We missed harvesting the last green beans and runner beans this year, because we had a holiday planned. By the time we got home, they had gone past eating. Still, no point letting them go to waste, so we left the beans on the plant to develop and dry. That was the intention, at least: as the weather became wetter, it didn’t look like there was much chance of them drying successfully on the plant, so we picked them and popped them into a tub in the fridge – unsealed, but covered with kitchen roll. I gathered it would be a good drying-out spot for beans: cold, dark, and naturally drying. Now, a few weeks later, they are dry, hard, and ready to be popped into a storage tin. And they are beautiful: creamy-white green beans and rich, midnight blue and pink runner beans.
It is, really, the whole point of sustainable gardening. We are never going to be self-sufficient, with our little city plot, but equally we don’t want to be restocking our containers with freshly-grown garden centre seedlings each spring when we can raise our own instead. I don’t expect all of these seeds to be viable, but we don’t need many to be viable: this pot could fill our entire garden with beans if we wanted. This isn’t sophisticated breeding: the runner beans are from some spare plants a friend gave us, and the green beans are from some free seeds the BBC was giving out the other year, part of their Dig In project. Being beans, they might not even breed true, but hopefully next year’s bean supply is now in place.
In the news the other day: the ongoing drought is, well, ongoing; it will take an awful lot of rain just to get our aquifiers back to where they normally are by the end of winter.
Over in Bristol things aren’t as bad as they are further east: we have more rainfall over here than the rest of the country, or at least it always feels that way. Still, it makes me feel guilty about container gardening. It does need more water: containers are always drying out, and don’t catch as much rain as you might expect, especially in a sheltered garden with walls and fences on all sides. Our back bed, when we get it into use, will assuredly be always slightly too damp: it already tends to have a green scum quickly appearing on the surface of the soil, as if it were still in the Proterozoic eon.
What we should be doing, of course, is getting a butt set up. Indeed, if you scroll down or look back at the layout of our garden, you’ll see that we have a couple of potential butt-sites mapped out. One, by the door, would take up quite a bit of our main container-planting space. The other, in a corner between the shed and the house, would be a useful way to occupy an awkward spot; but the problem is getting the water to it. The former site is right by the downpipe, but the more useful site is a long way from the water supply. A pipe would have to be run across the back of the house – right across where the kitchen window is. The gutters are too low, really, to run a pipe across the top of the window, and a pipe underneath it would mean a rather short water butt.
The whole thing is a bit of a tricky problem. I know, conscientiously, we should be saving at least a portion of our rainwater, but finding the place to save it in is going to be a problem. Maybe we’re going to have to think of another way to do it, and work out a more radical answer.
Today, we cut down the remaining wizened bean plants, having made sure we had saved all the potentially viable beans for sowing next spring. With the beans and their canes missing, the garden has lost all its height, and looks very empty all of a sudden. Very bare, compared to June or July.
However, the cycle goes around. In the post, the other day, a garlic bulb arrived.
Carefully peeling off the papery skin revealed a tight-packed spiral of fat cloves
This is a softneck variety, Solent Wight, chosen because it’s meant to be a particularly easy variety to grow in southern England, as you might expect from the name. The cloves were planted up in a couple of our largest containers, moved to the sunniest side of the garden along the wall of the house; in spring a thin sprinkling of annual flower seeds might go in between the garlic stems if there looks to be enough space for them. In 8 or 9 months, if all goes well, this bulb will have turned into ten or more ready for drying and eating.
As I think I mentioned a while ago, shortly after we moved into Symbolic Towers we noticed a vinelike plant spreading itself rapidly over the garden trellis. None there at all when we moved in, but within a couple of months the trellis was covered. Bindweed. It seems to be endemic in this part of Bristol: you can’t go anywhere this time of year without seeing its foliage and its white trumpets clogging up fences and doing their best to strangle other plants, particularly in semi-wild areas like the edges of railway lines. We’ve spent a lot of time tracing every stalk, and digging up every little bit of bindweek rhizome we could find; carefully, like archaeologists, to make sure we didn’t break the rhizomes up or leave fragments behind. It has mostly worked: a few stems have come back, but only a few, none of them very strong. On those, we tried a method we heard on Gardeners’ Question Time: singing and blackening the leaves. It worked, too, sort of, although (of course) not as effectively as physical removal.
I was aware, of course, that things could have been far, far worse. Moreover, I was reminded by a news story K came across, about Japanese knotweed. It reminded me of the advice I read in (I think) an Alys Fowler book: if you have knotweed, move house. There are knotweed-infested places in Bristol – Arno’s Vale cemetary, for one, and some parts of the riverbank in St Philips – and, if we visit any, we are always extremely careful not to go near the stuff. Over-careful, maybe, but it’s not something we could exactly risk.