RUNNER beans bursting with the stuff of life. Embryonic roots and stalks uncoiling like tentacles. Into the black earth they go, plop plop, to re-emerge – hopefully – as elegant green vines with scarlet flowers. And then pods with purple beans. And then some of those beans dried and stored in readiness to activate another cycle. And so life goes on . . .
Things are stirring. Finally, after a gap of three years, I am planting food for the table. My allotment plot in the north of North Yorkshire – loved and cherished for nearly two decades – is a thing of the past as new ground yields fruit here in the south of southern Spain.
It’s a huge change and many things are new and bewildering. But we humans can adapt. That’s one of the things we do well.
More than 11,000 years ago our ancestors made the leap from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Forests were cleared and stuff planted – wild barley and lentils, mostly. Wandering tribes carried seeds to germinate in new lands. Pioneers crossed deserts and plains to plough fresh soil. I dwell on these achievements while I sort my beans.
Making the move from England to Andalucia in a 1991 Volkswagen T4 campervan isn’t quite trekking out of Africa to plant tall grasses on the shores of the Black Sea, or crossing the mid-West in a covered wagon with a sack of grain and a bag of beans, but it’s a nod to those desolate waves of forgotten humanity who put their faith in destiny and agriculture.
Today, faith comes in small glossy packets with plant-by dates and pictures of perfect produce. Life is easier for the modern pioneer. Planting instructions – in Spanish and English – are included. No barrels of untested seed for us. No wolves either. That’s not to say life is without its setbacks.
My first plantings of peppers and chillies (five varieties) failed to germinate, as did my first trials of lettuce (four varieties) – all old seed brought from England. Tomatoes (four varieties) and cucumbers (two, if you include gherkins) have been more successful. Brassicas are running at a 50 per cent germination rate; peas and beans about 80 per cent; while odds and ends such as celery and squashes (courgettes, pumpkins) are doing fine.
So despite 11,000 years of knowledge, experimentation and commercial enterprise behind mankind’s agricultural achievements, growing stuff can still be an unpredictable process. At least I haven’t crossed a continent in an ox cart to make this discovery.