To sell something as valuable as the family livestock for a handful of beans would put any of us in either the nuthatch or poorhouse. But our friend Jack took the risk and then climbed his magic beanstalk to the giant’s realm. His adventures and rewards were worth the effort, resulting in riches and tales enduring to this day. If only our gardening adventures could be so fruitful, alas I am here to tell you they can be!
The common edible vegetable, tagged taxonomically as Phaseolus vulgaris, has been cultivated by us humans, Homo sapiens, for thousands of years in both the old and new world. Columbus found fields of beans on an early cruise to the Bahamas. The Native American method of growing beans, corn and squash as companion plants is called “Three Sisters” cropping. Vining pole beans have been a staple crop for modern Americans since the first pioneers settled the continent. The recent development of the bush bean has motivated modern cultivation to reach an industrial scale.
As a green snap or unripe bean, we eat the immature seed along with the tender pods. This expedited harvest provides an earlier crop than letting the bean reach the shelling or dried stage. The varieties grown for green harvest are different from many other familiar storage types, such as black, fava, garbanzo, navy or soybeans. A benefit of home gardening is the multiple harvests provided as beans continue to flower and set fruit after the first crop is hand picked. Green beans also come in yellow wax and purple heirloom flavors.
The pole or vining types offer the benefit of convenient access on the trellis and produce over a longer timeframe. To grow pole beans requires the construction of a suitable trellis of about 6-feet-tall that is able to withstand the vagaries of our erratic weather, especially wind. I created trellis rings of scrap fence 3 feet in diameter that are transportable and available for other climbing crops.
Varieties of bush beans I have successfully grown include Provider, Contender, Top Crop and Blue Lake. Bush beans planted directly to garden soil and spaced about 4 to 6 inches apart produce a first harvest in two months. Beans are leguminous, meaning they can produce their own nitrogen fertilizer in harmony with certain types of soil bacteria. Inoculating bacteria can be purchased to imbue this natural phenomenon to your gardening playbook. For a truly productive garden, we should follow Jack’s example and plant the magical fruit. (You knew that was coming!)
Tom Carey is the owner of Sundew Gardens, a you-pick gardening business in Oviedo. Visit the Sundew Gardens Facebook page.