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Bees, Beans, and Buckwheat

August 5, 2012

Summer has come on too quickly.  The main honey flow is over; in the garden the weeds are establishing their turf, and this blog has taken the back seat to summer fun and chores.  The garden bed on the street in front of the fence is putting on its summer face, presenting itself as the topic for today.

After my amaranth failure last year with a fancy commercial variety, I’ve learned my lesson and am back with Copperhead again this year in the west-side front bed.  A few wheelbarrow loads of manure have helped to get better growth along the entire bed, and the flowers are starting to look nice. I sowed the seed directly into two rows and then thinned the seedlings to establish the stand this year.  It’s a much better idea than setting out transplants.  The seeds sprout easily, quickly get established, and then you can thin all but the most vigorous.

The more established east-side bed is getting a break from amaranth this year. The mysterious black beans I found growing last year needed to go in the ground, so I planted them in the back half of the bed, and I planted the front with buckwheat.

The combination is quite handsome, befitting the street view.  The buckwheat is a new experiment for me.  I’d like to try and eat some of it, but I’m not sure what will be required to process the seeds into edible groats or flour.  The plants have an extended blooming period during which the seeds develop and hang from the bottom of the flower heads.  The bloom is great for the bees.

The blackberry honey flow is over, and without irrigated gardens and flowerbeds, our bees would be in a period of nectar dearth.  Once the vegetation starts to get crispy in our dry Oregon summers, the bees can’t find much in the way of wild flowers to keep them going.  When the honey stops, the bees get cranky and prone to rob weak colonies.  Buckwheat is good nectar source for bees this time of year.  My little patch can’t satisfy all of my bees, but every little bit helps.

Meanwhile, the beans are nicely climbing the poles along the fence.  Remember, it was my conjecture that the black beans were the result of a cross between Kentucky Wonder and a maroon and white marbled crescent soup bean called Echte Kipfler.  The point of growing out these crossed beans was to see what comes in the F2 generation.  Now that flowers and beans are starting to form, I can see traits of the parent plants segregate out.  There are all colors of flowers from bright pink to pure white.  Some plants are producing pods with purple spots, others pure green.  Some are showing a crescent shape, while others are straight.  As plant breeder, my job is to select two or three of the best individuals that have promise.   Already I have one plant picked out that is very productive and vigorous with tasty green snap beans.  As the beans develop, I’m hoping to find a couple of plants with nice black beans that show promise for a dry bean as well.  The dilemma is that too much tasting and I have no seed for the next generation!

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