Search This Blog

Saturday, June 26, 2010

seed savers

Left from 12 'o clock;
Dolichos lablab, Pongamia pinnata, Crotalaria, Dolichos lablab cv Koala, African cowpea, Dolichos lablab cv Rongai, Crotalaria, Phasoleus lunatus cv Madagascar bean, Dolichos lablab cv. hyacinth bean, Eneterolobium cyclocarpum, Mucuna pruriens var utilis, Acacia auriculiformis, Samanea saman - Rain tree;
Pigeon Pea.

Biodiversity comes in many forms, one of the most beautiful are seeds and among the seeds the legumes stand out in their array of shapes, textures and colours.
Like vegetal jewels, cool and shiny they can fascinate the collector

They also have some real applications
Dolichos bean, also known as a seven year bean, hyacinth bean, lablab and many other names is a vigorous tropical and subtropical bean from the old world.
Its used as both human food, as animal fodder and for soil improvement. Cultivar ‘Koala’ was bred as a high protein replacement crop for soybean, yielding up to 2 tons per ha of beans.
Cv. Rongai is anolder variety that creates masses of Nitrogen to beef up tired soils as well as a high protein fodder crow for cattle
The black seeded hyacinth bean, possibly cv. Highworth, is a vegetable crop in Asia where the young beans are added to stir fries. In remote areas and places that are cash poor, just one such a bean vine would make a significant contribution to family needs. With increasing prices for soybean due to industrial uses, poor people in Indonesia cannot afford to make tempeh with soy. Studies have shown that lab lab can be substituted and can also be grown by the villagers themselves reducing dependence on imports.
In terms of establishing semi-wild food forests all cultivars have a role in establishment, in gaps and on the edges where a fast growing sunlight demanding vine can take hold.
The Mucuna bean is similar, also known as cow itch, velvet bean or cow hage. It is also a very vigorous bean used for soil improvement and in some cases for human food and medicine
In Honduras it has been used as an interplant with Maize where its nitrogen fixing ability and biomass accumulation makes it possible to build organic rich soils and maintain maize yields for many years, even on slopes.
The bean itself is rich in Levo-dopa, up to 6%, which is used to treat parkinsons disease. L-dopa is the precursor of the neurotransmitter Dopamine, which does many things including helping coordinate fine motor skills, but also things like libido and mental motivation.
Mucuna bean meals are sold for Body builders as well as people feeling flagged by modern life. In Indian Ayurvedic tradition it is known as Kawanch and used to treat problems such as erectile dysfunction. Seeds are ‘mitigated’ before use by boiling in milk and removing the outer seed and embryo. The bean meal is then dried and powdered, the milk is considered toxic and thrown away.
The effects of the bean have been reported as increased vigour and sense of well being, increased sexual arousal and libido, stimulation of growth hormones. In general it has an anabolic activity (growth and musclemass increasing). In some cases a side effect of ‘hypergrowth of the penis’ has been reported LOL J.
The vine itself is also interesting with analysis of its leaves and stems showing the presence of hallucinogenic tryptamines, albeit in small amounts. The compound Dimethyltyptamine or DMT is present, a compound used by South American Ayahuasqueros in their psychotropic beverage Yage, Hoasca or Ayahuasca. There is a potential danger in attempting to use this vine in such a way as the L-dopa and other compounds may interact negatively with the addition of a Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOi), without which the hallucinogenic compounds are inactive and rapidly metabolized by the digestive system.
Some reports say smoking the leaf has been used as a cannabis substitute. We haven’t tried it so cannot verify. However smoking anything is probably not good for lung health so we don’t recommend it.
The vine is an annual in most subtropical climates ,but may defoliate and reshoot the following spring in the tropics. We have found it very useful for soil building as a companion to fruiting vines. Planted with a passionfruit or granadilla it covers the trellis and improves the soil, yielding a crop of beans in the dry season. By year 2 the passionfruit has scrambled over the trellis using the soil fertility shed by the bean in the dry season, and now the fruit vine dominates the relationship. Its been a very successful exercise in time stacking.
It really is a magic bean! This white seeded form has no irritating hairs on the pods, as do other cultivars.
The Madagascar bean or perennial Lima bean (Phasoleus lunatus) is another tropical backyard wonder. Also living several years it produces masses of tasty lima beans great for salads and soups. Les vigorous than the other beans, but making a great compainion on trellis with vines like Dragon fruit or Pitaya (Hylocereus and selenicereus fruits).
There are several forms of this bean which has been domesticated for several millennia. It was apparently domesticated twice, once in Mexico which yields the smaller sieva bean, and again in Peru which gives us these larger beans. There are few types available in Australia unfortunately, we have located only two.
Lima beans have to be soaked and cooked to remove toxins before eating.
Cowpeas don’t need as much pretreatment and are a tasty bean. This one pictured is an African variety but you will also find in shops beans labelled as product of china that are mostly white, with a black eye, or spot where the embryo is. You can also find a bean in Indonesia called Kacang merah, which is a red cowpea, and we also have seed of a tan variety known as crowder peas from the southern USA.
The cowpea is a marvel crop. Hardy to heat and drought and quite productive. They do well as a forage crop, or a vegetable garden crop.
There is a related variety Vigna unguicullata var sesquipedalis better known as the yard long bean or snake bean. This is bred in asia as a vegetable crop, but there is no reason a backyard breeder couldn’t cross the two and breed a climbing dry bean producer.
Crotalaria species are not edible, in fact they contain toxic alkaloids that harm the liver if directly consumed or consumed via milk contaminated with herbage. What they do do very well however is enhance degraded soils. They fix lots of nitrogen and carbon in their tissues and can be used as mulch, they also trap and eat nematodes, which can seriously harm numerous vegetables and fruit trees especially on sandy soils with low organic matter.
And now we have the trees...
Pongamia pinnata is known as a biodiesel tree. This species native from India all the way to northern Australia is now being grown for its oil rich seed. It can be grown on soils not suitable for cropping and being native provides some familiar habitat.

