Thursday, October 18, 2007

2007 Bean Report

I grew several kinds of beans this last summer. Fresh eating bush varieties included Maxibel, Royal Burgundy and Pencil Pod Wax. I have long wanted to try growing beans for drying and chose Cannellini and Midnight Black Turtle Bean.

Things in the garden rarely go as planned.

The Maxibel, a haricot vert from Fedco, produced lavishly and boasted a remarkable flavor. The catalog cautioned to pick early and often, which is catalog-speak for lousy when over mature, so I harvested the Maxibels rather to the exclusion of the other fresh varieties. This left the wax and purple beans to swell with seeds, a bit of serendipity that gave me a chance to become reacquainted with what my southern raised mother called ‘shelly beans’. I simply couldn’t bear to toss those swollen pods in the compost.

And they are delicious. I found several recipes for a creamy fresh shell bean soup. I was a little leery, though; since the beans from the Pencil Pod Wax were dark I was afraid that the blended soup might turn out mud brown instead of the described ‘jade green’. So I opted for a hearty soup from roasted chicken broth, spinach, noodles, chicken sausage and, of course, a generous amount of shell beans. Yum.

The dried beans are almost ready to harvest. The plants are now permanently covered with reemay as we are firmly into frost season. And only one variety survived. Owing to my touchingly foolish belief that I would remember where each variety was planted I now have no idea which variety I am coddling through the vagaries of a Pacific Northwest fall.

But I like surprises. And it should be easy to tell! No risk of confusing cannellini with black beans.

Next year I will grow only Maxibel for fresh beans. I’ve tried for years to find a great fresh green bean and I think the search is over. And I am so happy to rediscover shell beans and finally try growing dried beans. There is much history for the heirloom bean varieties and I am looking forward to a little winter research into the subject.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Weather observation

I shot this a few days ago. If the adage that a red sky in the morning predicts an inclement day then surely this kind of sunrise must portend an inclement season!

Our autumn weather pattern here in my corner of the PNW usually includes mild days and cool nights with occasional rain showers. This year is shaping up differently. We have had a few storms with high winds followed by chilly rainy days. The weekend was mild but the character of these last storms is more in keeping with our late November storms.

I looked out the window an hour ago and saw rays of watery sunlight shining through red Virginia Creeper, picking out and illuminating droplets of water. Now the sky has darkened and the wind has picked up.

As they say around these parts, "If you don't like the weather wait five minutes".

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I have celebrated late summer the last several years by searching any milkweed plant I see, hoping to find monarch butterfly eggs or larvae. The last couple of years the search has proved unproductive but this year’s efforts with coworkers yielded two large larvae. These provided another chance to observe the amazing phenomenon of metamorphosis.

The larva does little but eat until ready to pupate. At this point it will begin to wander but eventually will spin a small knot silk on a stem (or another suitable location) and hang with the head curved up. It attaches to the silk with curved hooks on its two hind prolegs. This is called the “J stage” and the larva remains in this stage for about 24 hours.

When the filaments on the head appear very limp it is time to start observing closely.. The skin of the larva starts splitting up the back and the larva gyrates rapidly, all the while remaining attached to the stem, and pushes the larval skin up to where the prolegs are attached to the silk.

At this point the chrysalis is very delicate and the skin must be discarded. In a split second the chrysalis pushes a black postlike cremaster into the knot of silk, twisting to embed the barbed hooks on the end into the silk filaments. It then pulls the hooked prolegs from the silk and flicks the skin away by more vigorous twisting and turning. In 2-4 hours the skin of the chrysalis will harden and it will hang like a green and gold jewel for about 10 days.

During the last day or so the colors of the butterfly’s wings are visible through the clear shell of the chrysalis.

When the butterfly emerges its wings are quite small.

Over the next hour the butterfly will pump fluid into the black veins on the wings and they will expand to full size.

I never tire of watching this miracle.