Up the Bean Pole

White Emergo Pole Beans

White Emergo Pole Beans

Remember that crazy thing we did this winter with a dozen or more varieties of peas? Well, I think it’s happening again, this time with beans. White beans, black beans, heirlooms, perennials and beans with packaging in languages I can barely understand. Ever wonder what the opposite of monocropping would be? Stop by and I’ll show you.

We like green beans, especially if Chinese sauces are involved. But most of these beans are intended for drying. This winter they will turn into chili and baked beans and hearty soups.

Tarahumara Black Bean Trellis

Sprouting Tarahumara Black Beans

Some of the beans are heirloom black beans traditionally grown by the Tarahumara. We are trying both the bush variety and the pole beans. They are used to a very dry climate and I initially over-watered the bush beans giving them “chlorosis” which is a yellowing of the young leaves that occurs when you give them so much water that you actually wash away some of the nutrients they need for photosynthesis. Oops! I mulched them with some Happy Frog and cut back on the water and they seem much happier now. It helps that it’s not over 90 degrees any more.

Druzba Tomato and Hutterite Soup Beans

Eastern European Cousins

Another interesting variety we have in the garden right now is the Hutterite Soup Bean. Seeds of Change says these beans immigrated to the U.S. in the 1760’s with a religious group from Austria. Which sounds nice and is about all you can fit on the back of a seed pack, but the Hutterite’s have a rich and interesting history. And let’s hope they have some good soup recipes too, because these beans sound delicious so far. In homage to their Eastern European connections the Hutterite Soup beans are interplanted with a Druzba tomato, an heirloom from Bulgaria. They may actually be planted a whole lot too close for comfort. In my research about the Hutterite beans, I came across one site that recommended planting them 18″ apart. I’m lucky if mine are 3″!

Contender Bean Pods

Our First Contender

The first beans planted in the garden this year, Contenders planted on March 30th, no less, were the first ones to give us pods. I’m surprised they didn’t curl up and die from the cold. I know I nearly did! I planted a tiny patch of them, maybe a dozen plants, just to see if it was warm enough to sprout beans yet. I have been cautiously adding different varieties to the garden since mid-April when these came up looking no worse for wear. So far the list includes:


White Emergo
Christmas‘ Limas
Fagiolo di Spagna ‘Spagna Bianco
Bush Black Beans ‘Tarahumara Ejotero Negro
Hutterite Soup Bean
Swedish Brown
Pole Black Beans ‘Tarahumara Chokame
California Blackeye Pea
And I have some Fin de Bagnol seeds around here ready to slip into a spot where nothing else is growing yet.
Why didn’t I get more pole bean seeds? They are so much easier to find room for. Though I think the real question will be, how many beans of a given variety do I need to plant in order to save enough dry beans to cook something from them? I guess we’ll find out.

Fun Stuff in the Garden

Yacon Start Newly Planted

Yacon Start

We’re developing a few of our own standby’s in the garden, like the Principe Borghese tomatoes for drying, Costoluto Genovese tomatoes for eating fresh and Straight Eight cucumbers for slicing, but we’re also trying some new things this year just for fun. One of them is Bolivian Sunroot, also called yacon. The plant reproduces through a rhizome, but stores energy in sweet, crunchy tubers with a unique taste. They were described to me as something like a yicama-strawberry flavor, which I find hard to imagine but am looking forward to trying. The plants can grow over 6′ tall, so I have this one near a trellis post in case it needs staking later.

Brightest Brilliant Rainbow Starts

Brightest Brilliant Rainbow Starts

Another new friend in the garden this year is quinoa. I’m growing ‘Brightest Brilliant Rainbow‘ quinoa which is supposed to be good not only for the variously-colored seed heads, but for summer greens when the plants are young as well. I don’t grow wheat or corn because of allergies and am looking forward to exploring some of the other grain options that are possible for a home gardener.

