Nourish – Nov ’13 Real Dirt


Food of the Month – Apples
A Children’s Garden, a Gift For All Ages

Food of the Month – Apples

Michele Worden

Latin Name: Malus domestica (wild apple is Malus sieversii)

Botanical Family: Rosaceae (the rose family, which contains garden roses, and other fruits such as apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, pears, raspberries, and strawberries, almonds)

Description: The apple is the pomaceous fruit of the apple tree, It is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits, and the most widely known of the many members of genus Malus that are used by humans. Apples grow on small, deciduous trees. The apple forms a tree that is 10 to 40 ft tall, with a broad, often densely twiggy crown. The leaves are alternately-arranged simple 1-3 inches broad on a 1- 2 inch petiole with a serrated margin and a slightly downy underside. Blossoms are produced in spring simultaneously with the budding of the leaves. The flowers have five petals and are white with a pink tinge that gradually fades. The fruit matures in late summer to autumn. The center of the fruit contains five carpels arranged in a five-point star, each carpel containing one to three seeds, called pips.

Origin and History: The tree originated in Western Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples. At one point, the word “apple” was a generic term that meant fruit.

The center of diversity of the genus Malus is in eastern Turkey. The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, and its fruits have been improved through selection over thousands of years. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in Asia in 328. Those he brought back to Macedonia might have been the progenitors of dwarfing root stocks. Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, and were brought to North America by European colonists in the 17th century.

The first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625. An 1845 United States apples nursery catalogue sold 350 of the “best” varieties, showing the proliferation of new North American varieties by the early 19th century.

Cultivation (how and where grown): About 69 million tons of apples were grown worldwide in 2010, and China produced almost half of this total. The United States is the second-leading producer, with more than 6% of world production. In the United States, more than 60% of all the apples sold commercially are grown in Washington state. Michigan is the third largest producer of apples and apples are Michigan’s largest fruit crop. Red Delicious is the most common cultivar produced though there is a popular movement to preserve antique apple varieties.

Apples are grown in orchards in a wide variety of climates from Egypt to England. Trees begin to produce after the fourth year after planting. Trees are prone to a number of fungal, bacterial and pest problems, which can be controlled by a number of organic and non-organic means.

Apples do not breed true from seed so all domestic apples are propagated asexually by grafting, although wild apples grow readily from seed.

Rootstocks are used to control tree size and have been used in apple cultivation for over 2,000 years. Farmers often graft varieties onto dwarf apple rootstock to keep trees small and easier to pick different and to provide certain disease resistance.

Apples are self-incompatible; they must cross-pollinate to develop fruit. During the flowering each season, apple growers usually provide pollinators to carry the pollen. Honey bees are most commonly used. Not all apples can cross-pollinate – there are four to seven pollination groups depending on climate.

Apples are pruned during the growing season for healthy shape, sunlight penetration and branch orientation. Apples only develop on horizontal branches – they are pruned to remove non-fruiting branches.

Apple crops ripen at different times of the year according to the variety of apple, starting in late summer and ending in late autumn. Mature trees typically bear 88–440 lbs of apples each year, though productivity can be close to zero in poor years. Dwarf trees will bear about 22–180 lbs. of fruit per year.

Apples are harvested using three-point ladders that are designed to fit amongst the branches. They have to be hand- picked to avoid bruising.

Until the 20th century, farmers stored apples in frostproof cellars during the winter for their own use or for sale. Improved transportation of fresh apples by train and road replaced the necessity for storage.

In the 21st century, long-term storage again came into popularity, as “controlled atmosphere” facilities were used to keep apples fresh year-round. Controlled atmosphere facilities are used to delay ethylene-induced onset of ripening. Ethylene is a gas produced by apples as they ripen. Controlled atmosphere storage uses high humidity, low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and high air filtration to maintain fruit freshness. The air filtration prevents ethylene concentrations from rising to higher amounts and preventing ripening from moving too quickly. Ripening continues when the fruit is removed.

