Monday, January 18, 2016

End of Season Review - Beans


I grew several new varieties of beans in 2015, both fresh & dried.  I also grew fava beans but these will be covered in a separate post.

For fresh beans, I grew Contender (bush, snap), Oceanis (bush, filet) and Gold Marie (pole, yellow Romano).  Dried beans included Cherokee Trail of Tears (pole, black bean),  Walcherse White (bush, navy type bean) and Vermont Cranberry (bush, cranberry bean...obviously!).

Vermont Cranberry

My bean problems this past year began right at the get go with germination issues.  Two of the new varieties I grew – Walcherse White & Oceanis – had particularly bad germination.

This bed contained peppers on the left and (supposedly)
two rows of Vermont Cranberry & Walcherse White on the right

I re-sowed the bare spots and, in the case of the Walcherse White, I ran out of seed & substituted in some of the Vermont Cranberry.  I didn’t keep track of these changes (are you sensing a theme here?), so my numbers are definitely off when it comes to yield per square foot.  My best guess was that I added about 2 sq. ft. to the Vermont Cranberry planting and reducing the Walcherse White planting by this same amount.  This adjustment is reflected in my table.

Vermont Cranberry

One reason for my issues can be seen munching away happily on a leaf:

Eye spy a bean plant munching slug....

I may very well have had better germination than I think but some of the newly emerged seedlings could have been gobbled up shortly after they broke the surface.

We did, however, have coolish weather in early June, so I have a feeling that part of the problem may have been soil temperature and some varieties were simply more finicky than others.  I had purchased a soil thermometer in the spring, but didn't think to check the temperature before sowing the seed - perhaps the soil was not sufficiently warm and the seeds rotted.  I’m fairly certain that this was one case where lack of irrigation was not an issue as we had quite a bit of wet weather at the time.  In fact, I was rushed when sowing the seeds because it kept raining.

I haven’t cooked with either the Walcherse White or Vermont Cranberry beans yet so can’t comment on flavor, but with soup and stew season in full gear, it won’t be too long before they end up in the kitchen.

Walcherse White

One surprise in the bean patch was that I assumed the Vermont Cranberry & Walcherse White were pole beans.  The only other dried bean I had ever grown was Cherokee Trail of Tears, which is a pole bean, so I think this is where my assumption came from.  I went to the trouble of installing a trellis only to realize my mistake about a month later.




Overall not a good dried bean year.  For comparison, in 2014 all of the bean varieties developed bacterial brown spot (BBS), so the vines were pulled early & many beans were tossed, but I still harvested 820 grams (1.81 lbs) of Cherokee Trail of Tears from the same 8 sq. ft. – 60% more than in 2015 which was disease free (for this variety anyhow).

Cherokee Trail of Tears

Since the vines in the past two years had been infected, I couldn’t save any of the Trail of Tears seeds for planting.  I only had a few seeds left in that original packet so I had to purchase a fresh supply this year.

Cherokee Trail of Tears, shelled

Just in case it performed differently, I separated the plantings from each seed source, placing the original seed on one end of the bed and the new seed on the other.  My impression was that the original seeds produced pods that were a bit larger than the new seeds.  Could that be because their location in the bed was somewhat sunnier?  Perhaps.  Since this year the bed was (finally!) BBS free, I’ll be keeping all of the seed generated by the plants from the original purchase for replanting in the years to come.

Now on to the fresh beans.  I mentioned that Oceanis had poor germination - have a look at this photo taken in June:

This 2' x 4' spot was planted with Oceanis on the left & Contender on the right

As you can see, I wasn't exaggerating.  I ended up with a handful of plants – literally 4 or 5 plants - out of the 30 or so seeds sown.  It should be noted that this was in a completely different part of the garden as the dried beans, which were on the hilltop.  The fact that the Contender plants right beside them were doing just fine reinforces my thought that although slugs may have been a factor, they were definitely not the ONLY factor.

I didn’t end up substituting any other variety for these.  The beans that formed were left on the plants until dried – I’ll be using them for seed next year & hoping for better results.

Vermont Cranberry (left), Oceanis (right), Oceanis dried pods (top)

Oceanis is a filet style bean, producing long, thin beans - you can see how skinny those bean pods were.  Normally shelling beans is a pleasure, but shelling these guys was a definite pain.  The good news is that if I end up liking the beans, I'll have a seed supply to last me a few years.




The Oceanis beans were not included in the tally as they will not be eaten, but used exclusively for seed.

As is evident in the table, the most bountiful bean variety this year, by far, was Gold Marie.

Gold Marie beans alongside a few Padron peppers

The vines were very vigorous; in fact, they started to overrun the Cherokee Trail of Tears beside them.  But when it came to using them in the kitchen, I wasn’t as impressed.  Some were stringy and they were a bit tougher than the last variety I grew (Golden of Bacau).  I also found that many pods were pinched and the seeds swelled up before the pods were a decent size (for this type of bean) – these problems worsened at the tail end of the harvest.  I’m wondering if inadequate watering contributed to the pinched pods.