Lima beans starting up their trellis

Christmas in June

Lima beans are also new for us this year. I went with the ‘Christmas‘ Lima because I just couldn’t resist them in the catalog. The seeds are big and plump and have deep red striping on them. We grew a few Italian shelling beans last year that were delicious in soup and I think these will be gorgeous in a summer minestrone or on cooked their own. I was planning to pick half the plants and let the other half set seed for dry beans in the winter but as they are beginning to twine their way up the teepee, I’m already wondering how I’m going to do that. Might be time to plant another teepee of them specifically for drying. That would make it easier to deal with.

My family also really enjoys Black Bean Soup so I am trying several different varieties of Black beans this year to see which ones grow well for us. I have both bush and pole versions of a traditional variety grown by the Tarahumara Indians and some Black Turtle Beans to test.

Garlic growing in Straw Mulch

Garlic growing in Straw Mulch

We also have a small test patch of garlic this year, and, if it works well, we’ll have a lot more of this cooking essential planted this fall. There are a lot of meals around here that begin with garlic and olive oil. It would be fun to have our own varieties growing in the garden for when we want them. If I can decide what kinds to grow. The Winter Gardening catalog from Territorial Seed has literally dozens of different kinds of garlic. I may have to order a sampler and see which ones do well here.

I have a feeling the first stems of our test garlic are going to be ready in a day or two, so we’ll have some idea what’s going on down there under the straw mulch. The drying process for onions and garlic sounds really simple and if this hot weather keeps up, we should be prepping some of both this week or next.

Hoping for Asparagus

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Mary Washington Asparagus Fail

Thin Pickin's

We finally did see two tiny tufted sprouts from the Mary Washington asparagus bed. I was actually about to dig the whole thing up to see what happened to them when I noticed the first one. Chalk it up to the weird wet cold spring. It’s not enough to keep me from over planting the bed in Tarahumara Chokame black beans, Catalina Spinach and Charentais melons. But still, two of the asparagus crowns are alive in there, and I left them enough space (I hope!) to develop through the summer and put down some roots for next year.

Asparagus from Seed

Italian Asparagus from Seed

My real hope is the Asparago Precoce d’Argentuil that I started from seed May 15th. Many of them have sprouted. They are tiny, thin, tall, fluffy things that move in the slightest breeze. I took this picture on the Sports/Action setting and it’s still not totally in focus. I probably breathed near them. In another week or two I will pot up the ones that I get into their own 4″ pots where they will spend the rest of this year. It takes about 305 days to get asparagus from this stage to the point where they have developed enough root crowns to go into the ground. That should see these guys planted out mid-March of 2011 ‘God willing and the creek don’t rise,’ as my Daddy would have said.

Asparagus Fronds

Purple Passion Fronds

There is one other hope in the asparagus department for next spring. In the fall of 2009 I put in four potted asparagus roots; two Mary Washington and two Purple Passion. They seem to have over-wintered well in spite of the onions, lettuce and carrots that surrounded them all year. Now they are sending up tall, broad fronds that should be nourishing the roots below and might give us our first taste of home grown asparagus next year. The potted roots were at least a year old when I bought them, so in the spring of 2011 they might be pushing three. If we’re lucky, and that creek don’t rise. ;-)

Starting Seeds – Take Two

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The Mary Washington asparagus crowns never did sprout. It’s been a long, wet, cold spring here. Maybe they are still down there thinking about it. Probably the ground was too cold and wet when I put them in and they have succumbed to rot. I will dig them up when the sweet potato slips arrive from Sand Hill Preservation and see. In the mean time, I am starting asparagus from seed. Italian seed, no less. The packet says, “Asparago Precoce d’Argentuil” which I am pretty sure means early asparagus and leaves a bit to be desired on the descriptive end. For $2.99 I figured it was worth a try. I’ve already lost this year’s growth since the 1-year-old crowns didn’t make it and I really want enough asparagus to pickle some eventually. I broke down and bought asparagus this year, planning to pickle some of it, but we devoured it.

And speaking of things being devoured. Where are my beautiful Appaloosa beans? I know I planted an entire 4′ x 4′ of them! OK, it was mid-April. And that same wet, cold rainy spring that I mentioned earlier. But still, they are in a raised bed against the house in a nice sunny spot. ONE bean came up–and something ate the top of it off. Ugh. Remind me to reseed that planter bed now that it is finally warming up. Where did I just read not to rush to plant your bean seeds because you will just end up wasting a lot of seeds? Sometimes I think I am just gardening to learn patience.

