Looking at this sword bean, Canavalia gladiata, my former mystery plant, soaring up into Florida's summer sky, I make good use of that Wayback Machine on top of my neck and think of one of my favorite fairy tales from childhood, Jack and the Beanstalk. Since it features a plant that surpasses ordinary expectations, a youngster who--with a little help from some magical beans--overcomes his low station in life as well as total submission to a domineering parent, and a conflict with a larger-than-life ogre, I had to ask: what's not to like about this fable? Though there are many versions available in print and now online, the one I remember reading as a child must have been the one written by Joseph Jacobs because while reading it now, I recall how stirred my curiosity was then. Why, for instance, would a young boy be allowed to take his family's most precious asset, a milk cow, to market by himself? Where's the community support for a poor widow who would be desperate enough to sell her main source of sustenance and income? What kind of mother would scold and punish her son for negotiating a bad deal when she should have at least accompanied him to the marketplace? How did the strange man who traded Jack the magic beans for the cow know Jack's name? And, who could believe that a boy who stole repeatedly from another person--ogre or not--and then caused his death would be exonerated and then acclaimed enough to marry a princess? I still don't know the answers to the other questions, but I have decided that Jack's mysterious benefactor knew Jack's name because of the French connection. It is, after all, the Anglicized form of the term "Jacque" given to peasants from at least as far back as the mid 14th century. Apparently, it had something to do with the short coat that peasants wore to signify their station in life--the 14th century version of a blue collar. Did the French Revolution have its origins with malcontents epitomized by a short Corsican fellow who was often portrayed by 18th and 19th century artists with his hand stuffed in his jacket, or was there a precedent to that popular unrest? A much earlier revolt or clash between the classes in France took place in 1358 and is known as the Jacquerie. Accounts of knights being roasted by the peasants--Jacques--and served up forcibly to the knights' families were spread by chroniclers--journalists?--of the day. It's kind of strange that those chroniclers, also members of the ruling class, neglected to report a possible rationale for the revolt and its alleged butchery. You know, things like burdensome taxation of the peasant class, corruption and gross abuse of power amongst the elites, and a lack of government protection for ordinary citizens left to fend for themselves against invading marauders--unemployed soldiers and other bandits--from England, Gascon, Germany, and Spain. Now that I think about it, Jack's ogre's insatiable appetite makes perfect sense. He is a giant in the greatest sense of the word--a conglomerate representative of corporate greed, government corruption and control, and media malfeasance all rolled into one colossal eating machine, nourished by and living high above the means and heads of everyone else.
Getting back to the story, would the ordinary, late-19th-century-until-present-day consumer of light-as-a-feather fairy tales be able to stomach this rags-to-riches-by-murder tale penned by a scholar educated at St. John's College, Cambridge University? You can bet on it. Mr. Jacobs gambled and won on the premise that people all over the world were beginning to understand that, class standing notwithstanding, we're all cut from the same cloth. It's one of those timeless truths that, if given some consideration, topples all kinds of giant misconceptions about each other. I think that given the right opportunity and circumstances, there's bound to be a bit of both the trickster Jack and the giant in all of us. Of course, I could be full of beans.
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment;
That this huge stage presenteth naught but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the selfsame sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet #15)
To "ingraft you new" or jog your memory on the glory of this former mystery plant's birth, I'll set Walk2Write's other Wayback Machine--the blog--to a day at the end of April. Its parent bean didn't have to survive a beating but did require a dose of vinegar to coax it into breaking through a tough seed coat so that it could begin its prodigious growth spurt. Though not full of beans yet, it has the potential for a long, productive life growing behind our pole barn. The soil there had been enriched for years by the cows that the original property owner raised. Not surprisingly, it's one of the few spots in my yard that has some decent soil.
Since I'm not around to check on its daily progress, it's a mystery to me what happens to the rest of the beans that begin to form from these delicate pink flowers. So far, only the one bean that's pictured above has reached maturity. What could be preventing the youngster from reaching its full potential as an adult plant, full of beans? I'll enumerate and eliminate the possibilities:
Adequate moisture. Even though I'm not able to water the plant when the rains don't appear regularly, it grows within the drip line of the pole barn roof, and there is enough evening dew from Florida's ever-present summertime humidity to keep it hydrated.
Sufficient sunlight. The sword bean plant grows on the east side of the barn and receives at least six hours of direct sunlight, enough to satisfy just about any kind of veggie.
Soil pH. I've checked the pH in this part of the yard and found it to be within the recommended limits for growing veggies, which are between 5.8 and 6.5.
Pollination. If you have been following this Wayback Machine for a while, you will remember that Mr. and Mrs. Zucchini Blossom had some problems getting their act together with the bees, but beans are supposed to be self-pollinating and usually don't require much intervention besides a little help from the wind. Wouldn't it be nice if overcoming every other obstacle in life were that simple?
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