Fun Facts: Nature’s toothbrush! Eating an apple cleans your teeth. The only apples native to the United States are crabapples. Apples are produced on family farms – there are over 950 family farm orchards in Michigan. October is National Apple Month. October is Cider Month in Michigan.

Nutrition: Apples are a good source for dietary fiber and antioxidants. It is an important source of potasium. See medical uses.

Culinary Uses: Most of these cultivars are bred for eating fresh (dessert apples), though some are cultivated specifically for cooking (cooking apples) or producing cider. Cider apples are typically too tart and astringent to eat fresh, but they give the beverage a rich flavor that dessert apples cannot.

Winter apples, picked in late autumn and stored just above freezing, have been an important food in Asia and Europe for millennia, as well as in Argentina and in the United States since the arrival of Europeans.

Commercially popular apple cultivars are soft but crisp. Modern apples are generally sweeter than older cultivars, as popular tastes in apples have varied over time. Most North Americans and Europeans favor sweet, low acid apples, but tart apples have a strong minority following. Extremely sweet apples with barely any acid flavor are popular in Asia and especially India.

Apples can be canned or juiced. They are milled to produce apple cider (non-alcoholic, sweet cider) and filtered for apple juice. The juice can be fermented to make cider (alcoholic, hard cider),ciderkin, and vinegar. Through distillation, various alcoholic beverages can be produced, such as applejack, Calvados,[54] and apfelwein. Pectin and apple seed oil may also be produced.

Apples are an important ingredient in many desserts, such as apple pie, apple crumble, apple crisp and apple cake. They are often eaten baked or stewed, and they can also be dried and eaten or reconstituted (soaked in water, alcohol or some other liquid) for later use. Puréed apples are generally known as apple sauce. Apples are also made into apple butter and apple jelly. They are also used (cooked) in meat dishes. In the UK, a toffee apple is a traditional confection made by coating an apple in hot toffee and allowing it to cool. Similar treats in the US are candy apples (coated in a hard shell of crystallized sugar syrup), and caramel apples, coated with cooled caramel. Apples are eaten with honey at the Jewish

New Year of Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a sweet new year. Farms with apple orchards may open them to the public, so consumers may themselves pick the apples they will buy.

Medicinal Uses: Research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. Compared to many other fruits and vegetables, apples contain relatively low amounts of vitamin C, but are a rich source of other antioxidant compounds. Apple’s antioxidant property prevents the damage to cells and tissues. The fiber content, while less than in most other fruits, helps regulate bowel movements and may thus reduce the risk of colon cancer. They may also help with heart disease, weight loss, and controlling cholesterol. The fiber contained in apples reduces cholesterol by preventing reabsorption, and (like most fruits and vegetables) they are bulky for their caloric content.

There is evidence from laboratory experiments that apples possess phenolic compounds which may be cancer-protective and demonstrate antioxidant activity.

Apple juice concentrate has been found to increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in mice, providing a potential mechanism for the “prevention of the decline in cognitive performance that accompanies dietary and genetic deficiencies and aging.” Other studies have shown an “alleviation of oxidative damage and cognitive decline” in mice after the administration of apple juice. Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong discovered that fruit flies who were fed an apple extract lived 10% longer than other flies who were fed a normal diet.

Apples help maintain stable, normal blood sugar levels – sugar is released slowly over time which helps with fatigue and concentration.

Impact on Culture: In popular culture the term “you are the apple of my eye” means that someone is favored and loved. Another expression of popular culture refers to the health benefits of eating apples – “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

The apple appears the mythology of cultures all over the world. In German paganism, apples symbolized youth. In Norse mythology it symbolized love and fertility. In Greek myth, it symbolized love and favor – giving of a golden apple to Aphrodite was the basis for the famous Trojan War. In the Christianity, the apple is often portrayed as the forbidden fruit that Adam ate and was cast out of Eden. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have discovered gravity and postulated the motion of the planets through inspiration of having an apple fall on his head. In America, we have the story of Johnny Appleseed who spread apples across the Midwest.

