When I was younger I had one of those posters, the one that went “Everything I know I learned from [insert name of TV show, literary figure, favourite book] etc”.
Today I was digging up my spent broad bean plants in the front garden and realised that I’d actually learned quite a bit from this small patch of ground over the past few months. Just to show how things have changed I’ve put in one of the photos I showed you when I first started writing the blog for comparison with today’s photo of those poor old spent broad beans.
It was clear that the broad beans all needed pulling out to be replaced by whatever seedlings we had in desperate need of planting (nothing like the scientific approach here!). Except, I knew that one plant had started to produce lots of new pods, so that one would stay. The reason this plant was producing again was that we’d followed a suggestion by Hugh F-W (River Cottage Spring) that you could pick the tender shoots of broad beans to eat while waiting for the pods themselves to mature. Not only would this stave off cravings for broad beans but it would also encourage the plants to re-direct their growth into the beans. It worked. The only thing was as I collected the dried pods to save the beans for next years crop I realised that many of the broad beans didn’t know they were ‘finished’. As I pulled them out I saw that almost all of them were shooting again from the bottom. Not only that, but those plants whose shoots were over about 10cms tall were also already carrying pods, some quite large.
Clearly the broad beans hadn’t read the gardening book. I was seeing natural selection taking place before my very eyes. Some plants had produced their pods and had already dropped their seeds onto the ground. Others had taken advantage of the food they’d been given several weeks ago and the good rain of the past week and were pushing on to produce another crop of beans and thereby developing a different strategy to grow on seeds for the following year. Nearly a quarter of my broad bean plants have remained in the bed. On some I’ve trimmed back the old stems while others still have vigorous old growth. I’m going to let them teach me what they need.
What I learned is that as a gardener I have the option to allow my plants rather more leeway in their growing habits than I might be able to do if I was a commercial producer. I’ve also learned that while the gardening books can give guidance and advice, I also need to learn from my own garden. I need to consult the genius loci
(the genius of the place) before I make my decisions. As a gardener I only need to meet (predominantly) my own needs. Like my tiny crop of berries the other day which were transformed into a delicious breakfast, I can keep my broad beans growing because I know I will derive not only another meal or two from the plants that were left, but enjoyment from cooking and eating food I have grown with my garden.
My poster – Star Trek – and as I said to my broad beans today:
“May you live long and prosper”.