Samanea saman, the rain tree, is probably my favourite tree in the world. It is a giant, with its broad canopy , and strong trunk and branches. It produces sugar rich pods good as animal fodder that taste like molasses, Its timber is like Walnut, it is cyclone resistant, produces fine honey, and is just beautiful.
One exceptionally large old tree in Venezuela covers and area of 3/4 acre, >3000m2
"During his 1799-1804 travels in the Americas, Alexander von Humboldt encountered a giant Saman tree near Maracay (Venezuela). He measured the circumference of the parasol-shaped crown at 576 ft (about 180.8 m[3]), its diameter at around 190 ft (about 59.6 m), on a trunk at 9 ft (about 2.8 m) in diameter and reaching just 60 ft (nearly 19 m) in height. Humboldt mentioned that the tree was reported to have changed little since the Spanish colonization of Venezuela; he estimated the Saman to be as old as the famous Canary Islands Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco) of Icod de los Vinos on Tenerife.[4]
The tree, called Samán del Guère (transcribed Zamang del Guayre by von Humboldt) still stands today and is a Venezuelan national treasure. Just like the dragon tree on Tenerife, the age of the Saman in Venezuela is rather indeterminate. As von Humboldt's report makes clear, according to local tradition it would be older than 500 years today, which is rather outstanding by the genus' standards. It is certain however than the tree is quite more than 200 years old today."

What is this all about?

Perhaps for many people the Urban landscape is a place of sealed roads, fences, big dogs and green green lawns, a sprawling sea of roofs stretching out where some kind of nature would once have lived.
It is all those things of course, But it is also much more. It just requires a refocus in perception in order to see the forest that remains between the bricks and mortar.

Wherever humans settle we bring changes.
We eliminate some species, while allowing or encouraging others, We greatly modify the hydrology, altering water catchment and infiltration, and we greatly modify the chemistry of Air, soil and water. In short, we change all the key parameters for an ecosystem.

Out amongst the biological deserts of new housing estates, lie older more evolved areas where natural processes have reclaimed space. A walk through any suburb or city will find weeds pushing through pavement, maybe even strangler figs gaining a foothold in some crumbling masonry.

Within these new wild spaces as well as garden space, we are witnessing the birth of novel ecosystems where local and exotic biodiversity are mixing to create hybrid and novel ecologies. These new ecologies are rich in species and extremely interesting as well as functional for human needs.
Understanding these spaces is a necessity as Humanity is set on a course of increasing urbanization that only shows signs of intensification for the forseeable future. More and more land will be converted to suburb as the population increases over the next 40 or so years to 10 billion.

Much of our most useful biodiversity is not in the bush, not on farms, and not in government sponsored seed banks, but actually in our backyards and suburbs peppered through our cities. As it is, these refugia are neither safe nor fully utilized mainly due to a lack of knowledge about its true potential.

This blog is dedicated to opening peoples eyes to the true value of garden biodiversity to enhance the livability of our villages, towns and cities, and in the products and ecosystem services that it provides. By seeking to understand different elements we can understand our own cultures and history, and those of others.

We reside in Australias tropical north, and area with an immense natural biodiversity. ‘Out there’ on the reef, orin some protected piece of forest. This perception perhaps overshadows what lies closer to home and its real value in helping us find a harmonious place in the bigger system.

I hope it may lead to a new understanding and appreciation of the key role that Urban and domestic conservation and integration efforts can have in keeping what we have left of the earths treasures alive through the turbulent century ahead of us.