Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Poles and supports

While it is far too early for planting tomatoes and beans, it is not too early to make sure you have everything ready when time comes to bring out the tomato plants and plant the beans.  These last few days I have been busy setting up supports for them.
Tête-à-tête daffodils
Tête-à-tête daffodils

I only grow pole beans. These are the Jack and the Beanstalk type of bean plants. They grow very tall and need some kind of support.  Pole beans are more work because you have to put up the support (unless you grow them next to a fence). However, they are ideal for home gardener.
Poles for beans
Poles for beans

First of all they are much more productive than bush beans, and they produce their crop over a longer period, usually until the first frost. Bush beans are often determinate. This means that all the beans are ready at the same time, which is convenient for agro-business, but not at all for the backyard gardener.

Pole beans use a lot less space than bush beans as they grow vertically.

Finally, many varieties of pole beans can be eaten at different stages. First, you can pick them when they are in the pod, and still small and very tender. You do not hesitate to pick them at this first stage because with pole beans you know they will produce a lot and that there will be more than you can use fresh. You can eat them in the pod at the regular size, but also when they are just getting too big and the pod is too tough. Then, you shell them and they are very similar to shelled edamame or fresh flageolets. That is to say, they are beans out of the pod, but still green and requiring not much cooking. At that stage they are very nice in stir fry or as a side dish. Finally, you can let them dry on the pole and shell them. Shelling beans is a job to do in front of the fire in late October while someone reads aloud to you. The discarded shells can be used as fire kindling.

I grow quite a varieties of beans, mostly heirloom. This year, I am looking forward to trying  Meraviglia di Venezia. It is yellow (unusual for pole beans) and is supposed to be particularly good eaten fresh. The only warning about beans, is that you have to remember that some varieties are grown exclusively as beans to dry. Last year I tried "Black Turtle" and was shocked to find they are not edible fresh, although they are delicious as a dry black bean.

Bean supports are very simple. They are poles that you arrange in tepee fashion. Eight feet tall/2.5 meters is about right as the vines easily reach 10 feet/3 meters (and hangs down when they reach the the top). If you do not have access to poles, long bamboo sticks will do or you could grow them on some kind of trellis or on the tomato support I describe further down. The same poles can be reused for many years. 

This year, I am trying something new to hold up tomatoes. It is a suggestion I read in a gardening magazine last winter. At a building store, you get 4 feet by 8 feet metal grid that is sold to reinforce concrete. You set it up between two posts and you tie the tomato plants to the grid as they grow. I added a horizontal piece of wood at the top, as the structure seemed to me too flimsy without it. One problem I had not anticipated is that the grids started to rust the moment they were left outside. So I had to paint them with rust paint, which added four hours to the job.
Support for tomato plants

It should work quite well but it seems rather a lot of work for what is meant to be a one season support. I probably won’t dismantle them this fall.  I will use them for another year. It will mean growing tomatoes in the same spot two years in a row, but improving the soil will be simpler than moving the whole contraption.

If you have read my previous post “A Turnip Turns up Unexpectedly”, you will know how impressed I have been with turnip tops as a winter vegetable. We started eaten them a few days ago. They are delicious and produce a great deal (we will no doubt be tired of them in a few weeks!). They are similar to rapini. Here is how they look fresh from the garden and ready to eat.
Turnip Tops
Turnip Top Flower Bud

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