Appearance in Literature: The fairy tale of Snow White features the poison apple. The apple is also featured in many Greek myths.

A Children’s Garden, a Gift For All Ages

Lillian Mahaney

Nestled behind the Traverse Area District Library’s Main Branch on Woodmere is a magical children’s garden.  The garden was established in 1999 and is an incredible place for both children and adults.  If you have never been to the garden, please give yourself a gift and visit.

The garden has many facets:  A sundial garden, sculpture and rose garden, pond garden, bird and butterfly garden, willow house, scent and touch garden, moon garden, and the learning gardens.  The learning gardens include the pavilion, greenhouse and outdoor clay pizza oven.  The gardens contain lovely little mosaic tiles and sculptures.  My particular favorite is the big metal spider.

The scent and touch garden overflows with various herbs.  Even seasoned gardeners won’t be able to resist rubbing a leaf and taking a sniff.  Imagine how adults and children who have never been exposed to these plant-miracles feel when they take their first sniff.

Susan Kuschell is the director of the garden and is an extraordinary lady.  When touring the garden a couple of weeks ago we saw a couple of moms and their children having lunch in the willow house.  It was a thrill for us both.

Give yourself a lovely gift and stop by the beautiful Traverse City District Library Children’s Garden.  Walk through and admire the plants and sculptures.  Even though it is autumn they are still beautiful.  Sit down on one of the benches or really channel your inner child and step into the boat over the pond.  Most of all…just enjoy and remember why you love to garden.

New Board Positions!

504 Gateway Time-out


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Open board positions!

Open board positions!

The MGANM board is pleased to roll out several new board positions in the interests of better sharing the volunteer work load and in having more energy (and fun!) at the board level. There are three new full board positions, and four advisory positions (non-voting, board meeting attendance optional but encouraged). Most of these positions will work by supporting existing committees or groups of volunteers in their efforts, though as first year positions you’ll also have freedom to define your roles. Please contact a board member or our coordinator, Matthew Bertrand, with any questions about these positions.

If you’re interested in fulfilling any of the positions or would like to nominate someone, please try to let us know by Sunday, November 3rd. We expect to hold elections at the annual Volunteer Celebration on November 6th.

Position Descriptions

  1. President – The President will preside over meetings of the general membership and the Executive Committee. The President will oversee the enforcement of the by-laws and policies as adopted by the membership of the Association.
  2. Vice President – In the absence of the President, Secretary, or Treasurer, the Vice President shall assume the duties of said office. The Vice President shall oversee all standing committees.
  3. Secretary – The Secretary shall take minutes of all Executive Committee and Association general meetings. At each meeting the secretary will have published or will read the minutes of the previous meeting. A copy of all minutes will be forwarded to the Advisor at the MSUE Leelanau County office. The secretary shall be responsible for maintaining complete records of all Association minutes attendance and correspondence.
  4. Treasurer – The Treasurer will be responsible for managing all Association income, expenses and bank accounts(s) according to the policies and procedures of the Association.
  5. Education/Events – Chairperson will be responsible for the initiation, planning and public relations for educational and other events.
  6. Communications – The Chairperson will be responsible for all internal communication amongst MGANM members and external communications with the public, including the Real Dirt newsletter, the Association website, and other opportunities as they arise.
  7. Development – The Chairperson will be responsible for strategies leading to increased membership and funding opportunities for MGANM and its activities
  8. Advisor – Master Gardener Coordinator – The Advisor will serve as a non-voting, ex- officio member. The Advisor is responsible for assuring the Association carries out its stated purpose in accordance with the educational mission and policies of Leelanau County MSUE and the Michigan Master Gardener program. The Advisor is the liaison between the Association and MSUE.
  9. Advisor – Environmental Stewardship — The Advisor will serve as a non-voting member. The Advisor will serve as a community liaison between the board, association members, community partners, and the public with the goal of improving Environmental Stewardship outcomes in the community.
  10. Advisor – Youth Gardening — The Advisor will serve as a non-voting member. The Advisor will serve as a community liaison between the board, association members, community partners, and the public with the goal of increasing support for Youth Gardening activities in the community.
  11. Advisor – Food Security and Hunger — The Advisor will serve as a non-voting member. The Advisor will serve as a community liaison between the board, association members, community partners, and the public with the goal of meeting community needs for Food Security and Hunger.
  12. Advisor – Beautification/Social Benefit — The Advisor will serve as a non-voting member. The Advisor will serve as a community liaison between the board, association members, community partners, and the public in order to meet community goals for Beautification and other Social Benefits that our gardens provide.

