By Any Beans Necessary

We will start picking beans tomorrow. the climbing french beans in the glasshouse have wowed us all with their mauve flowers and their stature, and now their speckled fruit are pencil-thick and ripe for the eating. They should be followed stringlessly by the dwarf french beans in the Entrance Field come August, so we’ll be beanfeasting throughout the summer, then stop and leave the remainder to dry on the vine, to be used as a high protein pulse throughout the next year. All peas and beans can be grown on to pulses, but we don’t tend to do it so much in this country – either in the garden or commercially – but I believe in a more sensible, sensitive world we would do.

The plan was to concentrate on the flat-podded “Helda” beans under glass, but in the event I managed to rot them by over-zealous soaking of the seed, so “Cherokee Trail of Tears” became our main cultivar. It is fast growing, fast maturing, pretty and productive, and has its own story to tell.

In 1829, gold was found in Georgia, Southwest USA, under Cherokee homeland. This prompted the Georgia gold rush, and moves by the government to “relocate” the Cherokee people to reservations in the “Indian Territory” (now Oklahoma). An army of 7,000 rounded up 13,000 Cherokees into concentration camps, destroyed their homes, then forced them to march the 1,000 miles through the freezing winter of 1838.

By the time they arrived, 4,000 of their number had died, of disease, starvation, cold and the occasional murder as they passed inhospitable settlements. The black seeded bean was carried with them on this trail of tears, planted as the bitter winter thawed to spring on the reservation, and still grown by Cherokees, and other gardeners interested in “heritage” seeds, to this day.

I see the beanstalks growing in the glasshouse , tiny pods pushing out from the shrivelling violet blooms, and see them as living sculptures, symbolising the cruel destructive side to White/ Western/ Judeao-Christian culture; and also the spirit of hope and renewal represented by nature and nature-worshipping peoples

The Joys of Weeding

On Thursday Sarah and I did a spot of weeding in the Entrance Field. I love weeding. It’s like the gardening equivalent of sewing your stitch in time, or clearing your e-mail inbox, and I gain the same elusive sense of fundamental satisfaction from performing it. It seems to make the difference between living and surviving.

I especially love hoeing: its primary care as opposed to fire fighting, and the simple grace of the hoeing action seems to embody that fact. Walthamstownians of old loved hoes too: OrganicLea’s office, distribution and outreach “hub” is situated on 458 Hoe Street, a thin ridge of a path that they thus read as the gardening work of some giant or goddess.

We have a fine selection of hoes: “English” draw hoes; “Dutch” push hoes; 2-for-1 push-pull hoes; oscillating hoes; onion hoes; wheel hoes and even the paradoxically titled digging hoe. All have spent the spring and early summer hung up in the tool shed like forlorn pub decorations, whilst we plant out everything at precise hoe-width spacings in the – at timesĀ  optimistic – belief that one day we might find time to go back and administer after care. Only this week can we begin to feel vindicated.

How fitting that the hoes are drawn in time for the summer solstice, that time of perfect balance and poise, and the occasion of our evening of celebration here at Hawkwood. We’re throwing a party for all our workers, supporters and associates, with horticultural games, solar cooking demonstrations, a feast, elderflower champagne, and a traditional barn dance in our straw-rammed warehouse. I think for the first time I am really going to appreciate what it means to have a proper hoe-down.

Pure Leaf

We’ve been producing salad leaves at Hawkwood for over a year now, in containers, but now the West Bank, our “Salad Central”, is starting to give us salads grown in the ground.

It’s one type of leaf per bed, so the range of tastes and colour is a t present quite narrow, but once we’ve got one terrace of thirty four beds dug and planted up, the diversity of leaf will become quite impressive. At Growing Communities the salad bags boast over forty species – and some sixty cultivars – over the year, plus a fine range of edible flowers – and I think that represents something of a panacea that we would like to approach.

As well as supplying our own market stall and box scheme, we’ve now got an outlet in the “local village” of North Chingford. The Deli Station are this week testing our salad bags out on their customers, as supplying Table 7 restaurant. Jo from the Deli was here on Friday and perhaps was struck, as I have been, by just how “clean” all the leaves are: the plants are not yet showing one leaf that needs “grading out” due to pest / disease / old age/ boredom.

To be honest it’s almost too perfect, but we should revel in it while we can. I know only too well that sustained cultivation in one place can have the benefit of improving soil structure, but also create great conditions for pest and disease build-up. It’s a reminder of the importance of rotating, moving around, and observing breaks. For me, that means strolling around the whole site once a week with a cup of tea. This month the tea rotation shifts from nettle to elderflower. Tastes perfect.