Mary's Veggie Garden

September 30, 2010

Beans Considered

Filed under: Beans,Gardening,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 8:15 am
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I wrote this article for the October issue of Dutchess Dirt.

I’m still harvesting beans from my vegetable garden though many of my friends have already harvested the last beans of the year. What is the difference? Probably the type of beans we grow.

Beans grow as either bush or pole beans. A bush bean plant is usually 18”-24” high and 12” around, short and bushy. Bush beans provide a heavy crop over a short period. You get a lot of beans over a two-week span, then the plants rest then bloom again although not as profusely. After a month of picking, it’s time to remove the plants from the garden because they don’t produce many new leaves to replace the old leaves dying from pests and disease.

Pole beans have a very different lifestyle. As their name implies, pole bean plants are vines that like to climb. Almost any 6′-8′ pole will serve: bamboo, cut saplings of weedy trees, a wire fence, or string. A pole bean plant grows continuously all season, producing new branches and leaves as the older leaves die off.

Pole beans flower from mid-July until frost. My three trellises produced 15 pounds of beans in the last two weeks of July; since then I’ve harvested about 3 pounds a week. Now, with the lack of rain, and because I stopped watering in early September, the harvest has slowed to a trickle.

Pole beans must be harvested every day or two. The plants are big and the beans grow rapidly then quickly go from perfect to seedy and starchy. A two-week vacation by the gardener is a disaster for future pole bean harvests: the unharvested plant will put all its energy into maturing bean seeds and stop blooming and growing.

Heirloom Rattlesnake pole beans, Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Rattlesnake’

I finally settled on “Rattlesnake” pole beans after 30 years of trying different varieties. Rattlesnake produces 5-6” green beans marked with purple streaks which are best picked young and slender. Their raw flavor is so good that I eat a few whenever I’m in the garden. Every Rattlesnake bean includes a built-in cooking timer: it’s done when the purple streaks disappear.

Last month I talked about evaluating your vegetable garden and here is an example. I chose Rattlesnake pole beans because of their tenderness, superb flavor and long season of heavy productivity. Last month I (finally) bought a stand alone freezer so now I’m wondering if I should grow fewer Rattlesnake beans and add some bush beans. Maybe with bush beans I could freeze all my beans in a single two-week period, instead of freezing small quantities all summer long.

Can anybody suggest a great flavored bush bean that produces heavily and freezes well?

Evaluating Your Vegetable Garden

Filed under: Gardening,Tomatoes,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 8:01 am
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I wrote this for the September 2010 Dutchess Dirt

August and September are peak harvest months in the vegetable garden. Start planning next year’s garden as you harvest and eat all those vegetables. How? By observing carefully, you can decide which varieties to grow again, and which varieties to discard in favor of trying something new and possibly better.

Some garden observations:

  • How well did the seed germinate?
  • Did the plants grow well?
  • Were there any pest or disease problems?
  • Did the plants produce a good yield?
  • Would this plant have benefited from better treatment, ie. more space, staking, or a trellis?

Some kitchen observations:

  • Is this vegetable easy to prepare?
  • Do I like the flavor and texture?
  • Does the vegetable suit my cooking style?
  • Did I grow enough or too much for my needs?

    L-R Plum Regal, Amish Paste, and Opalka Tomatoes

Let’s look at an example. For the last two weeks I’ve been canning tomatoes, so I’ve given them a lot of thought. I am growing three varieties of canning/cooking tomatoes in my Vassar Farm plot. As usual, everyone’s tomatoes suffered from a foliage disease, probably early blight. Here’s how each fared.

Plum Regal: This is a new determinate hybrid which had very limited availability in 2010. The vendor’s description says Plum Regal is resistant to late blight (which we did not experience this year) and “with a moderate early blight resistance as well”. As of 8/27 all the foliage is dead from early blight and only half the fruit has ripened. The fruit is solid, 3-5 ounces, with typical plum shape. The skin is extremely thin – so thin that it is difficult to peel. The flesh is mealy and flavorless. Plum Regal might have better eating quality if its leaves survived the foliage diseases.

Amish Paste: heirloom. Fruits are 6-8 ounces, heart shaped, deep red, somewhat sweet, with smooth textured very juicy flesh and some cracking. The plants are indeterminate and susceptible to early blight but continue to grow new leaves. First harvest was at 80 days, with a most of the fruit ripening during the next two weeks. The fruit peels easily. It is too juicy for paste but good for soup or chili.

Opalka: heirloom. Fruits are a solid 6-8 ounces, long and narrow, tapering to a point. Fruits are often cracked at the stem end and the skin stays greenish near the stem, though the tomato is completely ripe. The plants are indeterminate and resistant to early blight. I expect Opalka to be the only variety remaining alive in mid-September. The bulk of the harvest was about a week later than Amish Paste. The flavor is excellent, not too sweet, balanced by acid. The flesh is smooth and juicy, but the seed cavities are very small and sometimes dry, making this a good tomato for paste or sauce.

Amish Paste and Opalka will probably be in my garden next year, but Plum Regal does not suit my conditions. If I grow a determinate tomato in the future, I should pick a variety with early maturity, so the fruit ripens before diseases attack. I could also spray for the foliage diseases though I don’t normally do that.

Many gardeners seem doomed to the same problems next year simply because they don’t know what varieties they planted this year. If you are in that group, resolve to make a map as you plant next spring.

Update: I got a couple Plum Regals from a friend whose garden is disease free.  The texture of her Plum Regals was a bit better, smoother and less mealy, but flavor was still lacking.

The Amish Paste plants surprised me by setting another big batch of fruit, despite their continuing struggle with early blight. As of 9/30 I am still harvesting Amish Paste and Oplaka tomatoes. The Plum Regal plant is dead and gone .

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