Tag Archives: nitrogen fixer

Mashlum – a traditional mix of oats and beans

Part of the series on crop diversity. A traditional legume-cereal crop no longer grown in Scotland. Sown as a mixture, grain harvest usually threshed and the mix ground to a flour for food and animal feed. Sometimes harvested green as a fodder. Needs less nitrogen than a cereal alone. Could it be grown economically today as a nutritious, high-value, low-input crop?

Mashlum is a crop once widely grown, or at least widely known in northern regions. The term has been applied to any kind of crop mixture of cereals and grain legumes (pulses), but was most commonly used in Scotland for a bean-oat or pea-oat mix.  The combination is said to provide some stability of yield in bad years, while the meal has a higher protein content than oats alone.

Oats and faba beans (Living Field collection)

The word, derived from mash (meaning mix), has been reported in Scotland in the form masloche from the 1440s onwards, then from the 1700s as mashlum, and is said to be similar in meaning to the old English meslin and the French mestillon or mesteillon [1, 2, 3].

In most instances, the crop was harvested when both grains were mature, the product then ground into meal. The dry leaf and stem, or straw, was also used for feed, but contained much less protein.  It was also grown as a green fodder, the whole crop harvested and again used to feed animals.

Some uses of the word [1] suggest the meal was used to make a type of bread – masloche bread. The Food of the Scots [3] relates that the mixture of oats, barley, rye, peas and beans was  cultivated for bread in Dumbartonshire (1794), while several records from diverse parts of the country indicate cultivation of mashlum for the making of pease-bread or bean-bread.

Because of the properties of the cereals used, the bread did not ‘rise’ but remained flat, hence a  flatbread. Mashlum flatbread was made by combining the flour of various cereals and pulses then baking it on a hot plate. In one recipe ‘bere meal was mixed with about a third to a quarter of pease or bean meal , and baked with salt and water, but no raising agent, into round cakes about an inch thick’ [3].

Why grow it – the benefits

There are few records of where and how frequently the crop was grown. It existed in various combinations well before the 1700s’ Improvements period and persisted to modern times, still recorded in the census as a distinct crop up to the 1960s. By the later 1800s, it occupied one or two percent of the total area cultivated for grain (see below)

There is little quantitative evidence of its benefits, but they include the following which refer to the bean-oat mix in the later 1800s and early 1900s [2]:

  • the bean, a nitrogen-fixing plant, has a higher nitrogen and protein content, providing in many cases a more nutritious food than oats alone;
  • the stronger bean plant supports the weaker oat and reduces the chance it will fall over (lodge) in rain and wind;
  • the mixture is less prone to reduction in yield or failure in bad years than beans alone;
  • while some mineral or organic fertilisers were usually applied early in the crop, the N-fixing ability of the bean means the whole crop needed less added nitrogen fertiliser than oats grown alone;
  • it could be used to feed a range of animals – commonly cattle but also horses
  • it was an important part of the staple human diet in some regions.

Benefits of the mix as a habitat for farmland plants and animals were unrecorded. Was it high yielding? Again, there are few records, but by the late 1800s and into the 1900s (and converting from yield cited in hundredweight per acre) a good crop was said to yield around 2 tonnes per hectare [2] which is similar to that of cereals at that time. Investigation to date have found no evidence of whether the mix gains an advantage in yield over the two species grown separately.

Portions of faba bean and oats that contain a similar amount of protein [2]. The white rectangle indicates the amount of oats that would equivalent in weight to the beans.
What were the problems?

Growing two crops in the same area is never straightforward:

  • the oats and beans had to be growing in phase, so that one did not dominate or reduce the other, and so that they could be harvested together – the beans were usually slower, so in some places they were sown before the oats, which means two sowing operations in the same field;
  • they both had to be of a similar dryness at harvest to be stored for drying together in the field;
  • the stronger bean also offered support for birds that fed on the ripening oats.

A highly nutritious crop, therefore, needing less mineral fertiliser – but why was it not a major crop and why did it die out? There are no clear answers, but it probably comes down to the problems in managing two species in the same field and competition from higher-yielding cereals.

