Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fava Bean Eco-System

The fava beans are reaching out for the sky with their graceful fans of leaves and elegant blossoms with black accents. Two adjacent beds of seedlings from Cottage Garden Nursery, which were planted out last fall on October 3, are now eight feet and over -- even subtracting the ten inch height of the beds.

The towering stalks form a little forest eco-system all their own, with some volunteer chard sheltering on the shady forest floor layer, most of the blossoms and maturing beans in the understory, and the tenderest new leaves -- so good in salads -- forming the canopy.

Here are the understory beans, starting to size up.

The understory seems to be very popular with all manner of insects -- such as this Common Darter Dragonfly. (Nothing common about it; it's the only one I've ever seen in this garden, which is swarming with dragonflies. I had to do some Web sleuthing to find out what it's called.)

Another mystery insect I was not able to identify: these weird beetles with dramatic African-shield-like markings. Dozens of them can be found scurrying at eye level among the stalks and leaves in the morning sun.

And here's the first sighting of the hornet queen, from March 6. She too seems to favor the mid-level fava forest.

It was almost reassuring to find a common, everyday, garden-variety ladybug sunning herself on a leaf.

And a regular honeybee browsing the blossoms.

B. sometimes wonders why I grow favas at all, because we have only managed to make a meal of them once. I don't dig them under as a cover crop before they form beans, which is the most efficient use of favas as soil enrichment. I let them go full cycle with a fine full crop of fat pods but then get overwhelmed and can't follow through with the laborious processing required to extract the delicate gourmet beans. As I said, that happened once.

I guess I grow them just to watch the show. Well worth it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fools Rush In and Plant Potatoes

Usually we try to follow the handy rule of thumb: Plant your potatoes on St. Patrick's Day (March 17). It provides something to aim for and has a certain poetic appeal. I don't think I've ever hit the day exactly but we generally manage to get a few tubers under the dirt by the end of the month. My own rule of thumb is: Plant on St. Patrick's Day (i.e. in March) and have potato salad for the 4th of July.

This year there was so much rain in March that the backyard was as soggy as an Irish bog. (See Lake Chard pictured above.) I had almost decided not to bother with potatoes at all.

Then, on a rainy afternoon, I came across some seed potatoes at the new Baker Creek store -- the Seed Bank -- in downtown Petaluma. Sprawled across the splendid marble floor of what actually was a bank a few years back were some burlap bags of Red Lasoda and Small Carola from David Little's farm near Tomales. I weighed some out and brought them home.

It wasn't hard to set up a couple of containers, fill the bottoms with a layer of potting soil, and press the potatoes into the soil.

I hope there's no significance to the fact that the potatoes were planted on April Fool's Day, not St. Patrick's Day. I guess we will find out by the 4th of July.