My favourite autumn crops happen to be seeds. Just at the moment, it is black bean seeds, or simply 'black beans' if you buy them in packets in the supermarket. They are one of the staples of Mexican cooking and extraordinarily delicious, far more than the common baked bean, and even better when they are freshly picked from your own garden.
They are incredibly easy to grow. Plant in spring, try not to let the weeds smother them, mulch if possible and give them a feed every few weeks and water too ... but there is a good chance you'll get a crop (though not a good one) even if you do nothing. Black beans are spectacularly hardy. You can eat them young, as green beans, too, and they are extremely good. But the seeds are wonderful. To harvest, let the pods dry on the bushes, then wait till the bushes die off as the weather turns cold. Pick the dried pods. If they are truly dry i.e. not wet with dew, nor showing any lingering remnant of green, you can leave the lot in a cardboard box, and shell them as you need them.
If you are at all unsure, run your finger or thumb down the middle of the bean so the seeds all fall out, then spread them out on dry spot, like the top of a cloth covered table for a few days, turning them over once or twice till you are sure they are quite dry. Then store, not in plastic bags - they need to be dry as bullet to keep in plastic, and as hard - but in old envelopes, or a gigantic glass jar - very ornamental - or a cloth shopping bag hung up in the larder. Check often in case any of them begin to go mouldy. If one does, the others will flow, so remove the infected ones quickly and dry well again, preferably outside on a sunny day, bringing them in each night before they get dew damp.
In fact, you can do the same with any green bean - leave the ones you don't want to eat on the plant, wait till it dries, then wait till the pod dries, then proceed up above. Dried runner bean seeds are not only incredibly hardy and prolific each autumn, but dry extremely well, and are wonderful in slow cooked soups or stews, cooked either until they are soft, or till they are so soft they disintegrate and thicken your soup in a thick and wonderful manner that nothing else can imitate.
This is also the time to collect other seeds, sunflower seeds, for you, the cockatoos or the chooks or to plant next spring; peas, and of course nuts of many kinds: chestnuts, macadamias, almonds, walnuts, pecans. I've gone on a macadamia craze as well as a black bean craze. The macadamias are eaten straight from the shell, though they are also good ground into macadamia butter or ground macadamias to use in macaroons or to thicken sauces etc. like ground almonds.
Our black beans are simply simmered till soft, then left in a container in the fridge where I can ladle them out into almost anything: any soup, stew, mixed into salads, added to gravy, mixed into potato cakes. And added to chicken stock, with a bit of grated ginger, a lot of garlic, finely chopped and a touch of lemon, they are just the thing to eat, hot and rich and healing, when you are feeling seedy.
This week I am ...
- Admiring the blue sage, purple sage, pink sage, pineapple sage, and the yellow sage that is only just beginning to bloom for winter
- Still eating the not quite last of the basil
- Making sure the thyme is well fed and watered, so there will be plenty of it to use when the basil dies in the frost
- Trying to get around to picking enough mint to see us through winter until the mint sprouts again in the warmth. (I suspect I won't get around to it. Again. Ditto the lemon grass).
- Wishing I'd planted more autumn blooming Japanese anemones. One day, maybe.
- Watering the zygocactus in the hopes they'll flower and flower and flower all winter- if they keep getting watered.