After the 1960s, yields of the cereals grown alone began to rise through intensification, which included increasing the dose of mineral nitrogen fertiliser. If the mashlum had been heavily fertilised, the legume would have ceased to fix its own nitrogen.

Mashlum no more!

During the 1940s and up to the 1960s mashlum was important enough to be recorded in the annual agricultural census. In the mid-1940s, it occupied more land than beans alone and than legume forages, but even then, it covered little more than 1.5% of the area of the grain crops combined (oats, barley, wheat, mixed grain and a little rye). By 1960, its area was reduced to 0.2% of that of total cereals. It disappeared from the annual census summaries as an individually reported crop in the 1970s and became part of a general legume-based category of fodder, also including vetches and tares.

The 1980s was a time of great change, notably winter (autumn-sown) crops increasing in area and yield, and during this period, mashlum’s time probably came to an end. It may still be grown in small pockets, like bere barley is in Orkney.

Could it make a comeback?

There is great interest in cereal and legume mixed crops. They need less agrochemical inputs than the same species grown alone. Beans and oats have a higher nutritional value than most common cereals. There would need to be a benefit of growing them together rather than in different strips or parts of the same field and then combining them after harvest.

It might help to plot the future of mashlum if the reasons for its low coverage in the early 1900s and its demise by the 1970s were understood. Simplicity, convenience and economics tend to dictate the shape of farming at any time. Managing two crops, especially if one is faba beans in a variably wet climate, will be problematic until technology overcome issues in harvesting and processing. Public demand for highly nutritious crops relying less on agrochemicals could nevertheless stimulate a revival.

Contact/author: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Sources, references

[1] Dictionary of the Scots Language. Of the two searchable resources, the word Mashlum appears in the Scottish National Dictionary 1700- at  http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/mashlum where it is defined as ‘a mixture of various kinds of grain and legumes such as oats or barley, peas and beans, etc., grown together and ground into meal or flour for baking purposes.  In the form mashloche (and related spellings) it appears in the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue from the 1440s at http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/dost/mashloche.

[2] O’Brien DG. 1925. The Mashlum Crop. In: Farm Crops, edited by Paterson WM, pages 297-302, published by The Gresham Publishing Company, London.

[3] Fenton A. 2007. The Food of the Scots. Volume 5 in A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology. Edinburgh: John Donald. Mashlum appears in Ch 17 Bread and Ch 14 Field crops.

 

Bangkok market

When in south east Asia ….

…. the defining sights, textures and tastes of the region must include the vegetables and fruits that are on sale everywhere and form such a nutritious and tasteful part of the diet. The humblest stalls and open-air cafes offer such a range of fresh plant products, boiled or fried, alone or with with rice or noodles, as are rarely found in Europe. Take kangkong – steeped in garlic and soy sauce, a low-cost pure vegetable delight with no equivalent here [1].

Stalls everywhere sell pineapple, mango, lychee, papaya. In the season, durians and mangosteens, rambutans, custard apples and jack fruit offer unique tastes and textures [2].

So a visit to the vegetable and fruit markets of Bangkok was not to be missed.

The main flower market sells fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables. Above are a great bank of flowering orchids, for show, not to eat, limes (? top right), pineapples and courgettes, roots including very large ‘radishes’, and leaf vegetables.

Most produce was bagged, or in the process of being, and taken away on bicycles, scooters and tuk-tuks, most likely on short supply chains to hotels, restaurants and cafes in the city. The bikes and scooters politely elbowed and wheeled their way through people.

 No small packets here – but great quantities of things: six-feet high banks of lemon grass (top left above), then ginger, chillies and spiny gourds.

In Europe we are used to seeing and eating the yellow-skinned banana fruits. But here also the banana’s unopened flowering heads were for sale [3], destined for gourmet cook-shops.

The produce covered the wide range of storage times found at good markets anywhere [4]. Everything from leafy greens and herbs, high in vitamins and minerals, needing to be cooked and eaten within days before they go off, contrasting with the roots and tubers which, like our potato and swede, can last for weeks, months even, sustaining people and animals over bad times. Of  the longer lasting vegetables were taro [5] and various sorts of pumpkin.

