When the bottom fell out of the global economy at the end of 2008, my contract work in the non-profit world dried up. I was impelled to be a lot more careful about how I was spending my money. I began eating at home more, making soups and stews, baking muffins, joined a community garden and even did some pickling. I had jars of lentils, rice and pasta collecting dust in my cupboards. I realized I could probably live for a year on what I had on my shelves; I vowed to use up what I had. I’d slipped into a habit of buying canned goods too, so I decided it was time to use up all the dried beans I’d been saving. There is something quite grounding about soaking beans. All those pretty colours stir up vivid memories for me of my time at the compost garden.
Most of the beans we grew at the garden came from Dan Jason at Salt Spring Seeds. We used to keep bowls of the colourful beans in the greenhouse office, so we could run our fingers through them. Montezuma red, black coco, pinto, purple fava. My favourite was orca, an heirloom variety reminiscent of the black and white killer whales native to our coastal waters. I still have a jar full of those multi-coloured beans in my cupboard, I can’t bear to cook them.
It was likely the late Wes Barrett, head gardener and my dear friend, who first told me about Dan Jason, maybe showed me the seed catalogue one quiet, wintry afternoon as we sat in the greenhouse. One summer, our whole garden gang got on a ferry and sailed across the Georgia Strait to tour Dan’s farm on Salt Spring Island, one of several in the Gulf Island cluster. Dan showed us how to save tomato seeds by allowing ripe tomatoes to ferment in a bucket for a few days. The fermentation breaks down the gel that covers the tomato seed. You just mush and squeeze them, add some water, then after a few days the pulp rises to the surface and the seeds stay on the bottom. He gives detailed instructions in his book, Saving Seeds As If Our Lives Depended On It, (Salt Spring Seeds, 2006.)
Wes and I spent many an afternoon harvesting seeds, too. For amaranth, a staple grain in many Central and South American countries, Wes would first cut off the burgundy tassels from the stalk, then shake or rub the flower heads over a large screen. We’d sit on the steps and blow off the soft pink hulls to expose the black seeds. We would use some of the grain for cereal and save some for next year’s planting.
Soaking beans and reading seed catalogues, seems like a very appropriate way to start off the new year. May the seeds you sow this year be fruitful!