Archives for posts with tag: string beans

The early frost decisively ended the year for most of the vegetables in our garden.  And although it was not a violent weather event (such as last year’s hurricane) and did not last very long (unlike the snowstorm last October), the cold weather left behind a mess of frost-damaged vines and vegetables.  The sight of them is not very uplifting—it is the complete opposite of the promising appearance of spring growth—and it is time to clean up and start getting the planters ready for winter.

So we disentangled the string beans from their trellis and pulled up their roots, some of which extended completely across the planter.  The bedraggled tomatoes, mesclun, bell pepper, eggplant and basil received similar treatment.  I was impressed by their extensive and deep root systems, which was reassuring even if not all of the plants produced as much as I would have liked.

Likewise, we pulled up the stakes and cages, cleaned them off and stored them on the back porch, next to the firewood.  We left the trellis in place (it is a more elaborate construction) but will probably have to move it next spring (we’ll be rotating our crops).  Until then, we’ll enjoy its rectilinear orderliness (and maybe we’ll hang Christmas lights on it).

The forecast held up and the temperature did, in fact, drop below freezing over night.  When I looked this morning—the sun having already risen—the thermometer was reading about 31 degrees.  The Weather Channel reported a low of 27 degrees so it may have been sub-freezing for much of the night.

However long it was, it was long enough.  Almost all of the plants that we left unprotected—the string beans, tomatoes, bell pepper and eggplant—were affected by the cold and subsequent warming; their leaves are hanging limp and lifeless.  Freezing and thawing has also cast a literal pall over the garden:  the greens are tinted with black, as if the garden is now permanently in shadow.

The radishes, toasty-warm beneath their tarp, weathered the frost well.  When I uncovered them, they looked as fresh as on any other morning.  It remains to be seen, however, whether there is enough sun left in the season to develop them to maturity.  At the moment, they are still nothing more than sprouts.

Although left out in the cold, the parsley and other herbs also fared well (they don’t need no stinkin’ tarps).  I was not surprised by this.  Last year, most of the herbs survived the late-October snowstorm that left them covered by a foot of snow.

I appreciate having gotten two day’s warning of the freeze—thank you National Weather Service—and am very glad that we were able to successfully harvest our remaining viable produce before it could be damaged.

In final preparation for tonight’s potential freeze, we picked all of the tomatoes still hanging on the vines.  Most of them are green—we will have to decide whether to fry them up or pickle them or do something else—while one or two are showing a hint of pink.  They’ve been patiently waiting for the sun to ripen them but the days are now too short.

Next, we clear-cut the lettuces.  They have gotten slightly bitter with age but paired with citrus (Rachel’s trick for balancing the flavors) and the almost-ripe tomatoes, they will make a fine final salad of the year.  On the other hand, given the mesclun’s determination and perseverance, I will not be too surprised if they return for another round (I’m not holding my breath, either).

To complete our harvest, we started sifting through the French Filet (low) and Blue Lake (high) vines, looking for ripe string beans.  At first, I thought that we would not find very many—previous yields have been modest—but apparently I hadn’t been searching thoroughly enough.  After checking each vine top to bottom, left to right, we ended up with a large zip-top baggie full of beans.

Before heading back into the house, I pulled out a tarp to cover the radish sprouts.  If they can survive the freeze, they might still make it to maturity.  I used pieces of stone to hold the tarp in place (I never did get around to paving the perimeter of the planters) and will hope that it is sealed well enough to retain the heat of today’s solar radiation.

Oddly, Saturday’s cool temperatures are expected to be followed by unseasonable warmth on Sunday and Monday.  October can be a difficult month to predict, lodged as it is between September, a month more closely aligned with summer, and November, which often feels more like a winter month.

I have often noted that daily changes in the garden are not always readily noticeable but that after our prolonged absence, the accumulated changes are immediately apparent.  I still believe this but after spending the last few days in Boston and seeing very little change on our return, I would add that it is mainly true during the more active portion of the growing season.