It was a busy place: many small traders, most everything visible. Food in, food out, quickly. Another world from the big retailers that most Europeans buy from.

Notes, links

[1] Kangkong or kangkung – is one of the simplest of dishes, made from the leafy shoots of various plants, the most common being Ipomoea aquatica.  Laced with garlic, mild chillies and soy sauce, a culinary delight, served at the humblest of roadside cook shops.

[2] Of these fruits, the Durian, is the king, they say. It’s of the genus Durio, of which there are many species. There’s little point in a European trying to describe a durian. They have to be experienced. But don’t just try any one that you come across. Durian experts say – select not the first of the season, and not the northernmost, but bide your time, smell each one discerningly, and lingeringly … and blessings will be yours.  A bit arcane, this durian lore – but from experience, it seems to work. And they do say that people go to extremes over the best wild durians, keeping them under guard night and day while fruiting, until they are just right. Also the other fruits mentioned may be palate-changing – mangosteens and custard apples, for example – and don’t be put off by the outer appearance of the jackfruit, because inside it’s ….. delicious.

[3] The fruits of the plantation banana are well known here, but the large flower buds  and flowers of assorted plantains including the commercial banana (all Musa species) are widely used in cooking in south-east Asia.

[4] Links on this web site to vegetable markets include 2 Veg to Pellagra (Carcassonne and Burma) and Inle Lake Burma.

[5] Taro Colocasia esculenta is not so appreciated in Europe, but is a staple of village subsistence throughout south-east Asia. It is close taxonomically to Arum maculatum, the lords and ladies of the cropland’s hedges and shady corners. For more on taro intercropped with ginger and chillies in Burma (Myanmar), see Mixed Cropping in Burma at curvedflatlands. Note the Latin name esculenta has been used for centuries in Scotland – in the form ‘esculent’ – to refer to tuber crops, including potato. For reference and source, see SoScotchBonnet on this web site.

Notes and experiences by geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

Thanks to gk-images for the photographs in the first two panels above.

Links to other pages and posts on vegetables on this site:

 

 

Fixers 3 Crimson clover

Third in a series on nitrogen fixing legume plants.

The crimson clover Trifolium incarnatum ssp incarnatum was once grown widely in the south of Britain and trialled in the north, where it never found favour as a forage ley compared to the white and red clovers. So a small field of mixed legumes in Tarbat, a few miles south  of Portmahomack, was unusual.

Crimson clover was the most visible of the plants, in full flower late September, but the patch also contained red clover, two white- flowered clovers and a few other plants. On its margins a stray sainfoin appeared, probably a relic from a previous sowing.

lf_ntsmgs_mxdlgms1_gs_1100

Crimson clover was noted in Lawson & Son’s Vegetable Products of Scotland  (1852). They report that, if sown in autumn, it can be cut in June the next year ‘…. and the land fallowed for wheat or spring corn’.  They report that is makes a valuable green food for cattle and when cut in full flower ‘it makes a more abundant crop, and a superior hay to that of common clovers, at least it is more readily eaten by horses’.

They also report a comparison of ‘common crimson clover’, a variety of it named ‘late-flowering crimson clover’ sourced from Toulouse in France, and Moliner’s clover which was said to be grown in France and Switzerland. The late flowering variety came out top.

In modern taxonomy, the only one of these native to Britain is now called long-headed clover Trifolium incarnatum ssp molinerii, white-flowered, but that is found at only a few coastal sites in the south of Britain. This is likely to be the same as the Moliner’s clover mentioned by the Lawsons, but their seed was most likely sourced from European seedsmen rather than from the wild in Britain. Crimson clover is now Trifolium incarnatum  ssp incarnatum. Moliner’s and crimson are therefore considered sub-species (ssp) of the same species.

So what was it doing here? It was probably sown in a clover mix as a legume contribution to CAP Greening measures (see Sources). As can be seen the mix was luxuriant in foliage and flower well into autumn, when many other wild plants were dying or seeding.

