Five Beans Garden


In this section of the blog, I will be documenting our permaculture project, Five Beans Garden. Because the name might raise some questions, a brief explanation is in order.

When we set out to create a sustainable garden that would allow us to grow more of our food and replenish the soil, I wanted to name this garden. My partner, however, objects to naming “inanimate objects” such as houses, cars, or tracts of land. Even though the purpose of permaculture is to make land as “animate” as possible—biodiverse and rich with micro-organisms—I knew this would not be a fruitful line of argument to pursue in my household. Instead, I appealed to family history. You see, my father-in-law was an immigrant from England, who taught his daughters all kinds of English expressions. One of them was the riddle, “How many beans make five?” Now, of course, there are many ways to add up to five beans: one bean plus one bean plus three beans would do it, for instance, as would two beans plus two beans plus one bean. In my partner’s family custom, however, there was only one right answer: two beans, a bean, a bean and a half, and half a bean. (I have learned not to question this answer.) Apparently, the expression “knowing how many beans make five” refers to being sensible and having good common sense and this is something to which we can all aspire, even if we disagree on how, exactly, we should add up beans.

Now, it so happens that we like beans; that is to say, we like the many different members of the legume family or Fabaceae. Snow peas, sugar snaps, shelling peas, fava beans, haricots verts, chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini – the list goes on and on. You name them, we eat them! So, when I suggested “Five Beans Garden,” this not only touched my partner’s family history but also set a goal for the garden: to plant at least five kinds of peas and beans each year.