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?


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