Fava, my favourites!

The broad beans are coming! And I mean it! Last year was the first time we planted broad beans or Vicia faba, to give them their proper scientific name. Even though this was also the first time that the family would eat them, these beans have been important to human beings for centuries, since 6000 B.C.,  in fact. I planted a whole row of the huge brown seeds in July, thinking of flowers and nitrogen enrichment in the days ahead, rather than actual seeds for eating. Now July is also the coldest part of winter here, when pretty much everything else in the garden waits in a state of suspended animation. Not so these beans! They came up in the space of four days, big green cotyledons unfurling coquettishly, rather like eyelashes on a Martian cow. Every single seed sprouted by the end of the week. One that had fallen down and disappeared among the bricks in fact sprouted about two weeks later, once the soil there had received some watering. To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

ImageBroad beans in flower:


The plants began to grow and grow some more. I firmly believe that these must have been from the same stock as Jack’s proverbial Beanstalk, from the height they reached in a month. The leaves have a way of coiling around the stem as they emerge and so the tips always look as if they have somewhere else to be and are just dropping in on the way to a better party. We tasted the leaves and found them just like peas. They will do wonderfully in cooked dishes as a pea substitute although we did not cook any last year. We did use plenty in salads though.

By now the plants were two months old and about as tall as me. Still no flowers though, which had us starting to get a bit worried. One does plant food plants for food and having a few leaves for salad seemed to me to be a waste of the space we had allotted the beans. Aha, the space! The broadies were also each a foot in diameter and leaning against each other heavily by now. We placed a long stick in front of them to hold them off the path in front of the terrace bed where we had planted them.

Suddenly, almost overnight, there were little dark buds at the axils of the the leaves all around the stem. As we watched they grew into sinister looking flowers, very like the garden peas and sweet pea blooms, but much more robust. They are black and white in colour. I read up all I could on their pollination and found that the suggestions ranged from doing nothing to spraying the plants with sugar solution for ‘beans like hands of bananas’! We went with nothing. As you will see, we had excellent yields. In fact we still have a kilo of beans in the freezer.

ImageThe first pods!


Soon there were baby beans all growing happily on each plant. The plants are not affected by cold or by insect attacks. We found the occasional snail on the back of leaves but never any signs of obvious snail damage.

We snacked on the thinnest baby beans but were also mentally preparing to go through the process of making the fully formed beans fit for eating. It is a long process and may be a deterrent to many people. The beans must be shelled and the pods are completely inedible. Even the rabbits will not eat them and can in fact fall violently ill if they do. The bean has a pale green cover which then needs to be removed before you can actually use the bean as food. This was done by blanching them in boiling water. The skins split and are much easier to remove once the blanching is done. Each skin is removed to reveal bright green bean halves. Now you may eat your fava beans. With Chianti and liver, if you are inclined that way. We found them a great addition to soups and stirfries, even vegetable curries. We did leave one stand of plants so that we would have seed for this year. I will plant them in July as I did in 2013, but I am also noticing that there are baby broad bean plants coming up in the garden after the recent autumn rains we have had. I am going to transplant the ones that are too far from where they should be. It promises to be another great year with the broadies!

ImageUnshelled beans: two kilos will give you the amount in the next photograph.



Image750 gms of beans from the pods in the previous photograph.



The Chinese, Malaysians, Colombians, Peruvians (habas saladas), Guatemalans (habas), Mexicans (habas con chile), Gilans (North of Iran) and Thais eat the beans salted and fried,

The Italians love it pureed, the Manipuris eat it as Eromba and the Dutch don’t just eat it with butter; they also use the insides of the pods as folk cures for warts!


In all, a great winter plant that pays for its stay with the nitrogen it fixes, via rhizobium bacteria in its root nodules. A story for another day!




Passionate…………about fruit!

The things we do I thought, when I heard that someone had said to my daughter we must pollinate our passion fruit ourselves! I mean, I know my quota of devices used by humans to bring about a situation helpful to passion and perhaps, if one is lucky, even pollination! But to do the same to a plant? It all seems so wrong! But then I was brought to my senses by said child as we stood outside wondering whether we would have to get a room for the flagging plant and play music to make the flowers do what should come naturally to them. I mean they even have the word passion in the name! And are used in a number of exotic cocktails, the kind that come with paper umbrellas, and tropical desserts of the kind people eat on their honeymoons! 

