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Growing Ice Cream Beans 63 Degrees North

Aging guy who has had problems following through with anything in life, except growing exotic plants. Sorry for not perfect English


Anders Ekergård, 2022-05-03

Photos by the writer.

I live in what used to be the frozen north. Land of semi-domestic reindeers. Umeå, Sweden, 63 degrees north. Here poor people had to mix their barley porridge with Iceland lichen to survive. Yep, barley. The summer is too short for wheat, it’s barley country. Now I'm here growing ice cream beans. Because why not, this isn’t barley country anymore - now when the poor history is over we have something else. Spectacular things happen here. The local university even employed a future Nobel prize winner: Emmanuelle Charpentier. Or if that’s not your thing, the city produced a film with Miami, dinosaurs, Vikings, Nazis, kung fu and deliberate VHS quality. Of course we want something spectacular when choosing our houseplants and to me ice cream beans is a spectacular name. Or it's just not the name, on the big video sharing site we can see people claiming the edible white fluff between the beans of this tree actually tastes like vanilla ice cream. (This is unlike chocolate pudding fruit that, according to the same channels, doesn't taste like chocolate pudding.)

The first time I read about ice cream beans was also the first time I read about biochar. Yep, both biochar and Inga edulius are mentioned in the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2006) by Charles C. Mann. The book tells us that the Indians in the Amazon used charcoal as a soil improver. Charcoal binds nutrients to the soil - practical if you grow in areas with high rainfall - and it improves the conditions for microbes in the soil. In Portuguese it’s called Terra preta. Today, the method is also noticed as a primitive way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The soil is a whole chapter in 1491, while Inga edulis is just mentioned. As you understand, one crop that the Indians, according to the book, grew in charcoal-mixed soil was the tree "Ice cream bean", Inga edulis.

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Am I saying I have to grow spectacular plants, since I’m from a part of the world that used to be poor? Not that I have to, and every part of the world that’s rich, used to be poor. I’m just making a point of the contrast between the cold, meagre, barely, barley country, and today. Many people might still find the place cold, but since we are not self-sufficient farmers anymore it doesn’t matter that much and as said, the country is not barely anymore. That said, now it is time to tell you about my experience of growing the tree as a houseplant.

It didn’t exactly start easy. I couldn’t find any seeds. Or I could find seeds, it was just that they had to be imported from the USA. I had to cherry-pick the information about what was legal to find the claim that it's legal to import seeds from countries outside the EU. I ordered seeds from Hawaii and to this day I’m not sure if it’s legal. Many say it isn't okay to ship any plants or seeds like that. But I did find one page that said seeds are fine and the custom was informed of the content of the packet before they transferred it to me. Now that didn’t really matter, this was the first of my disappointments. When the seeds arrived, they were packed together with wet toilet paper. Normally it could have been a good thing, but here it meant not only that they had started to grow but also that the seeds had more than started to die. Shiping simply was too slow.

After that I found a German site that at least listed the seed of Inga edulis. The only problem was that they were “Out of stock”. They have been out of stocks for over a year. For that reason I ended up buying grown plants from a nursery garden on the Canary islands. Islands that are in Europe, or in Africa, well it doesn’t matter, they are in the EU and therefore it was definitely legal to bring the plants here.

Now I have plants. Then the next problem was the vermin, mealybugs seems to love I. edulis. I tried soap water. Then soap water with neem oil, and finely extract of chrysanthemum. Neem oil smells, but if you ask me the chrysanthemum smell even worse. The last one did the trick. But maybe it’s not something you should use on things you will eat, even if it’s approved for ecological farming. Anyway I also took tons of clones. At the time of writing this I have 12 plants of I edulis, that’s despite the fact I have sold six plants and one or two of them has died.

But back to my problems. Two winters in a row I had two ice cream beans in a growth tent. The two plants in semi-hydroponic and a so-called blurple lamp (blue and red light). The first winter was no problem. However, next winter something happened. It could simply have been that this time I was stressed by the courses I was taking, but for some reason I missed that I got water under the growing tent and it led to water damage. Hydroponic literally means working with water, I know water always will leak, but I still missed the water damage. Not good for my confidence. Well, not good for anyone's belief in me. One or two people have reproached me so much that they suggested I am not trusted to have potted plants at home.

So now what you want to know is if I have gotten any beans? Any white fluff to taste myself? Maybe that would have imporoved my confidence. No, two years in, still nothing. Then we now live in a climate crisis and Putin/the Russians have terrible things in store for us. Plus it's more difficult to see how it would for real crash our economy but I’m Swedish and the risk is our bad integration and migration policy will bite us in the ass, for real. Perhaps we in the future will have to grow things for a less advanced economy. We might have to get back to being the country of barley. But for now, we’re still the economy that produces tropical plants 63 degrees north, just for fun.


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