Saturday, 16 July 2016

Peas on my mind

Well not just peas, really, but several representatives of the Fabacaea, that is, the legume family. This year I've embarked on a small legume trial that I've somewhat bombastically titled The Great Legume Project. My aim is mostly to try some new things and have some good fun in the process, but I'm also interested in discovering which legumes I could adopt as reliable food staples, that is, for drying and using throughout the winter. Ideally of course, I would just grow all of them, all the time, and indulge in the incredible diversity that the legume family has too offer. There's probably a risk that I would do exactly that if I had hectares of land at my disposal. In the real world, however, my growing space is limited (and seems to come under increasing pressure every year), and so is my patience for plants that demand a lot of pampering without giving much in return. Selection there will be! Anyway, this post is a brief overview of the different legumes that I'm growing this year, and how they're doing so far. I already have half-developed plans for trialling mung beans and cow peas next year, so this project is unlikely to end here...

Fava beans

Ah, good old fava beans. Hardly a newcomer in the garden, but I've only ever used them in their immature form. I know you can eat the dried seeds like any other bean, but I've never done so, so I don't know if they're very good. I'm about to find out. There's five varieties currently inhabiting the fava bean patch: Aquadulce, Solberga, Express, Green Longpod and Göteryd. The favas have suffered a bit from the abundant growth in the neighbouring pea patch however, which has overshadowed them more than I had reckoned with. If you think this implies a certain bias in favour of the peas on my part, you're probably right to some extent... To be very frank, I'm mostly interested in the immature favas, which I know are great. But I promise I'll try to contain myself and give the dried seeds a chance as well.

Peas

Whereas I'm yet to fully fall for the fava, I'm already a complete pea convert. I'll have peas in all their forms and shapes, please. The fresh peas I grow never make it to the kitchen though, I usually just munch on them in the garden, if the d*mned pigeons don't get to them first, that is. This year, however, I'm particularly focused on the dry/soup peas. I'm growing six varieties: Govorov, Klosterärt, Bjurholms småärt, Sollerön gråärt, Biskopens gråärt, and Gotländsk blåärt. The Govorov and Bjurholms småärt (Swedish for 'little pea from Bjurholm) are green peas, the Klosterärt is a yellow pea, and the other three are 'grey peas', aka black or maple peas. The maple peas are supposed to make a good substitute for chickpeas, so I'm really, really (really!) curious about them, I've never tried them. Sollerön and Biskopens have pink flowers, green pods and brown/red seeds, while the Gotländsk blåärt has purple flowers, purple pods and red/brown seeds. They're very ornamental, and all seem to be extremely prolific, particularly perhaps Klosterärt and Bjurhölms småärt. Sollerön and Biskopens were the last to flower, but all are coming along nicely now. I can't wait to dig my hands into a jar of homegrown dried peas! So yes, I suppose I should admit to a certain bias towards the peas, they've already earned their permanent residence in my garden. If only I could grow a lot more of them, somehow...
A wall of peas: Klosterärt and Bjurholms småärt
Chickpeas 

The peas are vying with the chickpeas for the title of most favoured legume crop. As anyone who has grown them will have to agree, there's just something incredibly loveable about chickpea plants, with their feathery leaves, their wavy growth habbits and their cute little flowers and seed pods. So yes, these are coming back next year as well, and in fact I've already ordered a couple of heirloom varieties from the US to seriously expand my chickpea trials next year. This year I'm growing three batches: Black Sicily, a black chickpea; Golden Dragon, an orange/yellowish variety; and a blend of standard tan chickpeas from various grocery stores. I sowed all of them at the end of March, together with the peas and the fava beans. The Black Sicily and Golden Dragon were quick to emerge, but cutworms got most of the seedlings. I therefore had to resow, after which more were cut down, and in the end I was left with only 15 plants or so in total. The grocery store mix never emerged, so then, a few weeks later, I decided to sow the entire jar, which must have been several hundreds of seeds. Only two plants finally came up. I suppose this is largely due to environmental conditions. The Black Sicily and Golden Dragon apparently were selected for emergence in cooler soils, which makes them valuable in my conditions, seeing that it's unlikely I would get mature chickpeas if I would wait until the soil has warmed before sowing. The plants seem to have enjoyed the warm spring. They are growing well and are bearing an abundance of pods. I suppose I'll need to save most of the seeds for next year's expansion, but perhaps a modest homegrown hummus is within the range of possibilities. Patience, patience. 

Lentils

Lentil 'Gotlandslins',
with potato onions in between
Last year I grew 'Gotlandslins', a lentil variety that derives from Gotland, Sweden's largest island. The rabbits got most of them however, and what was left resulted in a pretty meagre yield. I wasn't all that impressed but couldn't resist sowing them again this year. This time I've managed to keep the rodents out, and the plants generally seem to be doing much better than last year. There's plenty of pods on the plant, so I might actually be able to eat some of the lentils this year. Overall, these are quite fun to grow, and they're definitely cute, but as a potential staple crop I can't help but feel that they're a bit too much bother. If only the seeds would be five times as large, and grow together in long pods. A bit like a pea, say... Now there's a plant breeding challenge.


Dry bush beans

Dry beans are perhaps the centrepiece of any legume collection, if only because of the vast variety of different colours and patterns that are out there. I had to seriously restrain myself when ordering bean seed, and even then I still ended up with an dry bean patch twice the size of any of the other legumes. I'm growing a bush variety of Borlotti beans, some store-bought Swedish 'bruna bönor' ('Brown beans'), Stella (another brown bean), Hutteriternas Soppböna (a pale, greenish, and very plump round bean that I received through Sesam, the Swedish society for the preservation of heirloom vegetable varieties), Brightstone (a brown bean with dark blue speckles) and Wolverine's Orca (a black&white bean that indeed looks a bit like an orca whale). The plants are flowering at the moment.

Lupin

And finally, a bit of a outsider: lupin beans. The species that I'm growing (L. albus) is far from appropriate as a staple food (it's supposedly quite bitter and requires extensive preparation before it's palatable), but I nevertheless look forward to trying it as a novelty food. Lupin beans, soaked for extensive periods in order to leach out the alkaloids, are a popular snack in some Mediterranean countries. Supposedly there are a number of 'sweet' lupin varieties around that have been bred for lower alkaloid content and therefore require no soaking (particularly some strains of L. angustifolius), but these seem a bit hard to get a hold of. I've yet to get my hands on them at least, but they are definitely on the wishlist. The L. albus, meanwhile, has been treated somewhat unfairly the past few months; I all but neglected it during most of the spring and early summer. Despite the lack of watering and the dry spring it has done well and is now flowering quite happily.

That's about it for the (dry) legumes this year. So far so good.

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