 ImagePassion flower: They get their name from the passion of Christ. The tendrils are the whips, the three stigmas are the three nails, the frill of radial filaments represent the crown of thorns and so on.



To my great relief, I was assured there are no fruit motel chains yet and best of all, there was no kink involved. All I would have to do was stand very close to the flowers, early in the morning, before the wind was up and tickle the anthers on each flower with a brush. Hang on! That is not my idea of no kink! 


But wait, there is more…Having tickled the anthers which are the male bits on the flower, I must then proceed to annoy the pistils or the female bits by brushing them too. This transfers the pollen to the pistils and some time in the coming weeks there should be a nice green baby fruit growing from each of the flowers. Now, I don’t know about you, but having to use a brush after a man or anyone else has used it? Not my idea of fun at all! Being subjected to the same by someone else holding the brush! I would rather shave all my hair off before I let that happen. But if that is what the passion fruit needs, who am I to stand in the way of long term happiness? Or the promise of large quantities of fruit in December, January and February. So I went outside, soft sable brush in one hand, Barry White playing on the phone in the other and I did it. It was mildly amusing and naughty as the flowers despite all their alien boldness in looks have shy parts when it comes to fruit making. But I persevered. I was worse than a thirty eight year old woman with a harried mother at a speed date dinner! I brushed and I batted my eyelashes, I spoke in low tones of how good it would be – when I eventually made passion fruit icing, and even said something about Vatsayan(author of the Kamasutra) as I promised to create a special vodka cocktail.

 ImageResult! Baby fruits!


I am now indoors fanning myself. If you should wish to grow passion fruit and want to see what I was up to, you will have to click on the link below. It is an instruction video and you do not have to be 18 to click on the link! The guy looks very vaguely like that actor who played Jack Sparrow..but you probably don’t need that kind of inducement any way.



Wildlife in the garden…mostly insects!

The garden should not be a space to simply grow flowers for the house or food for the table. Our garden is also a haven for many different kinds of wild things of the many legged and many winged(in some cases) variety.

Anyone can do some simple things to encourage these visitors to our gardens and I am sure you will find that the number of harmful pests is reduced thanks to the house guests you are hosting.

a)I have made nests for ladybirds and bees by tying a bundle of hollow Queen Anne’s Lace stems together and placing in the  corner of the log edging of beds.

b) Allowing some sticks and stones to lie about under plants allows insects such as slaters and slug eating centipedes to hide from the fierce heat and rain. These in turn help in breaking down old leaves and add to the fertility of the soil.

c) Plant roses, fruiting vines such as passion fruit and other climbers against walls or fences. As well as scenting the garden and providing fruit these make ideal nesting habitats.

d) Put up bird feeders. Everyone wins – you enjoy birds and the birds get a good feed.

e) Get rid of as many chemicals as you can. Even if used in small amounts, their manufacture and disposal cause problems

f) Put off the autumn cutting back of perennials until early spring. Wildlife will love the seed heads and hiding places, and you will benefit from their beauty. Don’t worry about ”perfection”. The most beautiful gardens aren’t sterile or manicured – they are dynamic, alive and just like a landscape in nature.


One of the native bees makes a visit late in February to the sunflowers that came up when we emptied the bird’s food tray onto a garden bed by mistake!

wolf spider

A wolf spider has made its home in an empty pot which is filled with soil in expectation of vegetables. It is a nocturnal hunter with a painful bite but seems willing to let my phone and my hand get to within four inches of it.

crab spider

A little crab spider trying hard to look exactly like the seed heads on the blue cornflowers! It is in the middle of the photo.

Christmas beetle

The first really hot day took a toll on all the insects in the garden. We found 8 of these shiny beetles dead in various parts of the beds.

tussock moth

A caterpillar of the White Tussock Moth sitting on a geranium leaf.

Seed saving is the way to a sustainable future


Test plots for some of the rice varieties

Debal Deb, a scientist, ecologist and farmer who is building a seed bank in India’s Odisha state, has helped to preserve 920 varieties of indigenous rice using traditional methods. Committed to working with local communities, he hopes to help make farmers independent of large corporations and GM crops, and help secure their access to local seed varieties.

Read more about the work at the link below: