Trust me, we wouldn’t rave about beans unless we really thought them worthy of it. Beans are a mainstay amongst garden veggies and most often don’t attract much thought. They are mostly trouble free, easy to grow, one of the most reliable of the veggies, and there have always been plenty to pick. It would be easy to take them for granted.
Normally we have little debate over which variety to choose from the seed catalog. We simply get Provider Bush Beans, and a yellow, wax bean, also a bush type. The bush beans put out a great crop in the space of a short garden row over several weeks. Then the plants are yanked and stacked on the compost pile. A crop of spinach or other fast grower can be planted in the now-empty row with plenty of time to grow before a frost. Or not, depending on mood, the weather, other commitments, or even whim. It was this way for years.
Then one year, in a mood or on a whim, I decided to try the three sisters; the traditional combo of corn, beans and squash. A new place had to be found for this, since the garden beds are already predestined for their designated crops. The new area started with three separate mounds of composting material (for info on what we compost, and how we do it, see the post on composting here). Onto these went some dirt and composted manure. Over each mound I set up a tripod of three tall poles tied together near the top. Finding poles is easy here. We simply do some thinning in the woods, a benefit to the larger trees.
Next, I planted the seeds. Because I never really trust things to grow anyway (based on some past experiences), I didn’t bother to stagger the plantings. Corn is supposed to be seeded first. The beans and squash are supposed to go in when the corn is off to a good start. The beans can then climb up the corn, while the squash simply gads about around the feet of the other plants. As it turned out, however, the corn grew into feeble foot high stalks and no farther. The beans climbed the poles, and the squash rambled all over the nearby countryside. For squash and beans, the experiment was a success. And, we haven’t continued to plant the third sister, corn.
The beans happened to be purple pole beans, a seed catalog selection based on something-that-looked-interesting with no practical considerations intended. My preference for the color purple was the only prerequisite for choosing this style of bean. Purple would be fun, a color boost to the garden. And, of course I didn’t expect they would grow and climb the poles and produce beans.
But grow they did, producing a bountiful crop that came in later than the bush beans and kept going way into fall. They are easy to pick; they grow in bunches and you can grab a whole handful at once. Wonderful to eat; they turn deep green when cooked, and are excellent for freezing. Everything you'd want in a bean!
We have been saving seeds ever since. Saving the seeds is easy. Leave the beans on the vine until the pods turn brown. Pick them, open the pods, and spill the seeds onto a plate. Leave them to dry for a few days, then put them into a paper envelope. Viola, next year’s beans! -jmm