Numb Fumbling 1: A Tale of Two Talets

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is over. It is now chilly and the soil is saturated from weeks of rain. It's time once again to plunge my hands into the ground and see how the talets are faring. I find gloves to be an encumbrance when sifting through sticky soil or compost for seeds and small tubers; my hands at least must be naked when harvesting talets.

Amphicarpaea bracteata aerial chasmogamous flowers
For those unfamiliar with this plant, talet is Amphicarpaea bracteata, an excellent wild edible from North America. It's commonly known as hog peanut, but native people of my acquaintance tell me that they consider that particular name to be derogatory; it was an important food source for many tribes. For more information on this fascinating and delicious geocarpic legume, you could take a look at this. Talet means, perhaps somewhat prosaically, "ground bean" in Nahuatl, but you can't fault the impeccable logic employed in its naming.

As evidence of its wide adaptability, I cite its successful cultivation outdoors at 64°N in Norway by Stephen Barstow, the leading edimentalist. It even survived the winter there.

I've been collecting varieties for a few years now and have about half a dozen, including yabumame, the Asian cousin of talet, which looks very similar and is sometimes considered to be a variety of Amphicarpaea bracteata. I've yet to do any controlled assessments of their differing yields, though. Perhaps if I make a public declaration of my commitment to do so in 2014, then the support of well-wishers will strengthen my resolve and see me through the rocky patches. It works with marriage, doesn't it? As the voles have been dining like kings on the crop over the past few years, I decided to transfer my accessions to pots until our bright-eyed and tiny-tailed chums have declined or decamped. I'm glad I did, because not a single bean came up this year.

Amphicarpaea bracteata differing varietal senescence
My latest acquisition is a Canadian variety, originally offered by Gardens North an excellent company with an interesting range of North American natives. I got my seeds via Mark Robertson, a fellow amphicarpaphile who kindly passed them on while he was living in the USA. I'm glad he did, because they no longer offer them.

There seem to be marked differences in maturity between the varieties, with this photo from early October showing the fully senescent 'Gardens North' in all its shabby glory, while my original variety, provenance unknown, only hints at dying back. Early maturity ought to be a good thing in our climate, with its cool and unpredictable summer weather. 

Time to take the plunge. Compare and contrast, as they say.

Amphicarpaea bracteata yield variationsAfter a bit of fiddling, I came up with two harvests from the two varieties, with 'Gardens North' on the left, just above my authentically grubby thumbnail and the original variety to the right. It seems as though the original variety gave fewer, although larger beans, but I haven't actually compared their masses and fear I might be ejected from the kitchen if I attempt to use our domestic scales. One of the original variety's beans was exceptionally large, but on further investigation, it turned out to be a double yolker, something I've not encountered before.

Amphicarpaea bracteata double seeded subterrnanean pod
Amphicarpaea double yolker 
So that's two talets looked at. I think it might be a week or two until my fingers have regained full mobility and sensitivity and I'm ready to look at the others; typing this just after the event is proving challenging enough. Numb fumbling indeed. 


Ian Pearson said…
Mine have disappeared this year. Probably voles. Has anyone eaten voles? They are certainly an easy crop.
Nicolas M. said…
Earliness and later death is very good for a cover crop, as talet is used for in some polycultures,

i've get some talet true seeds, do you think i need to stratify them or it can sprout if sowed in spring ?

Anonymous said…
Hi ya, any idea where I can source talet and inoculating culture in the UK? I've scoured the web but can't find a lead. Many thanks, Alan
Rhizowen said…
Hello Alan

You could try mailing me.
Anonymous said…
Thanks! Have done.