Beans out of time

Temporally shifted beans

Temporally shifted beans

I know that it is entirely the wrong time of year to be harvesting broad beans, but I am… well, field beans at least.

Once again this year, I didn’t plant my bean seeds at the right time. I know that you can plant broad beans in the autumn for a nice, early crop the following year, but it doesn’t seem to work well round here. I think it is because it’s usually so wet over the winter, and the seeds tend to rot before they germinate. As a result, I try to plant my beans in the spring. This year, however, it was so cold in March that somehow it didn’t get done, and I ended up planting my runner and broad beans at pretty much the same time.

Never mind! It just means that I’m just starting to enjoy them now. Lots of people have had bad experiences with eating broad beans, but I think those are generally the huge, tough, mealy things that supermarkets seem to sell. I love them fresh out of the garden – removed from their squishy pods just before cooking. And my favourite recipe? It has to be one adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (here’s the original):

Fry a finely chopped onion in oil until soft, add some chopped pancetta and allow that to crisp up, then toss in some fresh broad beans and  allow them to cook through.

Hugh eats his beans cooked this way on toast, but I like to serve this with sautéed potatoes cooked with paprika and garlic mayonnaise… yum. It’s a recipe that you could equally use for thinly sliced pole, runner or French beans.

Learning junkie

I hated school – I loathed the place. I was the clever skinny child with glasses who was rubbish at sports. I got picked on and I didn’t have many friends. On reflection, I think that I managed to learn in spite of school rather than because of it. That said, I did have four great years at middle school (aged 9 to 11) and I did have a couple of inspirational teachers at high school: Mr Hall, my geography teacher all the way through my five years there; and Miss Bray, my biology teacher for my final two years, the dear lady who persuaded me to apply to go to university, convincing me that it was nothing like school.

And so it is, perhaps, surprising how much I have enjoyed learning during my subsequent adult life. I’m a bit of a collector of qualifications  (a BSC, a PhD and an MEd). I’m a member of two professional bodies – one educational (HEA) and one environmental (CIEEM), both of which required me to produce substantial portfolios to be admitted. But my education does not end in academia, I have a Permaculture Design Certificate and am currently working towards my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, but I’ve also spent four years recently studying French, I have attended classes on felt making and basketry in the past couple of years, and I have  a crochet course lined up for later on in the summer.

IMGP0774And classes are not the end of it – the internet is great. YouTube has turned out to be an amazing resource, where I have learnt about all sorts of things. The latest video I watched, for example, taught me how to knit a magic loop and I have greatly expanded my range of knitting techniques through watching clips on YouTube. It seems that you can learn how to do almost anything via YouTube – from playing the guitar to building a chicken house!

Trial and error - learning as I go in the garden (with a little help from books)

Trial and error – learning as I go in the garden (with a little help from friends and books)

I’m also willing to give things a go and learn from my mistakes. My garden is a particularly good example of this approach, and it has certainly evolved over time as a result of trial and error. I expect that this will continue to be the case. Because many of the crops I grow are annuals, I can experiment one year and apply the lessons the next… hopefully gaining expertise as I go, but always with the opportunity to make improvements. The garden is also, one place where I apply lots of my book-learning and advice from other gardeners.

So, it has turned out that learning has enhanced my life and continues to do so. And I’m not alone – there is clear evidence that people who continue to participate in learning through their lives are healthier than those who don’t. In his paper Lifelong learning, welfare and mental well-being into older age: trends and policies in Europe, John Field (a well-known expert in lifelong learning) states

Increasingly, though, researchers have started to identify wider social and cultural benefits from participation in learning, and there is also growing evidence of small but important improvements in mental well-being for individuals. This suggests that older adults can experience significant improvements in quality of life as a result of participating in learning

So, I will continue to participate in learning, mainly because I enjoy it, but also in the hope that it will keep me healthy and mentally stimulated… how about you?

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