“Have you seen those giant white lima beans?” asks Jeremiah.
“Yes!” replies Petra with her always-abundant enthusiasm. “Phaseolus lunatus.”
“Right,” says Jeremiah. He’s sticking labels on empty seed packets. “Just like watermelon.”
There’s a semi-awkward silence in the warehouse as we all collectively wonder: “Just like watermelon?” What?
“The species name,” Jeremiah says. “Lima bean is phaseolus lunatus. Watermelon is citrillus lunatus.”
“Lanatus,” says Petra in gentle correction. “Citrullus lanatus. Lana not luna.”
“Really?” Jeremiah looks up from the packets. “I thought it was lunatus because a watermelon is shaped like the moon.”
Technically, lunatus is Latin for “crescent-shaped”; lanatus means “wooly”. Not sure what being wooly has to do with watermelons. But I’m not about to interrupt these two farmers with what Google Translate has to say.
Way too much to learn from just listening to them talk.
Our days on the farm are now spent indoors; in the windowless, low-ceiling, concrete-walled warehouse. Marathon shifts of packing seeds with the utmost precision. On these days, the passage of time is marked by the movement of seeds and playlists of music.
The spirit of the grange – the old meeting place of farmers in earlier times – is alive and well on these winter days. We talk about farming, about seed and growing seed. We talk about favorite varieties and personal preferences. There is discussion about cows and sheep and chickens. And the best way to dispose of manures. The solution is to spread it back on your fields, of course. But chicken manure can still burn your tomato plants if applied straight to the base, even when dry. We talk of compost and how leaf compost could tie up nitrogen in the soil if applied before it’s properly decomposed. Worm castings make great compost. But, man, is it expensive.
“When I set up my worm composting in college, I called it the Comminution Café,” says Petra.
Comminution (noun): the action of reducing a material to minute particles or fragments.
“How did the Black Cocos turn out?” asks Jeremiah.
“Beautifully,” replies Petra with her always-abundant enthusiasm. “But they did run a little bit.”
Black Cocos are a bush bean. Not a runner , not a climber.
“They bushed out very nicely,” she continues, creating images in the air with her hands. “But then a plant would send out a little runner, like a little hand waving, ‘Hello, here I am.’”
“Well, black beans are like that,” replies Jeremiah, sticking labels on packets. “They can be a little runny.”
Way too much to learn.