Malformed Gold Marie Beans

You'll also notice that the harvest hit fast, then dwindled to nothing in a total of 7 days.  My notes indicated that the vines had essentially stopped flowering by August 12th.  Some bean varieties stop flowering if temperatures get too hot, so this may have been a factor here.

The fresh bush beans didn’t fair that well this year either.  Contender has always been a good producer, even when hit by disease, but I placed them beside the favas, which ended up shading them for a good chunk of the day.

Contender Bush Beans

Then, they were hit with some sort of disease and by August 10th, I had pulled all of the plants.  Not exactly sure what it was, but it looked a bit blight-ish.

Contender was pulled when an unknown disease took over the plants


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

Not a stellar year for beans by any means.  Other than insufficient watering, one factor that may have reduced the dried bean harvest was that I was much more lax in keeping the vines picked.  Last year, in an effort to keep ahead of the BBS, I picked the pods as soon as they looked mature, but were not dried out yet.  This year, I waited much longer to do that first picking of mature and partially dried pods.

The good news is that it looks like I was right when it came to the BBS - the Golden of Bacau seed was definitely the originator of that disease.  Not a trace of it in the garden this year.

I will be giving most of the bean varieties I grew in 2015 another go next year using seed I saved from this year’s planting.  The only exception will be Gold Marie, which will be dropped.  The harvest totals were impressive, but the quality just wasn't there.  I also didn't like the 7 day glut - I would prefer a harvest that extended over several weeks.

I want to give Golden of Bacau another shot.  I LOVED this variety.  The seed house where I originally purchased them no longer sells this variety (perhaps due to BBS issues?), so I’ll be searching for an alternative source.

I have been tinkering with the spacing between seeds for a few years, going from 3” to 8” (when I was short on seed last year) to this year’s 4” spacing.  Even though my yield went down from last year, I will maintain the 4" spacing in 2016 as I believe that inadequate irrigation was a bigger culprit when it came to overall yield.

And lastly, now that I have a soil thermometer, I will be checking the soil temperature before sowing to ensure that it’s in the preferred range for germination.

So a few changes in the bean bed next year – and high hopes that these translate into a much better harvest.

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

20 comments:

  1. Could it be that the beans which did well are in raised beds that are truly 'raised', with soil that is enriched to several inches above ground level? I couldn't help but notice that the plants in your second photo --that weren't doing well-- are planted essentially at ground level, compared to the level of the adjacent path. Maybe building the soil up at least 6" (12" is even better)would help your seedlings next year. It's difficult to tell from the photos what your whole set up is, so pardon me if I've misread!

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    1. Hi Tracy - in fact, all of my beds are around 11" high. I think that the angle of that first photo makes it seem as if they are at ground level - you get a better idea of what the beds look like in this post: http://homegrown-adventuresinmygarden.blogspot.ca/2015/07/hilltop-plan-wip.html. All of my beds are essentially the same, built with 2x6's.

      When it comes to photos, it's all about perspective - sometimes, they are quite deceiving!

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  2. Isn't it frustrating when a bean description doesn't state whether it is a pole or bush type, you would think such a fundamental bit of gardening info would be clearly stated.

    I have given up direct seeding most of my beans except favas because the emerging seeds are irrestible to the seemingly millions of sow bugs in my garden. They start in on the seedlings as soon as the soil starts to crack open when the seedlngs start to emerge. So now I start all my beans in paper pots and set them out when the first two leaves open up. Even so I still lose some seedlings to the sowbugs because the go for the tender new stems. And more often than not I have to shroud them to protect them from the birds too! Good luck with your beans this year.

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    1. Frustrating is the word - growth habit is such an essential piece of info even when it comes to choosing a location and how you sow the beans. I often have the same complaint with tomatoes & have to go searching to find out if they are determinate or indeterminate.

      We have sow bugs in our garden, but I haven't seen them eating plants. Actually, I just realized they are nocturnal which may be why I've never noticed them - so it seems that this is yet another possible reason for my bean issues. I'll have to be mindful of that for next year.

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  3. I'm a big fan of beans, and wish I had room to grow more of them. My favourite (as with most British gardeners!) is the Runner Bean, but I like them all really. These days I usually sow my bean in small pots and plant them out once they have their first pair of true leaves. I have had many problems with what I think you folks call "sow bugs". I counteract them with commercially-supplied nematodes which eat the bugs - quite successfully. I have had very little success with yellow beans. They seem to produce low yields of insipid-tasting pods.

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    1. Beans are yet another addictive crop, aren't they - I did try to grow a runner bean (Scarlet Runner) my first year but it did very poorly - I didn't harvest a single pod.

      It didn't occur to me that sow bugs may be an issue until I read Michelle's comment, so I'll be keeping an eye out for them next year. Everyone's taste is different, of course, but we loved the Golden of Bacau Romano's - they were so tender and tasty, even when they got to be well over 12" (30cm) long!

