Animal, Vegetable, Irritable

I’m a big Barbara Kingsolver fan. Just finished “Prodigal Summer” – her tall, lanky, introverted, 40-something forest ranger-heroine encounters handsome, mysterious, much younger guy in the woods; sparks fly, etc.  Rowr!  Ahem.

I really enjoyed “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” when it came out a couple of years ago. It was the perfect dead-of-winter read as she captured flawlessly the itch to grow things, the scent of thawing soil, the joys of mud, the overwhelming greenness of spring, the mess of canning tomatoes. I was only slightly annoyed at the quiet pace and perfectness of her home life;  as a normal working stiff I don’t have time to bake my own bread daily, or make fresh mozzarella every time we have pizza for dinner (darn this time-consuming, bill-paying job).

But I was totally mesmerized by the cover art – her daughter’s cupped hands filled with the most beautiful shelled beans in the world. The huge maroon and white Christmas Limas shined like leguminous jewels.  Now THAT I can do.

So, Dr. Miss Smartypants here devoted an entire row to them this spring – about twenty feet with plants spaced on one-foot centers and a 20’ x 6’ span of netting for them to scramble up. The second 20’ row was planted with red and green yard-long beans (see my previous post about how fabulous they are).   Both rows received the same amount of irrigation (a little), weeding (some), and zero additional fertilizer except the pre-plant amendment of chicken poop (of which we have a lot).  

Summer wore on, life got busier. The yard-long beans just kept coming despite drought, stinkbugs and 3’ tall lambsquarters.  I’d poke around wistfully in the Christmas Lima vines – there were a few green pods buried amongst copious foliage. I do know these kinds of beans do better in hotter, drier climates, but it’s been pretty much that kind of summer here.

The pods finally, FINALLY filled out a bit and turned dry and brown – ready to pick!! I filled most of a five-gallon bucket and sat down with a beer to shell them (OSHA requirement).  

Behold, my bounty!


Total yield: one mess of beans. Two if used as soup components. Yes, they’re listed with Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.  Yes, they are indeed beautiful and will probably be totally delicious whenever I get the nerve up to cook them.

It’s just… I’m not sure how to put this… but a family of four would BLOODY WELL STARVE if they devoted much of their garden to these lovelies. I don’t know whether to eat them, frame them, or string them onto a necklace.

p.s. still getting yard-longs by the handful…

Maybe the handful was all Barbara got, too

8 thoughts on “Animal, Vegetable, Irritable”

  1. Prodigal Summer: I loved that Kings
    olver embedded a most persuasive argument against the poisoning cycle and lots of other biology into a well-plotted novel.

    I highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to anyone interested in growing food. I too thought those beans were beautiful, but I haven’t planted any myself. I guess I should add it to my list. Thanks for the push Holly.

  2. I loved The Poisonwood Bible. I think I have read all but one short story compilation book of Kingsolvers. (And isn’t Kingsolver and awesome last name?)

    There is something compelling about her and her heirloom turkey project in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It had me rooting for those eggs to hatch until the very end. I think I read it twice.

    I too coveted those beautiful beans on the cover. Shame to they aren’t good producers.

    I vote for stringing them on a necklace!

  3. I had the same issue with scarlet runner beans. We grew them in an historic demonstration garden last year, and I saved a few to grow this year. I assume it was the heat and dry conditions here in the Mid-Atlantic, but the yield from all the pole beans, including the scarlet runner, Kentucky Wonder, and Goose Bean was negligible. I’m going to give them another try, since their ornamental value is high, and they look purty in an old glass canning jar on the pantry shelf, along with the german red limas. Picture at the link with my name.

  4. Thank y’all for the comments. Ray, I’m so glad it’s not just me. I’m not familiar with Goose Bean tho (not sure I want to be).

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