Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bean Scene 2014

This year is turning out to be a rather beany one. I'm growing 6 different varieties of snap beans and 5 varieties of dry beans. I continue to test the limits of the long growing season here, not always successfully. Last year I pushed the start date too hard by trying to get beans into the garden in March. The beans resented the cool weather and just did not want to grow. I ended up resowing some of them in April. And then I resowed the whole lot in May. Then I had problems with my drip lines clogging up so the new sowings didn't get enough water and again they struggled. My bean harvests last year started to trickle in at the end of June and didn't start in earnest until July.

Musica, Golden Gate, Royal Burgundy, Slenderette beans

This year I was a little more conservative about my start dates, the first bean seeds went into paper pots indoors on April 5 and 10 when I sowed Royal Burgundy and Classic Slenderette bush snap beans and Rosso di Lucca and Black Coco bush dry beans. Then  I made sure that my drip lines were working adequately and it probably helped a lot that we had a warmer than usual spring. Again, my bean harvests started toward the end of June with the first harvest of Royal Burgundy on June 20 and Slenderette on June 24, but I was spared the work and frustration of having to sow and resow. So April it is for the first sowing of beans around here.

Fagiolo del Purgatorio seedlings emerging

Here's the way I typically start all my beans, in pots made from newspaper. One tray will hold 36 pots and one of my trellises can be planted with 18 plants so I can sow two trellises worth of beans in one flat. I plant the pots out when all the beans have popped up that will emerge but before the roots have grown too far out the sides of the pots because they will start to grow into the neighboring pots and then it's difficult to pull the pots apart without damaging the roots. The heat mat really speeds things along so it's usually just a few days from sowing to emergence. When I first sow the beans I cover the entire tray with a sheet of plastic film to keep the pots from drying out, then I remove the plastic when the first cotyledons start to push out of the soil. I don't bother to use overhead lights because I set the pots out before the seedlings can get leggy. Even if they do get a bit leggy I've discovered that you can plant the seedlings up to the base of the cotyledons without harming the plants. Actually, I've found that if a stem gets chewed below the cotyledons that the plant can often be saved by bending the stem over and burying it up to the cotyledons and the base of the cotyledons will send down roots.  I can sow a flat of beans and have them out in the garden in about 5 to 7 days. The entire pot gets plunked into the soil and I always make sure that the rim of the pot is below the soil line so that it doesn't wick moisture away from the potting soil. The paper pot generally rots away by the time the plants are done producing.

Here's some views of the first round of beans back on June 3. Rosso di Lucca and Black Coco got off to a good start.

Rosso di Lucca and Black Coco, June 3
Royal Burgundy and Slenderette got off to a slow start, I lost a few plants to sowbugs and direct sowed a few replacements. The plants eventually came around and produced a good crop, 4.5 pounds of Royal Burgundys and 5.6 pounds of Slenderettes from an original planting of 9 plants of each, not all of which survived.

Royal Burgundy and Slenderette, June 3
I often have problems with birds uprooting the bean seedlings so this year I started my bush beans in a tunnel made from Micromesh. In the past I've used lightweight remay fabric, but the Micromesh allows more light and air so I gave it a try and it worked quite well. In the background you can see some remay that I erected around trellises where pole beans were getting started, again, for bird protection. I've found that it isn't necessary to completely enclose the seedlings planted at the base of a trellis, the birds don't seem to like getting into the enclosed space even though the top is open, that's great as it allows the seedlings to get more direct sun. More on those trellises further on.

Bean tunnel, June 3
The dry beans were nearly ready to pull by the end of July, the plants were full of dry and nearly dry bean pods. That's Rosso di Lucca in the foreground and Slenderette beyond. By this time I had opened up the tunnel because the birds were no longer a problem but spider mites and aphids with their attending ants had started to move in. Opening the tunnel allowed the beneficial insects better access to the bean plants which helped to slow down the infestations.

July 30

I pulled the Black Coco and Rosso di Lucca plants soon after and allowed them to finish drying spread out on some remay.

Black Coco and Rosso di Lucca plants drying, August 7
The beans finished drying rather quickly, in spite of being left outside during our foggy nights. I was rewarded with a nice basket full of dry pods.

August 10
I started off with 18 plants each of Black Coco and Rosso di Lucca and ended up with 1.3 and 1.2 pounds of shelled beans, respectively. That will be enough of each to see how I like them and then next year I can grow more if I want to. Aren't they both beautiful!

