A little over a year ago, way back when my farm dream was confined to the the small 4 x 10-foot patch of weeds between the driveway and the entrance to our apartment, I called my Aunt Joy in Georgia to ask her which kind of bean my uncle used to grow in the garden that cooked up so good, string beans or runner beans?
She paused, being a genteel Southern lady, to collect her thoughts to answer without directly calling attention to the error inherent in my question. More on that later. “Well, I guess you would want pole beans,” was her answer. “But he also grew bush beans. Both are good.”
So I bought some pole beans and hoped for the best in my little patch of weeds amended with garden soil. Hope apparently wasn’t enough, nor was hope and water. For about this time last year, I harvested exactly two beans from the one scraggly little five-leafed plant drooping on the ground from the nine seeds I planted beneath three perfect bamboo tipis, ready to support the abundant crop.
I also got about six cucumbers and two zucchini plucked from an elaborate trellis constructed of bamboo and twine engineered by my husband to maximize airflow to keep mildew at bay. And six tomatoes from our three heirloom plants, one of which towered NINE FEET HIGH all the way to October, before grudgingly producing two small fruits. We also had a fine hot pepper crop from our three plants, along with plenty of arugula and parsley.
We were very inspired. “Let’s become farmers and grow vegetables for a living!” we exclaimed. My husband was very emboldened by my previous gardening successes as well, as back in my California days, my garden once produced enough to make a gourmet salad for three people–at the same time!
Our perseverance drowned out the chorus of polite naysayers and eyebrow raisers. Farming was a calling. The idea of Glean Acres was born, with our mission to grow food, faith, and the good life.
Besides, we reasoned, I was practically an expert in vegetables, since I worked the farmstand at Greenbranch Organic Farm. I could identify at least seven varieties of heirloom tomato and at least that many of squash and peppers. Plus I watched the comings and goings of tractors, transplants, crates of vegetables, compost, farmhands, and actual farmers from my little doorway to the barn and the fields. I was also quite good at watering raised beds of herbs and picking off those smelly little parsley worms. (Nevermind that they turn into gorgeous swallowtail butterflies! Go eat some wild carrot or something!)
So once the chickens were safely in their handmade coops out on pasture, we set about growing vegetables for market, with enough left over to feed ourselves. The existing raised beds proved mighty handy for getting our first plants out before mid-summer. All we had to do was fill them with proper dirt–8 tons of it– and nestle our transplants in. That done, we moved on to tilling up some new beds in what used to be a paddock. We were followers of the WORD contained in the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, which advocated wide rows, organic methods, raised beds, and deep soil. We act like we’re on a first-name basis with the author, Edward Smith. “Well, Ed says to pick them off by hand,” says Amir when we investigate options for the eradication of squash bugs. Looking around after we shaped our first couple of beds, I realized this was exactly the way my grandpa and uncle gardened. (With the exception of the occasional spraying of a chemical or two.) With lots and lots of leaf mulch on the beds and pine needles in the walkways. Our radical farming method was suddenly very homey and familiar.
But as more and more rocks were unearthed by the shiny brand new tiller–imported rocks, not the native ones, we gradually came to understand that we were tilling in our drainfield. Oopsie.
So we kept tilling until Mid-July. Then we had to stop. The drought-hardened clay soil was merely amused by the spinning tines of the tiller.
So the hundreds of struggling transplants, still in their little pots, begging for ground, were planted out one by one, all of them just inches from their neighbors. Spacing recommendations are merely suggestions, right?
These were the transplants grown from seeds we selected back in January, when the snow was still on the ground. Seeds chosen for their whimsical and artistic-sounding names more than for their hardiness or potential yield.
Thus, we grew Black Prince and Garden Peach tomatoes. Texas Honey June sweet corn and Chires baby corn, Cossack Pineapple ground cherries, Sweet Chocolate bell peppers, Golden Bush Scallop squash, Jericho lettuce, Star of David okra, Blush eggplant, Black Beauty zucchini, Garden Oasis Mediterranean and Green Fingers Persian cucumbers.
And guess what? Much to our constant amazement, and despite the relentless attack of the squash bugs and borers, cucumber and Mexican beetles, tomato horn worms and flea beetles, ladies and gentlemen, we have vegetables!
Now about those pole beans and my Aunt Joy’s consternation over answering my question about the right bean to grow for that good old-fashioned hearty bean flavor. You see, string beans is the old-fashioned term for snap beans. Clever seed scientists have managed to breed the stringy part out of the common green bean and thus we entered the new era of the snap bean. But most people just call them “green beans,” though that doesn’t necessarily mean the bean is green, just that it is usually picked and eaten young, before the seeds inside have matured all the way, and while the pod is still tender and edible. Because you can have yellow green beans, which some people call wax beans, as well as other colors, like red green beans. But these are distinct from shelling beans, which means the choice bit is the mature seed inside which is dried and stored for later enjoyment. You know, like kidney beans and pinto beans. But some beans are dual purpose, meaning you can enjoy them young and “green” or wait for them to mature and shell them.
But it also turns out there are pole beans that are string beans and pole beans that are snap beans and pole beans that are shelling beans as well as pole-type bush beans. Rather than try to figure that all out, I picked out my bean seed based on its name alone: Lazy Wife Greasy Pole Bean. There I am below, being a decidedly lazy wife harvesting pole beans without even troubling myself to bend over.
Today, we rest, letting the ground absorb the five inches of rain we got last night, right after I had given up on the dark clouds that had been gathering all day and turned on the irrigation to the tomato bed. “Oh ye of little faith,” God bellowed. And he restoreth our soil and kept us humbly on our newly mulched narrow paths.