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New signs this spring at the Garland Community Garden

We’ve been experimenting with signage down at the garden for almost three years now.  I think we’ve finally hit upon a good solution that will hold up well through all seasons—we are using rocks and concrete. An example of our new signs is shown above.  This one is for our bean patch, which will feature Fort Portal Jade, Purple Hull Pinkeye, 1500 Year Old Cave Bean, Gold Marie Vining, Blauhilde, Pigeon Pea, Jacob’s Cattle (all grown from rare heirloom seeds) and speaking of beans . . .

Meet the Bean Man

Have you heard of John Withee (1910-1993)?  He grew up in rural Maine.  Every Friday his family chore was to clean out the bean hole and start a fire in it.  This pit in the Withee’s backyard was used an earth oven.  When the coals in the pit got hot, a Dutch oven was placed in the coals and then dirt piled over it.  The beans baked in the pit for an entire day. Then they were eaten for the Saturday evening meal.  Leftovers were eaten on Sunday.  If there were any remaining beans from Sunday, they would be spread on bread with mayonnaise and eaten for school lunches.

 

Jacob’s Cattle—the best beans for baking according to the Bean Man.  This variety is available through Baker Seeds and organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange

After living in crowded urban areas with little yard space for years, in the early 1970’s, Mr. Withee moved to a place in Massachusetts where he had a little land.  Thus he decided to create a bean hole in his backyard and invite a few of his friends over for a “bean bash.”   According to John Withee, the best beans for baking are called “Jacobs Cattle.”  As things turned out, he could not find any beans of this variety so he had to substitute a less desirable variety.

It was this event that stirred his interest in seed saving and became what was to be a 20-year quest for different varieties of beans.  He amassed nearly 1,200 varieties of beans and formed an organization called ‘Wanigan Associates”—a network of bean growers who helped him maintain his collection of 1,186 species of beans.  The entirety of Withee’s collection of bean species today is at Seed Savers Exchange’s Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa.

[Read the full story of the Bean man at Seed Savers.]

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Seed Saving and Sharing is important.

Seed savers are interesting and important people.  The lives of many varieties of our edibles are in the hands of a very few gardeners.  Since the late 19th century, it is estimated that 95% of what was once available disappeared and took its genetic code with it.

According to an expert from the Crop Ecology Branch of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization:  “Literally hundreds of cultivars become extinct every year, either because aging gardeners have no one to pass their heirloom seeds on to when they die, or because the varieties are dropped by seed companies for economic reasons.”  

Few plants are more important to our world than the bean.  In view of its importance, the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses.  Pulses are dried beans.  This food source makes up the protein for ¾ of all the people on the planet. In tribute to beans, we are devoting an entire garden plot to them at the Garland Community Garden.

You Can Save and Share Seeds!

You can join concerned gardeners from all over the world who are seeking out antique or endangered species of plants and trading the seeds with other growers so that those varieties can be kept alive. Here are some links to a few sources for rare heirloom seeds.  Obtain some, grow the variety, and then share your seeds!  It’s fun.

A Bean Collector’s Window: http://www.abeancollectorswindow.com

Seed Savers Exchange: http://www.seedsavers.org

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: http://www.rareseeds.com

Kusa Seed Society   http://www.ancientcerealgrains.org

Territorial Seed Company  http://www.territorialseed.com

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