Thursday, March 10, 2011

Looking Back to Move Forward

As I'm sure you've figured out by now: I love heirloom fruits, herbs, and vegetables. I refuse to grow hybrids or "moderns." If it's open-pollinated, and has been around for at least a few decades, you have my attention! Lately, and with some help from my hero Mr. Weaver, I've been researching old books that describe heirloom varieties. At first I thought that I would never be able to afford these books, as most are from the 18th & 19th century. Thankfully, many are available as reprints on websites such as Amazon for a reasonable price! With our recent tax refund came some designated "mad money" (about the only time we get any!), and I spent mine by purchasing three volumes (two originals, and a reprint):

"Beans of New York" by U.P. Hedrick
(the bean bible with "so many flaws" as Mr. Weaver puts it...)

"The Vegetable Garden" by Vilmorin

"The Field and Garden Vegetables of America" by Fearing Burr
(one of the celebrated and often-quoted texts on heirloom vegetables of the 1800's)

I managed to luck out on two of the books: I found an original copy of Fearing Burr's volume for the incredibly low price of $55 on, and thanks to Cornell University's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, I managed to purchase an original, uncirculated copy of the 1931 "Beans of New York." That's just pretty darn awesome.

There are many, MANY, other old volumes that I would love to own, but in the mean time, many are available as free PDF files off of Google Books and other websites. So I was able to download some of them for reading on my computer. That will tide me over for now! *grin*

While reading through my three purchased texts, I went a little crazy with the remaining portion of "mad money." In short, I made a great deal of purchases through my SSE Member Yearbook. This time, I focused on heirloom pole beans (which are easier to grow, in my opinion, than bush beans since they take up vertical fence space as opposed to horizontal ground space!). Though beans are self-pollinating, insects will and do force themselves into the flowers and cross-pollinate. The trick to avoiding this (at least as much as possible), is to plant plenty of flowers/flowering plants around your beans, to entice the bugs elsewhere. You'll almost always get SOME cross-pollination, but by using this method, you'll reduce the amount. The other tip is to not plant two beans of the same coloring near each other, because it will be impossible to tell if they have cross-pollinated!

The heirloom (and in some cases VERY rare) pole bean varieties I purchased for this year's garden include the following:

Amish Knuttle (or "Gnuddlebuhne," which translates as "bean that looks like a dropping" - no one can claim that (Amish) farmers don't have a sense of humor!)
Coco Sophie
Indian Hannah
Mostoller Wild Goose

I'm very excited for my summer garden! So many new-to-me heirloom varieties! Sometimes I love ordering varieties that I know nothing about, so that I can be absolutely surprised to see what they grow into!

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