Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Mighty Bean

This year I am growing two varieties of pole bean.  First up is "Cherokee Trail of Tears".  This one is an amazing dual purpose bean that I grew for the first time last year.  As a green bean, it is slim, tender, stringless (unless you let them get too big) and has a wonderful flavour.  Then, if left to dry, it also produces beautiful black beans.  I was very impressed by it even in light of all the bean issues I had last year (which I will get into below).

There are few beans which such a memorable story.  In 1838, the Cherokee people left their homeland in the southeastern US and relocated to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.  This was as a result of the "Indian Removal Act" which was enacted in 1830 and resulted in the relocation of a number of Native American tribes, including the Cherokee nation.

Cherokee Trail of Tears Sign

Technically, relocation was "voluntary"; in reality, not so much.  Thousands of Native Americans died during the journey due to such factors as starvation, exposure & disease - hence, the Trail of Tears.  The "Cherokee Trail of Tears" beans are said to have made this journey.  The seeds were given to Seed Savers Exchange in 1977 by Dr. Wyche, an ancestor of the Cherokee people who made this arduous journey.  No matter how many times I hear the story, I still get choked up when I think of the suffering these people went through.  I am so glad that this bean is a winner in the garden & on the plate because with a history like that, I would probably give it space in the garden just for posterity sake.

"Cherokee Trail of Tears"

Up next is another bean that I tried for the first time last year and absolutely LOVED - "Golden of Bacau", a yellow heirloom Romano bean from Bacau (where else?) in Romania.  This bean was awesome!  It produced huge, bright yellow, flat, tender pods.  The beans are both stringless and extremely tender, even when the beans started to swell in the pods.  And when I say they were huge, I mean HUGE - I had pods that were 1" wide and 12" long, with most averaging about 8"!  But, of course, one of the most important factors is taste.  One word - YUM!  The beans are mild & slightly sweet.  I steamed & then pan-fried them with some caramelized shallots & I couldn't get enough.

"Golden of Bacau"
 
I made two fatal errors when planting my beans last year.  The biggest mistake was in planting them about 12" behind my sugar snap peas.   I had never planted sugar snaps before and, knowing that peas were a spring crop while beans were considered a warm weather crop, I just assumed that the peas would be more or less done by the time the beans really got going.  WRONG!

My peas did spring up quickly, but they were still growing & not even flowering yet by the time the beans came up.  The competition from the huge pea vines significantly impacted the growth of the beans.  They struggled, right from the beginning, with less than stellar growth.  I finally ripped out the pea vines in the middle of July (they hadn't even completely finished but I didn't want to lose my beans) and the bean vines perked up a bit & really started growing well.

Beans in 2013
A Couple of Weeks After Pulling out the Peas
 
Unfortunately, my beans then got infected with bacterial brown spot.  Thankfully, I was able to harvest quite a bit before it completely took over, even infecting the beans themselves.  I'm sure the  reduced vigor, stressed out start & lack of air circulation created by the pea vines played a major role.  But another likely factor was my Mistake #2 - spacing the beans too closely.

I planted the seeds 3" apart, in 2 staggered rows that were also 3" apart on either side of a trellis.  This is the spacing that was recommended in my edition of Mel Bartholomew's original Square Foot Gardening book and it worked fine the year before when I grew Kentucky Wonder pole beans.  I'm thinking that such close spacing for pole beans would significantly contribute to the lack of air circulation.

Of course my bean nemesis, the Japanese beetle, didn't help the situation.  Every year they swoop in & start nibbling on my pole bean leaves (interestingly, they have never been interested in the bush beans).  My only control for these is to flick them as I see them into a container with soapy water.

So this year, I am trying a different method.  On the north side of the bed, I placed 2 trellises, 12" apart.  I sowed the beans 8" apart (this was the spacing recommended on the seed packet) in 2 staggered rows 4" apart under each trellis.

When I planned my bed layout, I oriented the beds so that they run east-west - this way, the beds 8' length lies on the north side.  To get the best use from the space, my plan is to place tall, trellised beans on the north side and bush varieties on the south side. In the past I have only used one trellis & planted the rest of the bed with shorter crops.  But ideally, I would love to use 1/2 the bed for each - so that is what I am trying this year by placing the 2 trellises on one half & growing bush beans on the other half.

So that's it for the pole beans.  Now on to the bush beans - I am only growing one variety,  "Contender".  I really like this bean - it is just a very good overall green bean.  It produces good sized beans that are stringless, tender, tasty & the plants are very productive.  This will be my third year growing them.

"Contender" Bush Beans in 2012
 
I am still patiently waiting for my beans to emerge from the soil.  In the past I have pre-germinated them & then sown them but I was just too busy for this extra step this year, so I sowed them directly into the soil.  In retrospect, I probably should have at least soaked them to give them a bit of a head start.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they don't have any problems germinating.

And on a sad note, a second cucumber plant is now wilting.

Wilting Suyo Long Cucumber Seedling
 
I have no idea what is going on but I suspect one of two things - bacterial wilt caused by cucumber beetles or overwatering.  I'm leaning towards overwatering because the soil I purchased ended up being very "clayey" - is that even a word?  I incorporated just over 3 cu. feet of peat moss into each bed as well as some additional compost to make up for the heaviness.  When I use my moisture meter, the soil is just below the "wet" marker and I haven't watered the bed in a couple of days, even though it's been fairly hot.  Also, I haven't seen any cucumber beetles - I did see a stripped beetle this morning on the netting that is covering the collards, but when I looked it up, it doesn't look like a cucumber beetle at all:

This Beetle is Tiny - My Finger is for Size Reference
 
Only the Suyo Long plants have been affected, so whatever this is, it's affecting them more than the others - so far.  I'm contemplating pre-germinating, then direct sowing a couple more seeds right alongside the current plants, just in case they don't make it.  And I am going to be much more careful when watering this bed.

Till next time...

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

2 comments:

  1. I love the Trail of Tears beans. I've grown the for year. But not this year. I'm not putting any dried beans in the garden this year I decided. And I know you can eat them as a green bean, but to be honest I've never done that. I never wanted to lower the quantity of black beans I got.

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    Replies
    1. That is the one problem with dried beans - you need a LOT of plants if you want to get more than a cup or two. Is that why you decided not to plant any this year?

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