Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shelling Beans

September has settled in. There's a sheen of heat on the cool air. The whir and whine of the insects has become dull. I have to think to notice it. It's like a greasy feeling on my fingers, only it's in my ears.
I recognized these things as I sat on the porch with Normandy shucking our shell beans. We grew two heirloom varieties this year, Kenearly Yellow and Jacob's cattle. We ordered the yellow ones from Johnies' Seed Company, and the other we bought to eat, but saved a few for a trial planting.
The timing was touchy. The plants had yellowed and most of the pods had ripened and begun to dry. They could have dried completely on the plants if the weather had been more gracious, but instead we got ten inches of rain within two weeks. Many of the plants had been pushed over. Some of the pods on the ground became so wet they started sprouting. Between the two storms we resolved to pull all the plants and dry them on the porch. They lay stacked about two feet high in three foot rows. We had each done a bit of shelling individually (Normandy had done far more than the rest of us), but the effort tended to feel endless when we worked alone. So the five of us (including our carpenter house-mate and hero Joram) split open the pods together in one final push.

The happy surprise was that some of the Kenearly Yellow plants had undergone a mutation that rendered their beans almost entirely golden, the color of popcorn. We separated those out and intend to plant them all next year to see if we could have a unanimously ochre crop.

The Jacob's Cattle beans are luminous.

We spread the harvest on our desk in the living room with a fan to dry them thoroughly before they're stored.

As far as the energy balance goes, I am not sure we are in the black with beans. It takes hours to separate and sort the good from the bad. Even though the desk is covered, it will be a caloric drop in the bucket for our year's consumption. But the effort is cloaked in good feelings. Our venture here on the farm is distinctly communal, but it is never more apparent than when we sit working to obtain the food we will enjoy together. There is also great satisfaction in taking a crop from seed through harvest. This quality is a color that lingers and pauses my mind. The quantity won't do the same. Today, the former matters more. Tomorrow? We'll see. Maybe we'll get better, and faster, and maybe next year, the weather will cooperate.


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