Tarbat is a rich agricultural region, and you can see why the Picts farmed and established their monastery and unique monuments here  over 1000 years ago. Today, small fields and patches like the one shown offer refuge and food for  insects and birds in a landscape dominated by grazing land, and harvested or ploughed fields.

lf_ntsmgs_mxdlgmns2_gs_1100

Sources

Peter Lawson and Son. 1852. Synopsis of the vegetable products of Scotland. Edinburgh: Private Press of Peter Lawson and Son

Mixtures for CAP Greening and also crimson clover alone: Cotswold Seeds https://www.cotswoldseeds.com/seed-info/greening-and-cap-reform

Taxonomy from: Stace C. 1997. New flora of the British Isles 2nd Edition.

Links to legumes on this web site:

Contact: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk. Images are the property of the Living Field project.

Fixers 2 Restharrow

The restharrow Ononis repens is a tough plant, growing as it does at the very limits of dry, salty land around the coast. There it will fix nitrogen from the air, which finds its way through decomposition of roots and leaves into the sand and then perhaps to other plants and to soil microbes. It was also once a serious weed of cropland, as its name suggests, but a weed no longer, tamed by heavy ploughs and pesticide.

Coastal dunes, beach and restharrow flower at Montrose bay, Angus, 26 July 2015 (Living Field)

It grows well around the coasts of Angus and Moray. In Montrose bay, it grows in abundance, the main legume of the dunes. It is prolific near the south end, particularly around the car parks, binding the sand as it once slowed the harrow. To the north over the several miles of beach, it lives at the base of the collapsed dunes (images above), leaf and flower blasted by salt and sand grains.

In the images above, the line of stakes leading seaward from the dunes reaches out into the North Sea at its widest and after 650 km of rough water, meets the coast of Denmark. The restharrow is the first line of defence.

Flowering branches of common restharrow (left) in the Living Field garden and (right) at Montrose Bay (Living Field)
Flowering branches of common restharrow (left) in the Living Field garden and (right) at Montrose Bay (Living Field)

Restharrow as a weed

Grigson gives the mediaeval names of the plant, one of which resta bovis translates as ox-stop, and cites a treatise of 1578: ‘the roote is long and limmer, spreading his branches both large and long under the earth, and doth ofttimes let, hinder and staye, both the plough and oxen in toyling the ground’.

In her 1920 book, Winifred Brenchley classed restharrow Ononis repens among ‘coarse growing plants that deteriorate the quality of pasture or meadow’. And in the last century it seems to have been a problem in grass rather than in land that was repeatedly tilled.

Its decline from the community of common weeds is now so great that it is hardly found in farmland.  Yet as recently as 1938, H. L. Long wrote “If this weed is plentiful it must be attacked by thorough and regular cutting, liming, complete manuring, and close depasturing with stock. In rare instances it may be desirable to plough up the pasture, give a thorough cleaning and manuring, and again lay down to grass.”

Long placed it in the top 30+ weeds of pasture, but did not always distinguish the spiny Ononis spinosa, which has a more southerly distribution in Britain, from Ononis repens which is the one shown here in the photographs and which was described by Long as having runners, usually spineless and with a strong disagreeable scent.

Grigson relates its presence in pasture as tainting milk, butter and cheese and children chewing  its root, which gives it the name wild liquorice.

Restharrow in the Living Field garden

A few patches of restharrow remain in a remote corner of one of the Institute’s farms near Dundee.

To see what it looks like and how it grows, the Living Field garden keeps a small patch of it, originating from seed. Its luxuriant foliage and flowers grow to well over 0.5 m in height and attract a range of insect feeders. It is cut back to 10-20 cm above soil level in autumn, but is otherwise left to itself.

Its leaves and stems are softer in the garden, less wiry than at the edge of the North Sea (comparison above). There are also small variations in geometry of the leaves and sepals.

References and links

Brenchley WE. 1920. Weeds of farm land. Longmans, Green and Co, London. Grigson G. 1958. The Englishman’s flora. (Paladin, 1975). Long HC. 1938. Weeds of grass land. HMSO.

Note: on sampling the coastal plants, Euan James reports nodulation, indicating they are fixing nitrogen.

Contact/date: GS 30 July 2015.

