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.

First Sighting of Tomato Land

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First P. Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Does It Again

We have tasted the first tomatoes of the season. Briefly, because they were small, but enough to whet our appetites for more. The first tomatoes ripe were Principe Borghese tomatoes again this year. From a plant who has been none too happy about the wet, cold spring and honestly doesn’t look very good. There are five P. Borghese plants in the garden right now and only one of them looks as robust as the ones we grew last year. I also have six more of them started in pots because last year I was wishing I had done a second planting of these guys. They are packaged as determinant plants, but some of them produced a second crop of tomatoes after we had picked the first batch. I’ll have to look up how a semi-determinant plant behaves. Maybe that’s what they really are. I grow them to make sun-dried tomatoes with them but they are delicious in salads or marinated with mozzarella and basil.

Grandma Jill's Ugly Tomato plants

Ugly? Maybe. Delicious? Absolutely!

I was sure this year’s first tomato was going to be a Grandma Jill’s Ugly. And it would have been, but the top contender was rat-napped. It was beautiful, with deep creases like many of the varieties we are trialling this year. It was almost ready, it was blushing beautifully. It needed just one more day on the vine. But the next morning all I found was a small sliver of tomato skin in the mulch beneath the plant! I was heart-broken, as you can imagine, but it looks like the plant is happy enough to try to make up for it in volume. These plants look very close to the Costoluto Genovese variety that won our fresh eating taste tests last year. The Grandma Jill’s Ugly are certainly earlier, and the plant looks sturdier, but I hope the taste will be close to what we get with the Costoluto.

Blondkopfchen Tomato Flowers

Sucker for Blondes

I’m also looking forward to trying a new (for us) yellow cherry tomato called Blonkopfchen. There are three or four of these plants in the garden, well-spaced and not, and they are easy to find because they are making multiple wide sprays of flowers as they set fruit. I’m concerned that some of the fruiting branches may break off if every bud on those sprays produces a tomato, even a small one.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Not Purple Yet

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes are also doing well this year. There are only two plants in our test and they are in similar conditions except one of the plants is crowded (it’s in the Square-Foot bed) and the other has lots of space. We are also hoping to enjoy Speckled Romans and Big Rainbow Striped tomatoes. And my mother-in-law just sent over a Green Zebra which I have read wonderful things about. I’m not sure I quite understand a tomato that is still green when it’s ripe. How will I know when to pick it?  Today I’ll give it a choice spot in one of the raised beds where I can keep an eye on it. If a rat starts nibbling them, I’ll know they are ready for eating!

Square Foot Bed with Tomatoes, Peppers, Celery, Basil and Nasturtiums

"And the little one said, 'Roll over!'"

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. ;-)

Leeks, Sweet Potatoes and When is Spring?

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I started some sweet potatoes in Ball jars on the window sill to grow slips for planting later this spring. I used three sweet potatoes from the cupboard but I can’t tell you which varieties they are yet. I don’t imagine there are very many varieties in local commercial production so it should be easy to narrow down. I’ll ask around and see what I can figure out.

I also quickly started some leek seeds for the Dirt to Dinner kids to plant now that I have finally grasped the difference between summer leeks and winter leeks. I am using Sherwood Leeks from last year’s Seeds of Change seed donation for the summer planting. I hope they sprout. They were packed for 2007 so I planted about a third more seed than I actually wanted in case germination is spotty. I’ve read that onion seeds don’t keep well and these have been through less than ideal storage conditions since they arrived.

The big news here is that the Principe Borghese tomato seeds I planted on Christmas are sprouting! When I saw the first sprout I popped one of the few remaining dried tomatoes from last year’s crop into my mouth just so I could taste them again. I can already hear the dehydrator whirring. ;-)

The Cincinnati Market radishes are also sprouting nicely in a sheltered bed in the garden. I grew up in Cincinnati, so as soon as I saw them in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog I knew I had to grow them. I hope they taste good. I guess I can always pickle them if we don’t like them raw in salads. I would probably devour small disks of cardboard if they were pickled well.

Today was also the day for the first of the All Red and Red Gold potatoes to start heading into the soil. I think the problem with last year’s All Blue crop was that the plants didn’t have enough room. We only gave them roughly a square foot each because we were using a deep bed for planting. But this spacing produced lots of very small blue potatoes, which tells me the plants were too crowded horizontally in spite of the extra space we gave them along the vertical.

The reds are getting three square feet a piece–eventually. Right now there are Sugar Daddy snap peas planted in between the potato rows. Hopefully this won’t crowd them. The peas should be grown and out of the way by the time the potato plants need the space and the soil hilling gets deeper. Well, that’s the idea anyway.