Nourish – Sep ’13 Real Dirt


Putting By or Putting Up With Plenty
Food of the Month – Tomato

Submitted by Sonia Clem

Submitted by Sonia Clem

Putting By or Putting Up With Plenty

Sonia Clem

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  – JRR Tolkien

Personally I value fresh peaches and pears above “hoarded gold,” and have discovered just how easy it is to “hoard” these — and all of spring, summer and fall’s bounty, to enjoy with others long after the garden and trees have gone bare.  My grandma “put by” potatoes, my old neighbor “put up” peaches. I simply can — and I love it. Oh, I freeze and dehydrate too, but canning … well that’s a combination of art and science.

The New Putting Food By, by Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan, and Janet Greene, defines the term “put by” as to “save something you don’t have to use now, against the time when you’ll need it.”   Well who can argue with that idea?  Most of us don’t care to eat a quart of fresh tomatoes and a half a grocery bag of green beans a day, so we give all our extra garden produce away.  That’s good too, until your neighbors stop answering the doorbell when they see you coming with another basket of beans.  Consider canning that “gold.”  It may surprise you to know you don’t have to have a whole day to do it.  You can just about can anything in an evening if you have all the ingredients and equipment on hand.  In fact, the more you do it, well … the more you’ll do it.  (Yogi Berra?)

Here are my top ten reasons to “put by” or “put up” your own food:

  1. You will always know what you are eating
  2. You will always have extra hostess and holiday gifts on hand
  3. You won’t have to buy condiments, pickles or jelly for at least a year
  4. When you don’t feel like making dinner, there is always something ready-to-eat in your pantry
  5. Your friends will be amazed at your culinary prowess and consider you mysterious
  6. You’ll never find cherry mustarda, pumpkin butter, juniper-maple cocktail onions, or pickled cherries in the grocery store
  7. You’ll always have just the right amount of chicken soup to take to a sick friend
  8. It’s good to have a secret stash of food in case the Russians or the relatives invade
  9. It’s a socially acceptable form of hoarding so long as you share
  10. You can laugh at the days to come and the snow piling up outside your door this winter as you eat stew and apple pie made with canned meats, veggies and apple filling you put up this fall.  No trips to the grocery store in a squall!

Essential (or at least helpful) reading:  The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich; The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry; The Farmer’s Wife Canning and Preserving Cookbook by Lela Nargi; and Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving by Kevin West.

Food of the Month – Tomato

Michele Worden

Tomatoes by Whitney Miller

Tomatoes by Whitney Miller

Tomatoes are my favorite vine.  Nothing tastes so much like the essence of summer as a vine-ripened tomato.  My favorites are the heirlooms with complex flavors, acidic and fruity and sweet all at the same time.   Tomatoes come at the end of summer and their taste is bittersweet – the climax of Summer heralds of beginning of Fall.  They are a fascinating fruit….Read on if you would like a brief overview of this interesting fruit compiled from a variety of sources…

Latin Name:  Solanum lycopersicum

Botanical Family:     Solanaceae  (same as potatoes, eggplants)

Description:   The tomato is the edible fruit of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant.  The fruit is often red but can come in a rainbow of colors, including white and black (dark purple).  While it is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes and legally for agricultural tariff purposes which has caused some confusion.

