: Scarlet Emperor runner bean, Spanish Red climber bean, Lazy Housewife pole bean

Bottom from left: Kentucky Wonder Brown pole bean, Cherokee Wax bush bean, Anderson’s Wonder bean

Corn salad, Lamb’s Lettuce or Feldsalat

Corn salad (Valerianella locusta) is a tiny but tender lettuce grown from autumn through winter here on the temperate Adelaide Plains. We are still harvesting ours, but expect the warmer weather to cause it to bolt to seed. This is fine with me; corn salad self-seeds year after year, especially in rocky crevices in retaining walls.


I suspect that corn salad is not well-known among Australian gardeners unless they have some relationship to Europe. In our house, with its mix of Australian and German cuisine, the cook plagued the gardener often and longingly with tales of the Feldsalat (literally, field salad) that she had enjoyed during German winters – often the only green salad vegetable available over there, thanks to its cold-tolerance.

As peace and the cook’s happiness are every gardener’s dream, I went to some trouble to bring some Feldsalat seed back to Australia. [Imported seed must be in sealed coloured commercial seed packets having the Latin name upon it to be able to get past quarantine authorities at the airport].

Then I discovered the English name for this small plant – Corn Salad or Lamb’s Lettuce.  In France it is known as Mache or Doucette.

Corn salad seed is available from heritage seed companies such as Eden Seeds in Queensland. According to their seed packet, it ‘looks like a small loose-leaf lettuce, is used in salads or cooked like spinach, and is high in vitamin C’.

And why is it called ‘corn salad’?

Well, according to the Seed Savers Handbook, ‘corn salad derives the name from its natural occurrence in fields of wheat, once called “corn” in England. It grows wild over southern Europe and western Asia’.

As Spring moves along we are eating salads made from plants grown during winter; corn salad, snow peas and nasturtium flowers.


A walk in the spring garden...continued

Are you interested in seeing more of our overgrown garden? Okay, let's go!

The bronze fennel is nice and bushy. It will grow taller and go to seed at the end of summer. Lots of very fragrant seeds to be harvested!
A really great vegetable that we have grown for the first time, but will now become a regular in our winter garden - purple sprouting broccoli. It develops small, individual florets and you pick as many as you need. And then new ones will develop along the stem. Brilliant stuff! (Unfortunately, you can't see the florets will in this photo.)
Globe artichokes. Stunning foliage! Soon we'll be eating artichoke hearts. Yum, yum.
Our cherries are flowering madly. We are hoping to eat our own cherries this season. Here we have 'Sunburst'. Still a young tree but with lots of flowers.Granny Smith. She's a grand old lady and keeps producing delicious apples every year. The grass is very high around her, but hopefully we'll be able to slot in a brushcutting session soon.That's it, folks! Unless you are interested in walking around a bit more in our garden.

A walk in the spring garden

Spring is such an exciting season! There are tons of trees & plants flowering, seeds are germinating left, right & centre, the hills and paddocks are lusciously green, the garden is overgrown with grass and weeds, but soon there will be a little order in this chaos.

The garlic is doing extremely well. Some stems are unbelievably thick. All going well, the harvest should be good.The leek bed is still filled with thick-stemmed leeks and self-sown leek seedlings. I shall eat the grown-ups and thin out the babies.
The red currants are doing their thing again. Tons of flowers and fruit setting. Red currant jelly for all these roasts and sauces...
The white strawberries are flowering and have already set lots of fruit. These are very small berries but packed with flavour.
The new row of peas is doing well. Hopefully they'll give us lots of sweet, tender peas.There is so much more going on, but that's enough for today. I shall take you on another walk very soon. Hope all of you are having a wonderful spring! :)

Rain, warmth and mulch

Somewhere in mid-Spring every gardener waits on tenterhooks for the convergence of three events – rain, warmth and mulch day.

DSCN0020 By now, six weeks into Spring, the last of the winter rainfall is starting to evaporate from the bare soil. Here in Adelaide, where we’ve often had to live through three to four months of no rainfall in summer, draconian water restrictions and weeks of temperatures above 40 degrees, saving this precious rainfall in the soil is critical to growing healthy crops.

Yet we also need the soil itself to warm up enough to allow active root growth below our vegetable crops - therefore we have to hold off mulching so that the sunshine too can soak into the soil.

The net result of all these tradeoffs is that backyard gardeners watch the sky as avidly as any farmer, hanging out for one of those mid-Spring rainfall events that top up a warm soil with fresh pure rain water. Only after that can we whip on a deep layer of pea-straw or barley-straw mulch to prevent that last gift of soil moisture from evaporating.

The key to managing this birthing of a Spring garden is to watch the weather forecasts for Adelaide on the Internet, and to track rainfall across Australia generated by the Bureaus of Meteorology radar maps.

Rain over Adelaide 14th October 2010 7_30pm

Rain over Australia 14th October 2010 7_30pm

And of course, one should be ready with a big stockpile of straw for mulching…

DSCN0010While water and mulch are the two biggest expenses in managing a kitchen garden, these are the same dollars that the cook saves by doing her green-grocery shopping in the backyard rather than the local shops.

At the end of each autumn, this old mulch is raked up and composted, ready to enrich future crops - nothing is wasted in an organic garden.


Compost (‘Vinegar’) Flies

Spring has sprung, and the compost bins are warming up, encouraging romance among the vinegar flies, known to many of us as ‘compost flies’.

DSCN0009These little black flies – somewhat smaller than a match head – are harmless to humans, and only become annoying when they find their way into the house in large numbers, hanging about whatever fruit is going off, especially lemons and other citrus.

It seems to be impossible to keep the little fellas locked down in the compost bins – even the smallest holes or imperfection in the lid seal allows them to wander in and out, much to the joy of Willie-Wagtails and New Holland Honeyeaters, who hang about on the bin lid and dance into the air for a quick snack ‘on the wing’.


At the height of the breeding season, every trip to the Gedye Bin results in a face-full of vinegar flies when the lid is opened.

We slow the little blighters down by throwing in a few shovelfuls of soil, then laying branches of wormwood over this to discourage them further from their rotting lunch of mouldy lemons, which choose this time of year to rain down in abundance.

Wormwood is a pretty – if somewhat smelly – soft silvery-green bush traditionally grown around fowl runs in Australia to discourage various ticks and mites from visiting the hens. It’s drought-hardy and makes a robust hedge, and is supposed to discourage other weeds in the vicinity via exudations from its roots.

And does wormwood repel vinegar flies? I don’t really know, but even if it doesn’t save me from a face full of flies, it always looks attractive after a little pruning, and adds some organic matter to the compost bin along the way.


Inside the house, we’ve discovered a sure-way method for sweeping up all the vinegar flies that blacken walls and bench tops; we lay sticky fly traps over small dishes of cider and ‘stout’ beer whose heavenly aroma lures the flies to a sticky death.

Just hanging the sticky fly trap somewhere in the room is a waste of time; the flies ignore it.DSCN0003

Miner's lettuce

This little beauty is starting to flower, too.
It is great to have this plant in the garden. I let it go to seed in spring and with the first good rain in autumn it starts popping up everywhere.
Great ground cover, but most importantly, great addition to salads! Just what you need in winter.

Plum flowers

The plum trees are starting to flower now! Let's see what the plums taste like this year. Every year seems to be different. Last year they were rather bland, the other year they were super-sweet, and another year they were mealy and disgusting.
All this, despite the fact that they get the same feed every year - a good dose of compost, blood & bone, potash and a thick layer of mulch.

Let's enjoy the flowers first. :)