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Sowing the seeds of history

Some say my beans are from King Tut’s tomb.

By Nancy BennettCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 26, 2008



The other day I fell into conversation with a bus driver during one of my jaunts from the country to the town. He and I engaged in a little garden talk. Like me, Dan is an avid gardener, especially interested in preserving heirloom plants and seed swapping.

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“Hey,” said Dan, “would you like to plant some history?”

Years ago, a friend from Japan sent him some seeds. They were given to the man by a neighbor who was a professor and also an avid gardener/historian. He was told that the beans could trace their lineage to none other then the tomb of King Tut.

I was dubious about Dan’s story but told him that I would trade him a dozen eggs for the seeds.

Feeling a bit like Jack when he swapped a cow for a handful of beans, I decided to do some online searching. On one website, I read that when King Tut’s tomb was opened in 1922, among other things found was a container of beans, awaiting planting, no doubt, in the king’s next life.

It said that Howard Carter, an English Egyptologist, took some of the seeds with him, and with good soil, water and sun, they soon sprouted. He then shared the seeds with some of his colleagues and neighbors, and eventually they found their way to Japan.

The story continued that in 1956, Haruki Taki grew some of the seeds. He was a generous man, who wanted to help preserve the ancient beans, so he offered to give seeds to the first 100 people who contacted him.

The seeds have since spread round the globe, and that is how they found their way from Egypt to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where I live.

Dan presented me with the seeds a week later. They were amazing! Red ocher seeds inside pods streaked with dark purple.

Following an ancient tradition, which says to take only a third of what you find in nature, give a third to someone else, and leave a third for the next generation, I gave a third of the seeds to my neighbor and kept a third in trust for another.

Later, a gardening friend asked if she might try some seeds. Since my crop had begun peeking above the soil, I parted with the last of “Dan’s beans.”

Of the 14 seeds I planted, seven have made it above ground. One seed was chewed on and discarded by a rodent. (Obviously he had no taste for history!)

Whether or not the story of the seeds is true, I believe that it’s important for people to make room in their gardens – whether it be an acre of land or a window box – for heirloom seeds. Plant some history yourself.

I asked Dan if he ever cooked the beans, and he quipped that they tasted as 3,000-year-old beans should. Kinda bland.

Possibly modern hydbridizing has added a sweetness to the beans we grow today that wasn’t there earlier.

I plan to use some of my beans as part of a fall dinner for our family, as we sit down to another ritual I hope to continue: the family harvest gathering.

The majority of the seeds, if the crop is successful, will be shared with other gardeners.

Blessed be the seeds of the future generations and the riches uncovered on a country bus.

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