Saturday, March 23, 2019

Visit of a Plant-starved Gardener to Logee's

It's been a tough winter for the plants, with little snow cover and a constant cycle of rain and hard freezes.  Small bulbs and plants were heaved out of the ground and had to be reburied.  On a positive note, my Giant Snowdrops were up and blooming early in January.

Galanthus elwesii, aka Giant Snowdrop
February continued with lots of cold but not much snow.  March rallied with a couple good snowstorms before winter finally started to loosen its grip.  Last week it actually (dare I say it?) started feeling a bit like spring.  (I remain a cynic, though, as it has been known to snow in April.)

common snowdrops in the garden
So how do we northern gardeners survive during the long winter?  Let's see... we spend the first couple of months giving our neglected and abused houseplants some much needed love.  After we put all of our houseplants into shock, we obsessively peruse seed catalogs.  We then try to convince ourselves that this year we really are going to plant all those seeds we order...

another winter project - propagation of Christmas cactus
At some point, however, it is time for a desperate gardener to visit a nursery to get a plant fix!  We are lucky to have a couple nurseries with greenhouses in the surrounding area, but last month we took a day trip to visit the real jackpot - Logee's Greenhouses.


Mr. Red House took me to Logee's as a late Valentine's Day excursion.  He really knows the way to a gardener's heart!  Logee's has not just one but SIX greenhouses filled to the brim with botanical treasures.

Clockwise from top left:  narrow aisles run through the packed greenhouses, unlabelled camellia, rows of Euphorbia obesa and Euphorbia suzannae for sale, Callandra surinamiensis aka Powder Puff plant
Logee's is a mail order and retail shop in Danielson, Connecticut, that specializes in container-grown tropical plants, and it has an interesting history.  It was started in 1892 by William Logee.  One of its most famous plants is the Ponderosa Lemon Tree that was brought to Logees from Philadelphia in 1900 via train then horse and buggy.  It was planted in the ground in Logee's original greenhouse and is still there, alive and thriving, and thousands of cuttings have been taken from it for new plants.  It is also called the American Wonder Lemon, as its lemons can get as large as 5 pounds.

lemon from the Ponderosa Lemon Tree
William Logee's children became involved in running the nursery.  His son Ernest hybridized begonias for the nursery and was one of the founders of the American Begonia Society.  Sadly he passed away at a young age from a fall out of a tree while pruning.

Top: Calathea lancifolia 'Rattlesnake'  Center: Pavonia multiflora, unlabeled Hibiscus flower, Rhaphidophora cryptantha (aka Shingle Plant)  Bottom: Acalypha hispida (aka Chenille Plant), Begonia maculata variegata
William Logee's daughter Joy met her husband at Ernest's funeral, as he was a fellow horticulturalist and Begonia Society member.  They became owners of the nursery after William's death in 1952.  Joy focused on scented geraniums and herbs, while also continuing her brother's legacy of growing begonias.


Joy and her husband had two sons.  One, Geoffrey, became a physicist and professor.  His first wife was now well-known garden author Tovah Martin.  Their other son Byron stayed with Logee's, and he and his first wife now run the still family-owned and operated greenhouses.

profusion of blooms from an enormous Australian Sarsparilla vine
The nursery was a delightful place to visit after some long winter months.


So is it possible for a plant-starved gardener to visit such a greenhouse and not come home with a plant or two (...or seven or eight)?

my new Begonia 'Sophie Cecile'
I think not.
Happy gardening!


Sunday, February 17, 2019

For the Love of Beans

Every year I like to grow new types of vegetables in my garden.  While it's fun to try out new varieties, I get very excited when a variety tastes so good that it makes the prized list of 'Veggies I Will Grow Every Year'.  Already on the list were Purple Podded Pole Beans, Hakurei Turnips, Ground Cherries, Black Krim Tomatoes, and salad green Claytonia.  This winter, after finally shelling the bean pods I harvested in fall, I am pleased to announce a new addition: Good Mother Stallard Beans.

Good Mother Stallard Bean pod
The maroon and white beans are beautiful, but they taste even better.  They are a nice meaty bean, and they make an amazing bean broth that adds incredible flavor to soup.  


I started these heirloom pole beans rather late in the season, planting them after I harvested my garlic, and I only planted a couple rows.  Despite this, I ended up with a decent amount of beans, almost a quart.  From now on they will be getting more time and real estate in the garden!


This summer I also planted Jacob's Cattle Bean, an heirloom bush bean that is thought to have been grown by the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine.  Legend has it that they gifted this bean to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.  Sadly my crop was a failure.  I also planted these beans later in the season, and I think they were shaded too much by neighboring plants.  I ended up with only a few dry beans before frost hit.  These beans were also very tasty, though I preferred the creamier texture and shape of the Good Mother Stallards.

