Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bean Strategies

The vegetable I like best to grow is pole beans. I am not quite sure why, but these Jack-in-the-bean-stalk plants, which are so productive, have a definite attraction for me. The growing season is rather short in our zone 5 garden, so I have to make sure I put all the odds on my side to get as good a crop as possible and have green beans available for the longest period of time. Here is how I grow them.
Pole beans in August

I say that I want to have green beans available for the longest period of time, and the first step to achieving this goal is precisely to grow pole beans (by pole we mean beans that climb) rather than bush beans. I explained in a previous post how I set up the poles.

Most gardeners prefer bush beans because they are less fuss, and they tend to mature early. You do not need to set up poles which does save time. However, most bush beans tend to be determinate.  This means that most of the beans ripen at the same time. This is very handy for large scale producer, but it is a definite drawback in a home garden. Pole beans stop producing only when it gets too cold (or until the beans are ripe and dry on the vine).

Pole beans can be eaten at three different stages. You have 1)snaps or green beans that you eat fresh with the pod, 2)shelling beans, which are fully grown beans with the pod removed (looking like edamame), and 3)dry beans that keep for years. I grow a good number of plants to be able to eat beans at all three stages. You have to remember that when you leave beans to ripen and dry up, the vine stops producing.   So you need to keep some other vines whose beans are regularly picked and which continue producing.

Beans seeds rot in wet and cold weather. They do germinate easily in a warm and humid environment. This means you have to wait until the soil is warm to plant them. When you have a cold spring like this year, it might mean waiting until June in our climate.

This year I tried something new. The weather was cold and wet last week, but warmer and sunny weather was in the forecast. I seeded my beans in a shallow tray indoor, in the warmest place in the house, when the weather was cold. Then, when the sun returned, my beans were just sprouting, and I planted them. You have to be careful about timing, taking into account that they sprout in two to three days, and they have to be just sprouting. If they already have a longish root, you will beak it when you plant them.

Since I only grow heirloom, open pollinated varieties (by opposition to hybrids), I keep seeds every year, and so if a first crop fails, I start more. Anyhow, I never plant them all at the same time to make sure that later in the season, I still have younger plants that will produce lots of green beans (meaning fresh young beans you eat in the pod – they are not always green, they can be purple or yellow). If you are trying a new variety you just bought, these will tend to take a bit longer to germinate than your own from the previous year. These bought beans can be a few years old and are slower to get going.
A dibber is handy to plant sprouted beans without breaking the root

Among the varieties I grow is Spanish Musica, which looks like a big, white navy bean.  I originally got it from Renee’s Garden Seeds. It tends to be earlier than the other beans I grow, so it is always nice to have a few plants of that variety. One of my favourites is Gloria, a Portuguese bean which was given to me by a Portuguese friend. I also grow and old French variety called Cosse Violette, a lovely purple bean that turns green when you cook it. The bean itself is slightly squarish. I also grow Rattlesnake, Garafal Oro, and, new this year, a yellow bean called Meraviglia di Venezia (Venice Wonder - isn’t that a marvellous name!).
In the backgroundof the picture below, on the right, you can see pole beans drying up in the October sun.

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