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  4. Do you freeze your green beans? How do you cook them if you do? What kind of recipes to use them in other than just eating? I grew Provider and Bush (I think) green beans last year and they did fairly well except for the bunnies! Nancy

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    1. The bunnies got at most of my bean plants one year - I'm pretty sure that was the year I first installed the chickenwire. And yes, I do freeze them - first blanch them for a couple of minutes, then shock in ice water, then let them dry for a bit before freezing. I also cut them into 1" long pieces before freezing as that's how I normally use them.

      I use the beans when making soups (i.e. vegetable soup) as well as in stews. I also enjoy stewed beans where they are added to a chunky tomato type sauce that has been flavoured with onions, garlic and some sort of spice like chili flakes or hot sauce.

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  5. I had a lousy year 2 years ago with beans. Almost zero germination.....don't know if it was the seed or ??? Last year---buckets full. It's funny how a year makes such a huge difference. Hope you're up for great harvests NEXT YEAR. Ah, the gardener's favorite mantra (and the words that keep us going with this lunacy year after year!!)

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    1. Every year is so different, isn't it - the winners and losers are always changing.

      And that's why I'm not doing any big changes to the garden next year - I'll be too busy lugging those wheelbarrows full of produce back to the house;)

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  6. If you are direct seeding beans, they are definitely sensitive to soil temps. Here my rule of thumb is first week of June. Even then, some are more tolerant. My two bush varieties (which I am going back to in 2016) are Provider and Jade. Planted at the same time, Provider will germinate a week or two sooner than Jade at near 100%. Jade is later with poorer germination rate, so I push a few more seeds in the blank spots. Gold Marie has always produced excellent beans for me over a long period, except last year when bean mosaic virus wiped out everything. I have seen the pinching you show but only a few beans later in the season. Looks like Burpee's carries Golden of Bacau this year.

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    1. I'll be checking the temps with my thermometer for sure next year - I had already purchased it when I planted my seeds so I'm not sure why I didn't think to check at the time. Probably because it had not been an issue before.

      Gold Marie looked so promising when all those pods started to appear, but I guess it just didn't like it here. And thanks for the Burpee's suggestion. Their website was unclear as to whether or not they shipped to Canada, but we do have Burpee stands all over the place, so I'll start doing a bit of scouting when I'm out.

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  7. I'm glad I'm not the only one that struggled with beans this year. We planted one bunch of yellow bush beans, and most of the sprouts were nibbled on. I suspected rabbits or squirrels, but now I'm wondering if it was slugs.

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    1. It always makes you feel better when your not the only one that's had a particular issue in the garden, doesn't it? Rabbits are a big nuisance & the main reason I've had to place fencing around the beds. The first year everything was fine, but then they found the beds the 2nd year and many of my veg, including the bush beans, were here one day & gone the next.

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  8. I am not familiar with most of those varieties. We always sow our beans in parks and transplant when they are young plants. Sometimes nice tend to eat the seeds when they are in the ground and as you say as soon as the leaves emerge the slugs moving.
    We have given up on dwarf French beans which I think are the ones that you call bush beans. We have grown climbing French beans and they seem to grow much better for us and the beans don't trail on the soil and get muddy and slug nibbled. We've never really got round to growing beans for drying.

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    1. I often think that about all the "unusual" varieties I see in UK gardens - I have a feeling that this will be changing in the years to come as we all become aware of new and interesting varieties from all over the world.

      In the past, my only issue with bean critters was with rabbits, so this recent bout of trouble is new - I sometimes wonder how many new issues can there be? You would think that, at some point, you would hit the limit of "new" problems.

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  9. Last year wasn't a brilliant year for beans for me, I think the cold spring held them back somewhat. Slugs can be a real pest where beans are concerned but I think they have their particular tastes. The year before last, I grew two green varieties, a purple variety and a yellow variety. The slugs devoured the green ones and left the other two alone. I resowed the four varieties and the same thing happened, the green ones were munched and the other two escaped their rasping jaws. I don't think I'll have much space for beans this year but they're a veg I like to grow as it's something we all eat.

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    1. It's strange to think of slugs having particular tastes, but I think you are right - last year, they loved the Mei Qing chinese cabbage I grew, but barely touched some of the other varieties.

      Perhaps you can tuck a couple of climbing beans somewhere in your garden? They are usually such good producers & a few plants could give you a nice supply.

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  10. I love fresh snap green beans, one of my favorite things from the garden. Slugs can be such a menace, that and birds. Birds took out half my newly planted tomatoes 2 years in a row, I think they mistake the dark stems for worms.

    It's too bad you didn't like the Gold Marie beans since they were so prolific. I think the pinched bean affect comes from insects nibbling on the bean when they're little and that part doesn't grow, I seem to remember taking note of that.

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    1. Yes, it's always a shame when a good producer is found lacking in the kitchen. The one benefit of dropping a variety, however, is that you can give some new varieties a try. I love trying out tomato varieties but I'm sure the time is quickly approaching when choosing which ones to drop, so that I can squeeze in a few new ones, will get to be quite the challenge!

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