Jacob's Cattle Beans
It is very likely that we owe the preservation and distribution of both of these heirloom beans to bean collector John Withee.  Born in Maine in 1910, John Earl Withee, Jr. was one of six children, and beans were a staple for the family, as times were tough.  Every Friday afternoon John would be in charge of cleaning out and starting a fire in the bean hole, a hole in the ground lined with bricks that worked as an oven.  A Dutch oven full of beans - often Jacob's Cattle Beans - would be lowered onto the hot coals and then covered with dirt.  The beans would bake for an entire day, ready for Saturday night's supper. 

cooked Jacob's Cattle Beans
After marrying and working as a medical photographer in New Hampshire, John Withee eventually took a job as the head of the Photographic Laboratory at what is now Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in 1960.  He and his wife finally bought land of their own, settling in Lynnfield, Massachusetts.  John built a garden and wanted to build a bean hole to revive the fondly-remembered tradition of his childhood.  However, when he went looking for Jacob's Cattle Beans or any of the other varieties he remembered, he couldn't find them.

Jacob's Cattle Bean flower
He began writing to friends and family looking for the beans he grew up with.  He found those and more.  After hearing stories of nearly losing some of these unique bean varieties, he realized that collecting them could be an important project.  He started visiting food stores throughout New England and putting notices in publications, looking for different beans.  By 1975, John had collected over 200 varieties of beans.  After retirement, he founded a non-profit named Wanigan Associates, made up of members that could grow and share these varieties and keep them alive.  By 1981, he had collected 1,186 varieties of heirloom beans.


As John got older, he started looking for someone to look after this living collection of seeds.  He found a promising seed saving group named Seed Savers Exchange, founded by Kent and Diane Whealy in 1975.  He asked them to take over his organization and bean collection.  Due to this, Seed Savers started growing as a central repository to preserve heirloom seeds, eventually becoming the largest seed bank in the United States outside of the government.


Good Mother Stallard was one of the 1,186 bean varieties that John Withee donated to Seed Savers, given to him by Carrie Belle Stallard in Virginia.  I am very glad that this tasty heirloom was not lost to us.  John Withee passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on.

available on Amazon
Happy gardening,
and happy cooking!


Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Hill of Very Long Beans

My new gazebo garden gave me more fenced-in space this summer, so I just had to try growing a few new veggies, one of which was the Chinese Red Noodle Bean.

Chinese Red Noodle Bean (banana for scale)
This impressively-sized bean is also commonly known as the Yard Long Bean, Chinese Long Bean, Snake Bean, Asparagus Bean, and Pea Bean.  The botanical name is Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, and this legume is not actually a bean at all.  It is a variety of cowpea and in the same family as black-eyed peas.


The heat-loving vines did wonderfully in my sunny front yard.  I planted the seeds in June, and two months later they started producing beautiful, fragrant flowers followed quickly by the beans.


The vines are vigorous and indeterminate (which means they keep growing and growing), ending up around 9 to 12 feet tall by the end of summer.  Once they started producing, they didn't stop.  I think I planted 8 seeds, and I ended up with crazy amounts of beans.  I gave away piles of beans, as there were far more than we could eat along with the other veggies from our garden.

one harvest of Chinese Noodle Beans
The beans were definitely better picked before they got too long and overly mature, before about a foot and a half.  I enjoyed the mild flavor.  Many think they taste more like asparagus, which is probably why a nickname is Asparagus Bean.  This is a great bean for a stir-fry.  It is highly nutritious, a good source of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folates, and other nutrients.


So were these plants incredibly productive?  Yes
Were the beans delicious? Yes
Would I grow these again?  NO, because of...


THE ANTS.

Yard Long Beans have extrafloral nectaries right below the flowers.  These nectaries secrete a sweet, carbohydrate-rich food that attracts ants.  In return, the ants protect the plant from predators that want to eat it.  Like me. 

several ants on this one
I don't know if it was just my ants or what, but they were very good at their job.  Every time I tried to pick a bean, the ants went crazy, racing up and down the bean.  Imagine me, a vertically challenged woman who has to harvest these beans while standing on a step stool, trying to pick beans in this jungle of vines while constantly swatting ants off of me.  I only got bit once, but still. 

my hard-fought pile of beans
Online others have said that they would just shake the bean and the ants would run away or fall off, but that didn't work with mine.  I must have the extra-special guard ants.  It is too bad, as these were great, productive beans.  If anyone has a solution to fight off the ants, let me know.


Until then I will be sticking to my more regular pole beans.

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