Sunday, September 7, 2014

Special favas' day post: disorganised experiments with the sexual careers of broadbeans

For four years now, I've been growing two varieties of fava beans. The first variety, Aquadulce, white flowers spotted with black, has been my backyard utility broadbean. It produces loads of pods and each pod has loads of seeds, and I like to eat them very much. If I eat almost all, but save ten beans, I'll have bazillions of seeds to sow the following year.

Aquadulce, in flower.

The second variety is the Crimson flowered. It's the broadbean the pope would grow, in my expert episcopal opinion, and by jingo I hope he does, in his abundant spare time, in a raised wicking bed on the Vatican forecourt, using his mitre as an A-grade dibber. It's a gorgeous deep red, but it produces not so many pods with not so many seeds in each pod, and so it's been my front-garden show variety. Because the 12 seeds I bought in 2011 cost $3.95 – over thirty cents per bean – and they're usually easy to save, I keep at least half of these beans for growing the following year, rather than despatching them into the Lalorian belly with gnocci and garlic.

One of the reasons I've been so conscientious about keeping the white-flowering Aquadulces behind the house and the crimson-flowering broadies out front has been to prevent cross-pollination, to keep my crimsons crimson and my Aquadulces prolific. Last year, though, our otherwise blameless neighbour across the street grew a row of broadbeans along her low brick fence, and it would appear that there have been trans-streetway shenanigans.

The evidence is in this year's patch of frontyard crimson broadbeans. Besides a goodly portion - perhaps 90% - which remain the colour of the crimsons above, there is a smattering of deviant hybrids:

 a purple-graduating-to-black ombre broad bean flower.

 a veined violet flower with a black spot,

a richly pink flower, 

 and a slightly less richly pink flower.

Here's where I fail as a eugenicist. Rather than yanking these out to try to retrieve the purity of my crimson stock, or slipping botanical condoms over their stamens, I'm kind of curious to see what these hybrids do (they may have inherited not just the non-crimsonness of her-across-the-road's beans, but - if I'm lucky - some of the prolificness). And I'm still more curious to see what happens to next year's broadbean babies. So I'll be tying bits of wool around the not-quite-crimson-flowering plants to remind me to pay attention, save their seed, and plant them in an experimental bed come May, and in the meantime, I'm enjoying their rare colours.


  1. I would fail too, and revel in the colours, and exercise my (ever rampant) curiosity about what, if any, other changes will materialise.

  2. We should form a permissive gardeners' society, and you could be president of the daffodil liberation chapter.

  3. The Pope says 'save some of the old crimson seed too - it stays viable for a good few years'

  4. Excellent advice from his holiness. Thank you!

  5. What fabulous variability. I feel somewhat cheated to have grown both aqua dulce and crimson, with no forced separation between plants and pollinators, and my saved seed is sadly predictable. White or red flowers only in my garden. Maybe my broadbeans are more snobbish and refuse to mix?

  6. That's interesting! I wonder if our heavy bee population is what makes the difference. They love broadbean flowers, and I guess do quite a bit of trafficking between them.