The tomato belongs to the nightshade family. The plant is a vine that typically grows to 3–10 ft in height but can reach 15 ft.  It has a weak stem that often sprawls over the ground and vines over other plants. It is a perennial in its native habitat, although often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual.

Tomato plants are dicots, and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing.  Most tomato plants have compound leaves, and are called regular leaf (RL) plants, but some cultivars have simple leaves known as potato leaf (PL) style because of their resemblance to that particular relative.  The leaves are 4–10 in long, odd pinnate, with five to 9 leaflets on petioles.  Leaves and stems are hairy.  Flowers are yellow on an apical meristem and are self-fertilizing.

Tomato fruit is classified as a berry, a subset of fruit. As a true fruit, it develops from the ovary of the plant after fertilization, its flesh comprising the pericarp walls.

Origin:  Both the species, and its use as a food, originated in Mexico, and spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus, a Genoese working for the Spanish monarchy, may have taken them back to Spain as early as 1493.  In the Old World, tomatoes were called “golden apples”.

Tomato is a New World fruit, though it is hard to think of Italian cooking without tomato sauce.  It is considered a food that had a great influence on the world.  Today the tomato is cultivated around the world and found in most cuisines.

Cultivation (how and where grown):  China, the largest producer, accounts for about one quarter of the global output, followed by United States and India. For one variety, plum or processing tomatoes, California accounts for 90% of U.S. production and 35% of world production.

There are over four thousands cultivars of tomatoes.  Different varieties have been bred for different regional growing conditions.  They hybridise very easily.  In general, the tomato is a warm season crop that is grown outside after the danger of frost has past, as well as in greenhouses in temperate climates.  It can be planted outside when the soil temperature reaches 70◦F.  Tomatoes are heavy feeders and need a nutrient rich soil.

A tomato plant can be planted very deeply because the plant has the ability to form roots along its entire stem.  Tomatoes are sometimes planted deeply (1-2 ft laid on side) in a method called ‘trenching’.

Because tomatoes are vines, they need to be supported.  Supports can range from tomato cages, to A-frame trellises, to the string and pulley systems used in greenhouses.

Tomato plants can be determinate or indeterminate.  Determinate plants are bushy and produce all their tomatoes in one flush.  These are used often for commercial production.  Home gardeners often grow indeterminate varieties that will continue to produce all season.  Tomatoes are the number one garden plant for home vegetable gardens.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a variety in the mid-20th century that ripened uniformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

Tomatoes will continue to ripen after they are picked.  In fact, most commercial varieties are picked green and ripened on the way to the super market.

Fun Facts:  Tomatoes were first grown as ornamental plants in flower gardens in Europe because they were believed to be poisonous.  In reality, the entire plant is toxic except for the fruit and the seeds.  The Italians called the first tomato pomodoro or “golden apple”.  In the Old World, some attributed aphrodisiac properties to the tomato and this is why the French called it “pomme d’amour” (love apple).  Today, more tomatoes are produced globally than any other fruit.

Nutrition:  Tomatoes are loaded with potassium, vitamins A, C and E.  An average tomato contains 30% of the daily requirements of vitamin C, 15% for vitamin A and 12% for vitamin E.  Vitamin C is known to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke) and diabetes. It lowers the arterial tension and the cholesterol, being an antioxidant. Vitamin A is a major contributor to the health of the skin, hair, mucosae, genital organs and has a role in the low light vision.

Culinary Uses:  Tomatoes come in a small sweet form called ‘cherry tomatoes’, large round sizes for fresh eating and slicing like ‘beefsteak’, and elongated, meaty varieties for making sauce called ‘plum’.  Though it is botanically a berry, a subset of fruit, tomato is a vegetable for culinary purposes, because of its savory flavor.

