Wednesday 23 October 2013

Drying beans for winter


With the harvesting season well underway, we're choosing which of our produce to eat immediately and which to put by for winter-time when the garden is less productive. We can freeze our vine leaves, dry the chillies, pickle the garlic, steep the pears in alcohol, and dry the beans.

Our favourite beans for growing are the beautful magenta and cream borlotti beans. Beans can take up a lot of space, even when trained up a trellis, or wrapped around a sweetcorn plant in a traditional Three Sisters planting scheme. They're easy to grow and look so colourful and lovely in the garden. Then, when they're ready to harvest in August and September, the fresh beans are delicious to eat newly podded and simply cooked.

Even better, though, is keeping the bulk of the crop back to supply beany sustenance throughout the winter. Drying your own beans is a simple process and doesn't take long.
Fresh borlotti beans, left, with their stunningly rich crimson pods, which dry to a
 dusky purple colour, right, when left on the plants into the autumn.
Leave the bean pods on the plants for as long as possible. They must be picked before the first frost, but if you can leave them until October, you'll see the bright crimson pods fade to a deep flecked purple and then almost to black. The pods will be hard and dry to the touch. Cut them off the plants, then thread the pods together and hang them up somewhere airy until all the pods are dried out. Or you can spread them out in a net and hang that somewhere. Either way, leave them be for about 2-3 weeks to ensure that the beans inside are truly dry and ready to store. 

When you come to shell the beans, they should be rattling inside the pods and will fall on to the worktop with a clatter. If they land with a soft thud instead, they need to dry for a little longer.

Finally, put the shelled beans in a freezer bag and seal. Place in the freezer for about 48 hours. This quick freeze just ensures that if the beans were harbouring any bugs, mites or insect eggs, that they are killed off. Once out of the freezer, spread the beans out briefly on kitchen paper just to check they’re dry again, then pour into a clean dry jar with a tightly fitting lid.

Keep in a dark cool place and they will last for months.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Alien invasion?

We may have aliens in the Secret Garden. The Chilean potato vine, a vigorous small tree with deadly nightshade like flowers, has developed these flat wide stems punctuated by small nodules, pictured here. All the other branches are growing normally. 

We have no idea what it is. After asking about it on Twitter, the only other reference to this strange growth that we can find on the net is on, where this or a similar disorder affected a sweet potato Beauregarde plant. The author says the mutated branches remind him of the 40 pin serial hard drive connectors on old PCs - they are indeed a bit like that.

Any ideas what it might be?