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Charming of the Plow

Seven Trees:

The days are getting longer, and everything is poised to burst into spring fever. Our ancestors marked this time in a variety of farmish ways…

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

Depending on where you’re located, winter is showing its age and spring is on the horizon. This transition has always been marked by local traditions. In modern East Coast America we have Groundhog Day, Christian Europe has Candlemas, Pagan traditions celebrate Imbolc, and descendants of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons welcome the new growing season in yet another way - the charming of the plough (also known as Disting).

A team of transformed oxen driven by the Norse goddess Gefjun.

A team of transformed oxen driven by the Norse goddess Gefjun.

In Sweden at this time, a religious festival was held called the Disablot, to honor the disir – female gods, landspririts, and ancestors. Included in this observance was the governing assembly called the Thing, where laws were made and interpreted, grievances were adjudicated, contracts sealed, and so on. The combined gathering was called Disting, and marked the start of the growing season in that part of the world.

Engraving of a Disablot by J. Malmsrom, a Swedish author. Engraving of a Disablot…

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Bean counting

We finally finished shelling all the beans and peas we grew this year, and ended up with a surprisingly colorful harvest. Beans2In 2011 we planted an early-maturing, light red kidney bean from Fedco Seeds. It performed well, even in unpredictable weather, and our trial planting yielded a fair amount. KidneyBeansBut a few of the beans were different, even though all the seed stock looked identical. We saved these mutants for planting in 2012. SpottedKidneyThe 2012 kidney bean harvest continued to surprise us. Seemingly identical mutant beans got a little kaleidoscopic that summer.

Who knew all those colors lurked in such demure pink beans!

Who knew all those colors lurked in such demure pink beans!

So for 2013, we separated the beans into color categories, a bit subjectively, since we hadn’t thought to keep track of which plants produced which color beans – tan, pink, pink spotted, purple spotted and dark. This time we planted them separately and labelled each patch. And again, we were bemused by the variety of colors hiding in the bean genes. Beans1Our camera is about ready to bite the dust, so the colors are way off. But the top beans are the 2011 seed. The next level are from 2012, the spotted mutants and the normal looking pink beans. We only planted the spotted ones in 2012, so the pink ones could have also produced more mutants. Third level are the five color groups we planted in 2013, and at the bottom are what those groups produced. So for 2014 we have to decide which to plant. Should we plant some of each color? Or only plant beans that are the same color as the parent beans from 2013?

I guess that depends on what we’re trying to achieve with this experiment…. With our chicken-breeding efforts, we’re working for productive, well-conformed chickens that lay a certain color-range of eggs. Kidney beans?? Maybe see if we can get the five color groups from 2013 to breed true by selecting the same colored ‘offspring’ for 2014. And at some point we should do a taste test to see if there is anything interesting (or icky) in the flavor. Luckily we have a few months to ponder that before planting time.

We also managed a decent crop of our exceedingly rare Bishop’s Grey peas, originally brought to us by way of Bosnia. It took a little research to discover that they are actually a Swedish soup pea, eaten as a staple starch before potatoes were introduced. After a couple years growing out the few we had, 2013 yielded a nice amount. The only problem is that all the peas came from only two plants. Not enough genetic diversity for a sustainable crop. PeasEnter NordGen! From their ‘about’ page:

Nordgen works to secure genetic diversity for agriculture and forestry in the Nordic countries.

NordGen promotes in a visible, pro-active and effective way, the Nordic co-operation on sustainable conservation and use of genetic resources for agriculture, forestry and food production.

NordGen promotes a balanced interplay between environmental considerations and sustainable use of genetic resources.

NordGen emphasizes the social, cultural and historical values of genetic diversity within and among different species.

NordGen is one of the leading international services and knowledge centers for management of plant, farm animals and forest genetic resources.

NordGen is an important service and knowledge center in the public arena, providing important consultation and support to decision makers.

NordGen works through its member countries for international openness, co-operation and ethically sound use of global resources.

We were able to find two different accessions of this pea, both from Sweden, and both with a donor history going back to the 1900′s. NordGen provides seeds free of charge to growers intending to ‘breed up’ their own seed stock for sale and sharing, and with one of Seven Trees Farm’s humans being of Swedish descent, we thought it a fine idea to work with heritage vegetables from ‘the old country’. But how to get plant material from there to here? A little help from Fredrik Ottosson, seed curator at NordGen, led me to the USDA’s ‘small lots of seed‘ program. I was able to procure a permit, good for three years, which generated some special import labels that I had to mail to NordGen so they could ship the seeds to an inspection station in Seattle. From there they made it to Seven Trees, and we will see if seeds from Sweden take root as naturally as human transplants did back in the pioneer days. PermitGiven that we had jumped through plenty of hoops for the permit, we did some rummaging through other seed accessions at NordGen. Their search feature is a little hard to navigate, but knowing the home county of the Swedish part of Seven Trees, we were able to locate a dry bean variety, not just from the same location that family members came from, but with a cultivar name right out of the family tree. It could very well be that we will be planting seeds that an ancestor developed as a landrace crop.