The tomato is now grown and eaten around the world. It is used in diverse ways, including raw in salads, and processed into ketchup or tomato soup. Unripe green tomatoes can also be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled. Tomato juice is sold as a drink, and is used in cocktails such as the Bloody Mary.

Tomatoes are acidic, making them especially easy to preserve in home canning whole, in pieces, as tomato sauce or paste. The fruit is also preserved by drying, often in the sun, and sold either in bags or in jars with oil.

Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine. They are a key ingredient in pizza, and are commonly used in pasta sauces. They are also used in gazpacho, a cold tomato soup (Spanish cuisine).

Medicinal Uses:  The fruit is rich in lycopene, a strong antioxidant, which is believed to have beneficial health effects.  Lycopene has been proven to prevent cancer of pancreas, lung and colon and cardiovascular disease. Men consuming 10 or more servings of tomatoes or derived products on a weekly basis have a 34% decreased risk of prostate cancer.

A recent British research showed that 5 tablespoons of tomato paste added daily to your diet improves your skin’s capacity to fight harmful UV radiation by 33%.  Lycopene has also been found to increase the absorption of beta-carotene, the plant precursor of vitamin A.

Favorite Varieties:  Cherry tomato ‘Sungold’ – it has amazing flavor.  We call it the candy tomato.  A friend’s daughter does not like tomatoes but she likes ‘Sungold’.  The heirloom ‘Green Zebra’ is very fun looking and good tasting and is a favorite for school gardens.  I am particularly fond of ‘Purple Calabash’ and the Brandywines.

Impact on Culture:  Tomatoes are everywhere in modern cuisines.  Without them we would not have spaghetti sauce, ketchup or pizza sauce.  The town of Buñol, in Valencia, Spain, annually celebrates La Tomatina, a festival centered on an enormous tomato fight. Several US cities have their own tomato fight with surplus tomatoes at the end of the summer, usually in concert with their tomato festival.

Tomatoes are a popular “nonlethal” throwing weapon in mass protests, and there was a common tradition of throwing rotten tomatoes at bad performers on a stage during the 19th century; today this is usually referenced as a metaphor. Embracing it for this protest connotation, the Dutch Socialist party adopted the tomato as their logo.

The US city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio calls itself “The Birthplace of the Tomato”, claiming the first commercial variety of tomato was bred there in the 19th century.  Reynoldsburg of course has a large Tomato Festival each August.  Several US states have adopted the tomato as a state fruit or vegetable.  New Jersey and Arkansas have declared it both the state fruit and vegetable and Ohio has the tomato as its state fruit.

A derivative of the tomato is ketchup, a signature American condiment and emblem of American culture throughout the world.

Appearance in Literature:  Tomatoes appear in title of fiction books and there are many books about their cultivation.  One of my favorite children’s books is I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato (Charlie and Lola)  by Lauren Child (Author, Illustrator)

Nourish–July/August 2013


Growing Minds Need Growing Gardens

Growing Minds Need Growing Gardens

Sonia Clem

Food Gardens North tomatoes

Food Gardens North tomatoes

Oftentimes we can trace our love of gardens, whether food or flowers, to a specific point in our lives.  Read about the misadventures of a child, and the path she took.  Also, learn more about the efforts of Mike Davis, Kirsten Gerbatsch, Mike Kiessell, Ellen Lapekas, Trina Ball, and so many other MG’s for their heroic efforts in creating community and school gardens especially for children.  Be inspired and stay informed about the creative school gardens and MG-Seeds Demonstration garden project, and get involved if you can, here.