Also on the web site:

Kidney Vetch and the small blue

The kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria was noted in  a recent post about nitrogen-fixers living by the shore on the east coast of Angus. But the kidney vetch has wider acclaim as host of the rare Small Blue butterfly Cupido minimus.

Flowering 'head' of kidney vetch (Squire / Living Field)
Flowering ‘head’ of kidney vetch (Squire / Living Field)

The small blue lays its eggs in the flowering heads of kidney vetch. The hatched larvae then eat the flowers and the developing seed.

However, the range of the butterfly in the north east has decreased in recent years and attempts are being made to record its occurrence. For more on the small blue and current surveys in Scotland –

In the latter can be found people to contact if you want to take part in surveys or to report sight of the butterfly.

Kidney vetch

The kidney vetch is one of the nitrogen-fixing legumes that occur in nitrogen-poor, dry and unshaded environments around the coast of eastern Scotland. 

Yet it was once considered as a sown forage – a constituent of vegetation managed for stock-feeding. Lawson and Son (1852) write that it ‘does not yield much produce, but is eaten with avidity by horses, sheep and cattle, and also by hares and rabbits, and might therefore be introduced into mixtures for very dry soils’.

In the Garden

The Living Field garden grows kidney vetch in its medicinals collection and in the raised beds that have housed a legume collection over the past few years (images below). It grows well, forming luxuriant clumps up to 30 cm in height, taller than on the coast. The flowers are usually more yellow, less red than on the wild plants.

It flowers and seeds profusely in the garden. Some plants die in the winter, but in the last two years it has regenerated freely from its own dropped seed.

Kidney vetch, a forage and wound herb, in the Living Field garden (Living Field/Squire)
Kidney vetch, a forage and wound herb, in the Living Field garden (Living Field/Squire)
The flower heads

The round ‘wooly’ heads may be confusing at first sight, but each ball consists of usually three separate heads each holding many individual flowers. The three heads do not all flower at the same time.

In the image at the top of the page, the head to the lower right is the latest to flower – some flowers are still in bud while others have the fresh yellow petals emerging from the red calyx tube (which previously enclosed the bud).  The head to the left has a mix of new and withered flowers. The largest one, at the top middle and right, has finished flowering: all petals are withered orange, the calyx tubes have turned purple and the hairs have expanded into a whitish mass, protecting the seeds that will form deep in the tubes.

Reference

Lawson and Son. 1852. Synopsis of the vegetable products of Scotland. Authors’ private press, Edinburgh.

 

Fixers 1 Coastal legumes

First in a series on nitrogen fixing legume plants.

Legumes are a group of plants that ‘fix’ nitrogen gas from the air to make proteins that are essential for growth and survival. When legume tissue dies, the nitrogen (N) is returned to the soil.

Legumes have many uses to people as food, medicinals and dyes. They also support insects that in turn  carry out ecological functions such as scavenging and pollination.

Here we begin a short series on wild N-fixers. First are those that live by the eastern shores of Angus.

lf_noim_lgmngs_gs_1100

The east coast of Angus (middle image) is rich in wild legumes. Those shown here live just above the beach or on top of the cliffs, where the vegetation is short and there are no bigger plants to out-shade them. Top left is a patch of purple milk-vetch Astragalus danicus and white clover Trifolium repens behind, top right kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria with litter, and ( bottom) flowering heads of kidney vetch (left)  and purple milk vetch.

Nearby were patches of meadow vetchling Lathyrus pratensis, bird’s-foot-trefoils Lotus species, and on the cliff-tops bush vetch Vicia septum, gorse or whin Ulex europaeus, broom Cytisus scoparius and the introduced laburnum Laburnum anagyroides.

One reason for the presence of legumes here is an unfarmed  habitat, low in nitrogen. Fixation by the legumes is one of the main routes by which the plants and soils get their essential nitrogen.

Most of these wild legumes have been tried over the last few thousand years as crops or forages. Some such as kidney vetch have been well-know medicinals (a vulnerary is a herb for treating wounds). Few have remained useful to agriculture, perhaps the best known being white clover, still cultivated today to enrich grass fields with fixed nitrogen.

Legumes are of the pea family Fabaceae, previous known as Leguminosae.

Related on this site:

Contact: geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk