By August 12, 2015 Journal No Comments


I usually get a couple pounds of Mother Stallard and Rattlesnake Pole and it looks like Trail of Tears will be joining that. Now that Ojo de Cabra is out (waste of space) and I’ve given up on Scarlet Runners for the time being (takes too long to make refried beans.) I’ve got space for one, maybe two more pole varieties, so I went to and splurged (and the nice thing about a seed splurge is that extraordinary decadence still usually costs under twenty bucks.)

It has not escaped my notice that what’s flourishing are things that take a lot of heat. Rattlesnake Pole is a Southern standard (and it’s covered in pods, they just haven’t come ripe in great numbers yet.) but some of the others are more traditionally Southwestern and Mexican varieties. So now I just need to narrow it down between what can take the heat AND the humidity.

The weird thing is that there’s a couple traditional Southern varieties that drop dead when I plant them. I have the best luck with Wando peas, for example, but that’s the only ostensibly southern pea that does anything for me, and even that has been failing the last few years because spring has been so short and got hot so fast. I’ve had crap luck with tomatoes the last two years and I think I’m going back to German Johnson and Romas–the Brandywines are now reliably catching fire, falling over, and sinking into the dark tarn. (I was hopeful for a type called “Arkansas Traveler” that was supposed to take heat, but it croaked, although it held out longer than the Brandywines, and may get a repeat trial.)

And I wonder, too, why beans like Trail of Tears (which is an endangered heirloom, for crying out loud, and actually on the Ark of Taste list of “plant this, please, before they vanish”) aren’t being grown everywhere around here, when they do so spectacularly. I mean, this thing puts out black beans like it was going out of style. Meanwhile, I try to grow other beans that are traditional in the Carolinas, like the Mayflower, and find it mediocre at best, and eventually gave up on it after a year or two.

I guess what I am fumbling toward is that I thought that everybody would have had it all figured out by now, what grows well where, and traditional Southern heirloom varieties would of course be better here than ones from, say, Mexico. But I’m having a lot more luck with the Southwestern stuff than I am with some of those Southern staples. And…errr…I mean, I know all gardens are individual and all, but if all these Southwestern crops are doing so much better in my garden, why aren’t we all growing tomatillos and Hidatsa Reds already?

Seeds get everywhere! It’s been hundreds of years! So…how come they didn’t get here?

The most likely explanation, of course, is that I am a bad gardener, because this is totally true. But I also wonder, particularly where I have totally grown a thing before and it worked fine–like the peas–and now it works one year in three, whether or not some of the old Southern heirlooms aren’t working as well. Climate change? It’s possible–I’m a zone and a half or more warmer than this plot of land was fifty years ago. But it could also been that open-pollinated varieties change over time and maybe I’m getting seed that isn’t what it used to be, and when I’m saving seed, I may be doing it poorly and weirdly. Or maybe those Southwestern crops are just damn fine and underappreciated and need more publicity–or maybe “Ursula wanders around aimlessly and remembers to turn the hose on occasionally” mimics the desert conditions a little better than a gardener who, y’know, knew what they were doing, and maybe the weather is just impossibly weird lately (this is certainly true–last year everything flooded, as I recall, and people’s gardens were literally washed away) and these crops are more flexible in adversity. I don’t know.

Anyway. We will see what performs next year. I am turning all squash production over to South African Gem Squash so that I can get saveable seed, because that is just an astonishingly fine little squash and I am so hopeful for it. And we will see what the future holds for beans.