Michele Worden

Gourmet Bean Blend

Gourmet Bean Blend

So what is a bean? Think you know? “Bean is a common name for large plant seeds used for human food or animal feed of several genera of the family Fabaceae (alternately Leguminosae).” From that point, it gets tricky. It doesn’t help we commonly call things beans that are not beans but look like beans, such as cocoa beans, coffee beans and vanilla beans. It also does not help that botanists keep reclassifying legumes and beans to be in different families and genera. Also, the term bean is sometimes used as a synonym of the word pulse, which is an edible legume. Confused yet? Read on…

First, a clarification: the term “pulse” is usually reserved for leguminous crops harvested for their dry seed such as lentils or mung beans. This excludes green beans and green peas, which are considered vegetable crops. Also excluded in the definition of pulse are crops that are mainly grown for oil extraction (oilseeds like soybeans and peanuts), and crops used exclusively for sowing (clovers, alfalfa).

So here is what I have surmised in my bean research as an overview. The Fabaceae Family (or Leguminosae), commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. This group is the third-largest land plant family and is divided into several large genera.

Beans from the Old World are in the genus Vicia (broad and fava beans, vetch), the genus Cicer (garbanzo beans or chickpeas), and the genus Pisum (peas). Asian beans seem to be in the genus Vigna (mung beans, yard-long beans, black-eyed peas) and Glycine (soybeans) but botanists keep changing their classification. Beans from the New World are the genus Phaseolus, which includes green beans, scarlet runner beans, and lima beans.

For simplicity sake, the remainder of this article will focus on Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean that we plant in the garden in the summer.

Latin Name: Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean

Botanical Family: Fabaceae,

Description: Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean, is a herbaceous annual plant, grown worldwide for its edible beans, which are eaten both fresh as unripe fruit and as dried seeds. It is considered a vegetable. Phaseolus vulgaris includes string bean, field bean, flageolet bean, French bean, garden bean, haricot bean, pop bean or snap bean. Kidney bean, navy bean, and wax bean are types of Phaseolus vulgaris named for their fruit and seed characteristics.

All varieties bear alternate, green or purple leaves, which are divided into three oval, smooth-edged leaflets. The white, pink, or purple flowers give way to pods 3-8 in long. The pods may be green, yellow, black, or purple in color, each containing 4-6 beans. The beans are smooth, plump, kidney-shaped, and range widely in color, and are often mottled in two or more colors.

Common beans are classified into bush and pole (running) varieties. Bush beans are short plants, growing to approximately two feet in height, without requiring supports. They generally reach maturity and produce all of their fruit in a relatively short period of time, then cease to produce. Gardeners may grow more than one crop of bush beans in a season. Pole beans have a climbing habit and produce a twisting vine that is 6-9′ in length.

There are many varieties of beans that are cultivated primarily for a dried seed product such as kidney beans, pinto beans, and cranberry beans. Green bean varieties have been bred especially for the fleshiness, flavor, or sweetness of their pods. Haricots verts, French for “green beans”, may refer to a longer, thinner type of green bean than the typical American green bean. The first “stringless” bean was bred in 1894 by Calvin Keeney, called the “father of the stringless bean”, while working in Le Roy, New York.

Origin: Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE. Phaselous vulgaris was grown by native peoples from Chile to the northern part of what is now the United States.

Phaseolus was first seen by a European when Christopher Columbus, during his exploration of what may have been the Bahamas, found them growing in fields. Five kinds of Phaseolus beans were domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples: common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) grown from Chile to the northern part of what is now the United States, and lima and sieva beans (Phaseolus lunatus), as well as the less widely distributed teparies (Phaseolus acutifolius), scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) and polyanthus beans (Phaseolus polyanthus). These beans were taken back to Europe where they became staples in European cuisine. Cannellini beans in Italian cooking are actually Phaseolus vulgaris from the New World.

Cultivation (how and where grown): The common bean is a warm season crop and can be planted directly into the garden when the soil temperature is above 65 F. Beans germinate very quickly, usually in 3-5 days. Harvest can occur in 50-75 days, depending on the variety. Beans are legumes, so they acquire their nitrogen through an association with rhizobia: species of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that attach to the roots of the plant. Legumes are often used in agriculture as the next crop to replenish soils that are low in nitrogen when crops are rotated.

