Borlotti beans


Beauty uncontained

Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? I’m not sure I want to eat them: I could just sit and stare at them for hours on end, marvelling at their cream-and-maroon speckled loveliness. Hard to believe something so perfect could come from my allotment.

They are of course borlotti beans. I’ve grown them this year for the first time and I’ve been harvesting them for a month or so now. And with that statement comes a little confession: I’ve never eaten borlotti beans, no idea whether or not I like the taste, don’t have any particular recipes I’m dying to try them in. And you know what, I’m not sure I’m even bothered about eating them.

You see, I only grew them because I think they look really pretty. There. I’ve said it. As a regular reader of this blog you may have fallen for the misconception that I am an uber-professional gardener, channeling nature’s power to produce previously unseen quantities of hihg class fruit and vegetable for domestic consumption.

But no. I am in fact a shabbily amateurish and staggeringly shallow incompetent. Not only that, but I grow perfectly edible vegetables simply because I like to sit and look at them.

Still, at least if you’re going to do it you may as well do it in style. And you don’t get more stylish than the borlotti. These glamorous Italians just ooze class, from the gently dappled pods that house the beans in their pearl-coloured beds to the beans themselves, little orbs of richly hued beauty. Sitting in their storage jar on my shelf they look more like a jar of sweets in a Victorian shop that a tub of dried vegetables.

And it gets better than that. Another big attraction of the borlotti is the ease of growing: once they’re up and running you don’t have to worry about picking them at just the right time. As long as you’re happy to store them for use as dried beans and not eat them fresh you can just leave them on the plant while it fades and dies. This has the happy side effect of effectively drying the beans for you. A couple of days somewhere dry indoors and the crisp papery pods are ready to be relieved of their bounty for storage.

But enough of the growing tips. If you’ll excuse me there’s a  jar in my kitchen that needs someone to sit and stare adoringly at it.

On the ipod while in a state of bliss: Babybird / You’re gorgeous. Oh you are, you lovely little beans, you are

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It's lonely at the top

Beans are sociable things. It probably comes from all that nestling together in the pod when they’re first born. I guess if the formative moments of your life are spent check by jowl with your siblings then it’s no surprise that you grow up prefering to hang out in the company of your peers.

So spare a thought for the poor darlings currently dangling off my tattered-looking borlotti beans. I raised them in the greenhouse and then planted out the beans a little bit early, and they spent a few weeks looking a bit sorry for themselves. But they recovered and slowly climbed their way up their poles.

But life is clearly hard for beans, at least on my allotment. Many of the leaves bear the tell-tale slime trails and jagged edges of slug attacks, and they don’t look as bushy as they should. That may be unfair on my beans, as this is the first time I’ve grown borlotti, but they don’t seem quite as healthy-looking as they did in my head when I ordered the seeds.

Aesthetics aside though, the most telling sign that the beans aren’t happy is the depressing lack of flowers, let alone pods like the one above. My seven plants have barely mustered the same number of pods between them, with not that many more flowers to report. That doesn’t feel like a great return.

Slugs apart, I may have found another possible cause of this scarcity.

I haven't the faintest idea what this is

While poking around the plants looking for beans I came across this little bug and about five of his mates. They were just sitting there nonchalantly, not doing anything offensive but certainly looking suspicious. It was a bit like coming round the corner and seeing a bunch of teenagers clutching spray cans next to a still-wet graffito. I didn’t actually see them doing anything wrong, but they look bloody shifty, don’t you think?

Now, being a bleeding heart liberal organic gardening type I didn’t feel I could administer summary justice with the ball of my thumb without having any concrete evidence. And short of checking their teeth for flecks of borlotti bean I couldn’t see anything conclusive.

So I felt obliged to leave them be, unharmed. A bit like the grizzled cop who knows a judge would have him for dinner if he actually arrested those pesky kids, I felt I should wait until they did something wrong before squishing them. After all, they might be good bugs simply protecting my beans from evil blackfly.

So my internet search to identify these mysterious bugs continues. All suggestions gratefully welcome. And then judgement day shall come. Will it be a quick and painless squishing or will I be laying out the welcome mat and telling them to bring their friends to the party?

On the ipod while practising a pincer motion with thumb and forefinger: The Clash / Should I Stay or Should I Go?