Guess what Bailey Bean’s parents are crazy about? Beans of course!
Deon and Chisomo Bean grow 30 varieties of beans around their home in Merrivale. There are Rattle Snake beans and Ugandan Bantu beans, dark green Jade beans, old fashioned Witsa beans and Red Noodle beans that taste a lot like mushrooms.
Deon grew up in Middleburg in Mpumalanga where he picked flowers and collected insects as soon as he could walk, cementing his passion for Nature. Chisomo is originally from Mangochi in Malawi where her family has always grown all the food they need. “We planted cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, plantains and many kinds of beans,” she recalls, “from birth I would go into the fields with my parents and to the street markets to sell our surplus. I have always been a gardener, so the first thing I did when I came to live here was start a garden.”
The home they share with their daughter Bailey, overlooks the verdant uMngeni Valley and it is here that they grow an intriguing array of veggies and a startling selection of bean varieties. Beetroots are plump and purple, unusual varieties of sweet potatoes crawl across the earth, the Swiss chard is hip high and the speckled cucumbers are just asking to be picked.
Amongst the avocados and bananas, underplanted with Venda pumpkins, are Masuku (Mexican Apple or Casimiroa edulis) and the East African variety of Moringa. The parsnip plants have gone to seed (precious for next season), bees are buzzing about the lavender, Jerusalem artichokes are in full bloom and the turmeric and galangal plants look healthy.
Deon is a serious seed-saver, a fascination that began many years ago. “I love the fact that you only have to buy the seed once and never again. It’s food security for life. Beans are a particular favourite because they don’t cross pollinate easily.” He is always on the lookout for new kinds to join the Henderson Lima, Dixie Butter Peas, Apaloosa and a few unnamed Malawian varieties climbing fences or stored in beautiful, locally crafted metal trays. Saving seeds is crucial now for farmers, in these times of mass commercialisation, as many species could otherwise be extinct.
While Chisomo enjoys sitting on the veranda shelling beans, with Bailey playing in the multicoloured seeds beside her, she would love to have her neighbours join her in this task as is traditional in her village.
Surrounded by a rainbow of pulses, it comes as no surprise then that Bailey’s favourite food is – cucumber.