Rosso di Lucca and Black Coco beans, August 12

This year I'm pushing the limits of how late I might be able to sow both dry and snap beans. Here's a patch of Fagiolo del Purgatorio (Purgatory beans) that I sowed on July 18, with a few direct sown replacements that went in on the 29th. Last year I sowed a patch of Purgatory beans on July 17 and successfully harvested dry beans, so odds are that this bunch will produce.

Growing next to the new Purgatory beans are the Royal Burgundy and Slenderette beans which were full of spider mites and aphids.

Aphids on Royal Burgundy leaves and typical stippling from spider mite feeding.
The mites and aphids started migrating rather quickly over to the new Purgatory beans.

Stippling from spider mite feeding

The tiny specks are spider mites.

So I tore out the Royal Burgundy and Slenderette mite factories. Look though, they were still trying to pop out new blossoms, these babies didn't want to quit producing. After pulling the mite factories out I treated the Purgatory beans with a Pyganic/Insecticidal Soap treatment which seems to have knocked back the mites and aphids for now.

It was nice to see that roots on the old beans were full of nitrogen producing nodules (I do use an inoculant). I cut the top growth off and those went into the compost, the roots were dug back into the soil.

So the big test this year is - that tray of Purgatory beans that you see at the top of the post that I sowed on August 7, they are going into the space left when I pulled the Royal Burgundy and Slenderette beans, will they produce a crop of dried beans before cold wet weather sets in this fall? (Um, hoping for cold wet weather, at least WET weather, we desperately need it.)

Fagiolo del Purgatorio beans harvested in 2013
So, are you wondering why these beans are purgatorial? The name comes from the custom of eating them at lunch on Ash Wednesday at the Pranzo Purgatorio (Purgatory Lunch) in Gradoli, Italy. The beans have supposedly been grown in Gradoli for hundreds of years, although I do believe that Slow Food is mistaken in saying that these beans were grown by the Etruscans, which is not possible unless the Etruscans "discovered" the new world since these are Phaseolus vulgaris - a new world bean.

The trellises that I mentioned earlier are where I'm growing another dry bean and some romano type beans. The trellis shown below is covered with Tarbais beans which I sowed on May 8. This is my third? attempt (at least) at growing Tarbais beans, first from seeds that I mail ordered from France. Then another time with seeds that I got from a fellow gardener who brought them from France. I'm not sure if it was the seeds or me (probably me) but I've never been able to get them to grow well. I had pretty much given up on them but then I purchased a bag of Tarbais beans from Rancho Gordo who sourced their seed stock from France but grew them in California. I thought, what the heck, these were grown in California so maybe they'll grow in this part of California. Whoa, did they grow. The third photo below is of the plants yesterday full of nearly mature beans, the foliage is starting die back so it's looking a bit sparse but not long ago it was a seemingly impenetrable wall of green. I do believe that I'll get a nice crop of dried beans, fingers crossed. (The strange thing about these beans is that Rancho Gordo claims they are a runner bean Phaseolus coccineous which they clearly are not because the cotyledons did not remain in the soil when the beans sprouted. Which doesn't concern me since I've always understood that Tarbais beans are Phaseolus vulgaris anyway.)

Tarbais beans, June 17, with protective fabric enclosure

Tarbais beans, July 2

Tarbais beans, August 12

The other trellis in this bed is home to one of my all time favorite varieties of romano type beans, Spanish Musica, or just Musica. They are sharing space on the trellis with a new to me variety, Golden Gate, a brilliant yellow bean of similar shape and size. There's a photo of both beans at the top of the post. I sowed both of these beans on May 21 with the intention that they would start producing as the bush snap beans slowed down. Golden Gate was the first to produce starting on July 26 and Musica was not far behind with harvests starting on July 30. Since then I've harvested 3.9 pounds of Golden Gate and 4.9 pounds of Musica and harvests of both are continuing. It sure made it easier to pull out the bush beans with these beans in full production.

Musica and Golden Gate beans, July 2 

Musica and Golden Gate beans, July 27

I probably should have started the next succession of snap beans earlier, but I'm giving it a try anyway. If it takes about 2 months to go from sowing to harvesting or even a week or 10 days longer then I may be able to get some harvests from this sowing of Emerite filet and Australian Butter beans. That's if I can keep the melon vines from overrunning them and the birds and sowbugs from munching them. Last year I sowed these same varieties on July 8 and started harvesting the filet beans on September 4 and the Australian Butter beans on September 8.

Australian Butter and Emerite filet bean seedlings, August 12
There's one other bean that I'm growing this year, a somewhat local heirloom dry bean called Petaluma Gold Rush,  (Petaluma is about 160 miles north of here). The story behind this bean is that it was first brought to California in the early 1840's from South America and was the bean that fed the gold miners in the 1850's. I first read about this bean in William Woys Weaver's book 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. And fortunately at that time Mr. Weaver was offering seeds for this bean through the Seed Savers Exchange member yearbook so I was able to get some seeds from him. This year I realized that I had not grown these out since 2010 so it was time to replenish my stock. I sowed a full flat of 36 seedlings on June 17, planted them out on the 24th, and they took off.

Petaluma Gold Rush beans, June 24

You can see in the photos here how I set up my trellises. Each one is a piece of concrete reinforcing mesh measuring 3 feet wide by 5 feet high which I attach to sturdy 7-foot stakes using UV resistant cable ties. Sometime I use shorter stakes and reinforce those by placing a 4-foot long 5/8-inch diameter rebar stake alongside each and lash the two together with cable ties. This method works perfectly in my large raised beds. I always install the trellises on the north side of the bed about 1 foot from the edge and plant the beans in two rows along either side of the trellis. I mentioned before that a half flat of paper pots fits perfectly along the length of one trellis, 9 plants along either side.

July 27
I usually erect a barrier of row cover around the trellis (see photo of Tarbais beans) to keep the birds from pulling the seedlings out, but this time I used a bunch of water bottles perched atop stakes to rattle around in the breeze (a pretty constant thing around here at this time of year). The movement and clanking of the bottles seems to deter the birds. As the vines grow up the trellis I weave a couple of stakes into the trellis and top them with water bottles to help keep the birds from pecking at the leaves. The birds always seem to go for the tender new leaves so I don't worry about the mature growth.

August 12
Petaluma Gold Rush beans have a pretty pink blossom.

Back in 2010 I grew a double trellis of Petaluma Gold Rush beans and ended up harvesting 7.7 pounds. This was the bulk of my harvest back in 2010.

I'm hoping for similar results this year. Stay tuned...


  1. That is a very thorough coverage of bean-growing, Michelle! I can see this post becoming a Go-To guide for first-time bean-growers. There is something very fascinating about beans - particularly the dried ones. My Runners are normally very productive, but this year they have been very poor.

  2. I grew Tarbais beans for several years. They are really vigorous growers. And not runner beans. I found they were really productive too, but later than most of my other beans. I've never had trouble with birds pulling up beans. I've had trouble with peas though. I might try the trick with the bottles. But we don't get as much steady wind as you do. This year I didn't protect my peas and nothing got eaten, but I know that some years they would pull them all out.

  3. Wow, what a lot of great bean information. I am growing dry beans for the first time, in my "Survival Garden." A lot of the pods have turned yellow, but many are still green and the plants are still flowering. My plan was to let them all dry on the vine and pull the plants at the end of the season (still at least a month away for us). Now I'm having second thoughts, as I don't want the ripe ones to rot or get damaged. What do you think?

    1. I usually let the pods dry on the plants. This time I pulled the plants a little earlier because I wanted the space right away, but even so, there were no green pods left, they had all gotten to at least the leathery yellow stage with fully mature beans inside and only needed a few more days to finish drying. In the past I've pulled the pods off the plants as they've dried and let the rest of them finish maturing on the plants and sometimes the plants have set more pods. That's nit picky harvesting, but if you really want to maximize the yield it does help. And I suppose if rain is an issue, then you might want to harvest the pods as they dry so that those don't spoil, but the green ones should be fine in the rain.

  4. I love beans and I especially love dried beans. Ditto Marks comment - this post is fantastic. I'm planning on eventually devoting a bed or two to dry beans and when I do, I'm definitely going to refer back here. And those gold rush beans are beautiful.

    1. Well, I hadn't really intended this to be a primer on growing beans, but I'm happy that it might be helpful to other gardeners. Funny how things work out like that. :-)

  5. Thanks for the excellent writeup on growing beans, I especially like the part how you succession plant out your beans in small patches. I grew Tarbais last year and it was very productive, but there are so many other beans to as well, Purple Burgundy is always the first to product in my garden so I include a few plants every year.

  6. Fabulous post on beans!! I've only grown dried beans once before (borlotti) so that is new to me. I am growing Tarbais for the first time this year. Thanks for all of the details (and photos) you have provided, it helps to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing.


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