2016 Heritage Seed Library choices

The UN has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses (IYP), celebrating their role in feeding people across the globe. Pulses are also known as grain legumes – gardeners may refer to them as legumes (e.g. for crop rotation purposes) or just as beans and peas. Pulses are the dry seeds of leguminous plants, so fresh peas and beans don’t really count, but all of the species fix nitrogen from the air, and so can be used as green manures as well as being eaten. In honour of IYP 2016 I added two leguminous species to my Heritage Seed Library order – a mangetout pea and a French bean that was bred to be harvested as dry beans for storage. I covered beans, common and unusual, in my November 2014 Glutbusters update, and pulses would probably play an important role in a resilient UK garden. They certainly played an important role in Iron Age cooking.

According to the Wandering Botanist, “it was because they could be dried and stored that peas were one of the very first plants domesticated in the Middle East.” Read more of the history of peas at Plant Story–Peas, Pisum sativum.

And it’s a bit late now, but apparently legumes bring good luck at new year, being “symbolic of money, and thus considered a harbinger of prosperity.” I suspect we could all use a little bit more of that, so perhaps planting a garden of pulses this year isn’t such a bad idea after all!

The Sarah Raven January sale is offering up to 60% off all kinds of goodies, from garden sundries and kitchenware to bulbs and seeds. Of course, if you’ve got your finger on the pulses now, they also sell beans 😉

Moving away from beans to some of the other plant stories that have featured on the internet recently, we find the toothbrush that grows on trees. Apparently the miswak is at least as good at maintaining oral hygiene as a regular toothbrush, and if you grow Salvadora persica, you can cut your own (and also eat the leaves). It’s a member of the brassica family, with quite a wide distribution across parts of the world that are warmer than here.

The Simple Things advocated making homemade tea bags as Christmas gifts, but they’re also the perfect way to while away long winter evenings, bagging up your dried herbs into your own personal herbal tea blend. Or you could get them ready for the onslaught of fresh herbs that is now only months (weeks??) away!

Speaking of warmer days, Modern Farmer have a recipe for Parsley Granita that’s worth filing away for when the sun comes out. I have already sown some parsley seeds in anticipation….

Flat-leaved parsley

Now for two posts with a porcine connection. Modern Farmer are one of a number of outlets reporting on a study that says feeding food waste to pigs could solve a lot of environmental problems. We used to do that, of course, but then Foot and Mouth disease got in the way and some heavy duty restrictions were put in place. Perhaps it’s time to lift them?

But the unconventional apple farmer has a different plan, dreaming of hybrid oaks that grow as columnar trees – tall, but not spreading – and produce an abundance of acorns on which pigs could forage. If I was a pig I know which I would choose… but I also know which option most pigs would be given! I love that pigs are still sent out for pannage in the New Forest every year, making use of acorns that would otherwise poison the famous ponies.

And 500 tasty sandwiches are adding to our library of information on unusual plants that we may or may not be able to grow, by telling us all about white turmeric and juniper berries. In Scotland the juniper berry is in a critical state and needs our help – gin may be in peril!. I keep meaning to add a couple of juniper plants to the garden. TCV have instructions on how to grow juniper and Habitat Aid are one possible supplier of juniper plants during their winter dormant period from November to March.

According to Habitat Aid, you should “Think twice about junipers if you or your neighbours grow pears. Juniper-Pear Rust is becoming a common fungus that switches between pears and junipers in alternate years. When it attacks pear leaves, they drop early and the yield of pears is reduced. In some pear-growing areas of the USA the planting of junipers is illegal.”

I haven’t seen any pear trees around here, though, so I should be safe. Most of my neighbours aren’t gardeners, and the local farmer mixes livestock and arable. Do you have juniper plants in your garden?

Oh, and did I mention that Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is now available from the Kindle store, as well as in its sexy pink paperback format? It’s a stonking read, just the thing if you’re thinking of growing something different this season, or just enjoy the kind of armchair gardening where you read about other people doing that 🙂

If finances are a little tight after Christmas, considering signing up for YouGov. Their surveys are regular and reputable, used by news outlets such as the BBC. 9I have been a member for years, they’re the only survey company I’ve stuck with.) It won’t make you rich, but you’ll be able to earn some seed money!