By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted May 11, 2020
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With the warm weather in May, once the soil temperature is above 60 degrees, it is time to plant beans. At the large vegetable garden I share with another family, we plant three 8-foot long rows of Blue Lake pole beans, a reliable northwest variety that is good both fresh and frozen. In the past we used tall metal fence posts supporting string or netting to hold the vines. This year to make it easier to do the initial set up, and the removal of the dead vines in the fall, we are using galvanized 4×8 metal cattle guard fencing set on end. Once the beanstalks get to the top, and want to keep on growing out of easy reach,  I redirect them laterally on horizontal sticks laid between the the tops of the bean walls. The result is a covered arbor; the beans hanging down over the inner walkways, easily picked like overhanging fruit.

I like pole beans because they can be harvested continuously over a long period of time. The trick is to keep them picked while they are still tender, before the beans swell inside the pods and become inedible. Unless you want to save seed for next year, be sure to remove any bean pods at the bottom of the stalk that start to turn brown, to keep the plant producing new beans at the growing tips at the top.

There are many types of bush beans, which generally produce a more concentrated crop over a shorter period of time. My personal favorites include Burgundy beans, dark purple beans that turn bright green when cooked, along with tender French filet beans, a gourmet variety that is picked when very thin and delicate. This year I am trying Venus, a white Italian cannellini bean for either fresh use or when dried as the standard dry bean for minestrone soup.

With our longer and warmer summers these days, it is increasingly possible to harvest dry beans in the maritime Northwest. Several pioneer-era varieties of beans that will dry successfully before the fall rains were carefully saved by Puget Sound area gardeners over the years. The short-season varieties have been rediscovered and are now beginning to be available commercially. The WSU Agricultural Research Extension in Mount Vernon is also doing trials on other dry beans for local use. Grow your own vegetable protein.

Finally, there are Scarlet Runner beans, well-known for the red flowers that attract hummingbirds and for the vigorous vines that will easily ascend the tallest pole you can supply. As dry beans, the large, dark purple and black beans are very meaty tasting . A unique trait is that a mature Scarlet Runner bean that falls to the ground and gets buried in the soil will sometimes overwinter and sprout in the spring.

4 thoughts on “Beans

  1. Keith

    Cattle panels are a tremendous addition to the “bean fence” infrastructure. I’m doing the “end up” setup to give my pole beans and scarlet runner beans, all the support and pick ability they require.
    Looking forward to the display AND rewards of thoughtful planting and care : )

    Peas are presently about 18 inches up their “climbing wall” and looking strong !

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      The lightweight rectangular cattle guard fencing hopefully will be a sturdy and reusable solution to the issue of how support pole beans or tall pea vines. Easier than cutting or buying poles, or hanging strands of string, or using plastic netting. A bit like modular panels for pre-fab construction, or a galvanized, self-supporting metal tatami mat. Although I will miss the challenge of assembling unique garden structures.
      My bush snap peas are also about 18 inches high, and just just starting to flower. Glad we had some rain last night and more tonight, after the extended sun.
      Early red potatoes are just beginning to push through the surface, and will need to be hilled up soon.
      Finally finished getting my tomatoes in. Trying out heirlooms such as Pink Cherokee, Brandywine, and an Old German/Mennonite variety with orange streaks, along with the standard Romas, Big Beefs, and the old-time classic Mortgage Lifter. Hopefully they will all live up to the descriptions on the labels. Here’s to a good tomato season!

  2. Arlene Stadler

    This has nothing to do with previous posts, but I am new to the area, coming from the northeast clay country. I have now sandy soil. Why do plants like arugula and dill go to seed very early, almost before they give me any use? Have visited the Master Gardeners last year at the farmers market with my questions, but they are not available now with the virus. Really need help.

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Arugula and cilantro short-season leafy herbs that flower and go to seed quickly in the extended daylight hours here in the Northwest during the summer growing season. Like lettuces, you have to replant often during the intense sunny weather. You can also grow them in a shady spot, out of the sun. Arugula does very well as an over-wintered crop if protected by row cloth in very cold spells. Also, pick off right away any buds that start flowering, in order to delay the seed-setting response by the plant. Keep them from drying out by regular watering to avoid stress as well.
      Dill needs full sun, but lasts a little bit longer. Pick off any flowers to delay seed formation, but let them mature later in the season for use in pickling.
      Peter H.

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