But then I have a week of eating like we just had. I have a big board in the kitchen and last weekend I wrote down everything in or from the garden that was ready for us to eat; shell peas and snap peas, potatoes, salad greens, spinach, chard, beets, green onions, strawberries, oregano, celery, chives, carrots and the last of the kale and parsnips. Then I set about eating or finding a way to preserve all of it. It was actually fun trying to ‘live off the land’ there for a little while. And the vegetable curry I prepared in the middle of the week made it all worth while.

Today I also started some of the Principe Borghese tomatoes that I love for drying. I know, it’s mid-May. But last year, I was wishing I had started a second round of them by the time the first group were finished and the tomatoes were all in the dryer. Assuming it ever warms up this year, I may want them again. I also started Bottle, Dipper and Corsican Hard-shelled gourds. It’s probably warm enough for them to sprout outside, the watermelons and pumpkins are coming up, but I figured, why torture the poor things? They can get started under the grow lights with the last of the peppers and go into the garden when it really is ready for them. Plus, I don’t know where I am going to put them yet. And there’s all those sweet potatoes yet to fit in.

And did I mention that I started 40 or so quinoa plants? I was thinking about experimenting with a quinoa and sunflower version of The Three Sisters. I got some nice looking Hopi sunflowers from Native Seeds to mix in with the quinoa. I started a couple varieties of pumpkins in the bin to shade the soil and keep the weeds down. And I’m wondering if I can grow some pole beans up the quinoa. I think the sunflowers will be strong enough. The quinoa part might be crazy. I’m still reading up on it.

Dark Days Dining – Passing the Husband Test


My husband has declared my most recent creation straight out of the garden to be, “The perfect vegetable soup.” (You can see why I keep him around.) But the secret was actually a little trick I borrowed from his mother.

Vegetable Soup

The "Perfect" Vegetable Soup

I took my harvesting basket and a knife into the garden to see what I could find. We have dozens of broccoli shoots on plants I would have pulled out after the first head if the folks at Full Circle Farm hadn’t taught us better during our volunteer work day this winter. There’s also a nice crop of snap peas and snow peas–if you happen to find a time to pick them when the kids aren’t in the garden. ;-) I found beets, rutabagas, turnips and three or four different kinds of carrots. I am especially partial to the yellow ones in my winter cooking. They are a bright spot in the bowl that is surprisingly cheering this time of year. I also found plenty of oregano, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary. And celery loves the wet weather we’ve been having.

I started with the traditional olive oil, carrots, onions and celery in the big stock pot and added in the rest of the root vegetables as I chopped. I also had some potatoes that needed to be used and I tossed in some sweet potato, trying not to waste that either. When the vegetables started to soften, I added in some chopped garlic. A few minutes later, I added two cups of chopped tomatoes, with the juice, half a cup of cooked kidney beans, the herbs, salt, pepper and four cups of chicken stock.

I let that simmer for half an hour while I cleaned and prepped the peas, broccoli and greens. Some of my broccoli plants are perfectly clean and healthy, but some of the flowerettes I have been picking are over-run with aphids, requiring a good wash and even a quick soak in salt water to clean them. I need to get out there with some soap and then go buy the kids a tub or two of ladybugs. ;-)

After the flavors had settled a bit, I brought the soup to a low boil and added in the rest of the vegetables and covered the pot for two minutes. But it still tasted too tomato-y. It was a bit harsh like Summer Sauce when you haven’t cooked it down yet. This is where my mother-in-law comes in. I consult with her on all culinary mysteries. She told me to slowly add some more herbs and red wine, tasting in between each addition until the soup was more balanced. Well, certainly never noticed *that* on the back of a Campbell’s label. I had a nice Cabernet in the cupboard that served well.  Three pours and some oregano later, I rested the soup overnight in the refrigerator.

And then I fed it to my husband. The same husband who, when presented with my recent homemade creamed chicory, burst out with, “That is truly awful!” Luckily the vegetable soup went over better. He liked it, Hey Mikey!