As the bean pods mature, they turn yellow and dry up, and the beans inside change from green to their mature color. As a vine, bean plants need external support, which may be provided in the form of special “bean cages” or poles. In more recent times, the so-called “bush bean” has been developed which does not require support and has all its pods develop simultaneously (as opposed to pole beans which develop gradually). This makes the bush bean more practical for commercial production.

The commercial production of beans is well distributed worldwide, with countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, South and North America all among the top bean growers. Brazil and India are the largest producers of dry beans while China produces, by far, the largest quantity of green beans.

Fun Facts: Beans are a heliotropic plant, meaning that the leaves tilt throughout the day to face the sun. At nighttime, they go into a folded “sleep” position.

Phaseolus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Common Swift, Garden Dart, Ghost Moth Hypercompe albicornis, Hypercompe icasia, the Nutmeg and various caterpillar species.

Nutrition: Beans were an important source of protein throughout Old and New World history, and still are today.

Fresh beans have higher values for vitamin C and vitamin A. In general, the common bean is high in starch, protein and dietary fiber and is an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folate. Beans also have significant amounts of fiber and soluble fiber, with one cup of cooked beans providing between nine and 13 grams of fiber. Soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol.

Culinary Uses: Green beans, wax beans (yellow) and purple beans are delicious fresh or steamed. They can be used in sautés, stir-fried or baked in casseroles. Shelling beans are beans removed from their pods before being cooked or dried. Fresh shell beans are nutritionally similar to dry beans, but are prepared more like a vegetable, often being steamed, fried, or made into soups.

Dry beans will keep indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but as time passes, their nutritive value and flavor degrade and cooking times lengthen. Dried beans are almost always cooked by boiling, often after being soaked for several hours. While the soaking is not strictly necessary, it shortens cooking time and results in more evenly textured beans. In addition, soaking beans removes 5 to 10 percent of the gas-producing sugars that can cause flatulence for some people. The several methods include overnight soaking, and the power soak method, in which beans are boiled for three minutes and then set aside for 2-4 hours. Before cooking, the excess water is drained and discarded.

In Mexico, Central America and South America, the traditional spice to use with beans is epazote, which is also said to aid digestion. In East Asia, a type of seaweed, kombu, is added to beans as they cook for the same purpose. Salt, sugar, and acidic foods such as tomatoes may harden uncooked beans, resulting in seasoned beans at the expense of slightly longer cooking times.

Dry beans may also be bought cooked and canned as refried beans, or whole with water, salt, and sometimes sugar.

Medicinal Uses: Herbal medicine websites say that beans are a diuretic and that bean pods are effective in lowing blood sugar levels, if eaten in large quantities, to treat mild cases of diabetes. A bean pod diet for this purpose would mean eating 9-16 lb. of pods per week be cooked like vegetables. Bean pod tea is useful for dropsy, sciatica, chronic rheumatism, kidney and bladder problems, uric acid accumulations, and loss of albumin in the urine during pregnancy. Externally, bean tea promotes healing of ulcers and sores. Prolonged use of the decoction made from the beans is recommended for difficult cases of acne. Bean meal can also be applied directly to the skin for moist eczema, eruptions, and itching.

My favorite varieties: Dragon’s tongue (purple spotted), Beurre de Roquencourt (yellow wax), purple-podded pole bean.

Impact on Culture: “Beans, beans the musical fruit” is a popular children’s rhyme. Many edible beans, including broad beans and soybeans, contain oligosaccharides, a type of sugar molecule, which are digested in the large intestine by bacteria. A by-product of the digestion process is gas and flatulence.

Beans, squash and maize constitute the “Three Sisters”, planting companions that provide the foundation of Native American agriculture. In the “Three Sisters”, the tall cornstalks act as support for the beans, while the squash provide a living mulch for the roots of the corn.

Appearance in Literature: Jack and the Beanstalk is a famous fairytale.

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