It’s the end of the season and many of the plants are already gone (most notably the cucumbers and zucchini) or winding down.  The latter is particularly true of the tomatoes which have not made any significant progress for a couple of weeks now.  All of the tomatoes that were green mid-week, before we left town, are still green today and showing no signs of turning color.  Even the few tomatoes that had already reddened are no redder now.  There just isn’t enough direct sun during the day.

On the other hand, there are signs of life in the garden.  The string beans are getting larger and the stalks are still producing blossoms.  The radish seedlings, just two weeks old, continue to develop (although it is extremely unlikely that they will reach maturity by next week, as promised by the seed packets).  And the lettuce patch continues to surprise us with its sustained growth (even if the older leaves have become slightly bitter).

Over in the ornamental garden, the divided and replanted Siberian irises are sending up new growth, the sight of which was very reassuring after their complete upheaval.  I don’t know whether this is normal (I don’t remember seeing it before) or a response to the late warm weather or to being separated.  But I am happy (and relieved) to see that we did not kill them off.

This evening, I picked the first of the French Filet string beans.  This is the bush variety (as opposed to the Blue Lakes, which are pole beans) and I had to search through the closely spaced leaves to find the ripe ones.  We didn’t do anything with them except to wash them and cut them into bite size pieces.  Raw, they were a nice addition to a salad along with lettuce (our mesclun patch is still producing) and two of the few remaining tomatoes.

Our first string bean harvest allows a nice segue into more recapping of the current season.  The string beans, and the Sugar Snap peas before them, did very well in our garden and we will plant them again next year.  But I think we need to devote more space to them (at least one full-length row) so that there are enough ripe legumes at any time to make a sizeable meal.  This year, we either ate the beans a few at a time or waited until there were enough, taking the risk that some would be overripe.

Of course, if we allow more space for peas and beans we will also have to give up room for other things.  I can’t think of anything we planted this year that I would not grow next year; therefore, we may have to expand the garden.  We probably don’t have enough space to add another full-size planter but we could grow some vegetables in pots or directly in the ground.

Of this year’s vegetables, zucchini would be the most suitable candidate for in-ground growing.  Zucchini plants can be very large—our single vine ended up using as much space as two did earlier in the season—and they tend to sprawl.  Before we pulled it out, our zucchini took up almost half of its planter.  “Don’t Fence Me In” would be the zucchinis’ theme song and it is easy to see why they are often grown in free-form patches.

As for pots, the eggplant and bell pepper plants might do well in stand-alone containers.  Unlike the zucchini, they do not spread out very much.  In fact, the eggplant in particular grew upward as much, if not more, than it did outward.  Neither the eggplant nor the bell pepper grew very large (which may be a characteristic of their respective varieties or due to poor soil conditions) and their smaller size would make them easier to move around as the solar exposure changes.

It was finally time to pull the plug on the cucumber vines.  Their production had been dwindling and over the last few days, their foliage—what is left of it—had been thinning, yellowing and then shriveling to a dry, crinkly brown.  They had a good year (despite cucumber beetles and bacterial wilt) and we are happy with their performance.  Cucumbers remain one of my favorite vegetables to grow and will be back next year.

While removing the vines (which had become a tangled mess), we found several cucumbers hiding amongst the mostly-dead leaves.  We also found many surprisingly-fresh blossoms.  At some level, the plants were still active.  We were also happy to see that the plants had extensive and deep root systems.  Clearly, the cucumbers were basically healthy but they had run their course.

It may soon be time to do pull out the zucchini plant as well.  Like the cucumbers, it is still producing blossoms and tiny new fruit continue to form.  The dairy cure (I have sprayed three times now) seems to be working and the powdery mildew is diminishing (also, there is the not unpleasant aroma of aged milk in the air; it smells like pecorino Romano).  But growth is slow and many of the leaves are withering.  We will give it another few days and then make a decision.

While poking around in the string bean patch, Rachel discovered the first of the French Filet string beans.  They had been hiding amongst the crowded leaves and are already about three inches in length.  The mature beans will be very long and thin and have a deliciously fresh grassy flavor (yes, we ate the first beans straight from the vine).

While the tomatoes have been flamboyantly flashing their bright shades of orange and red and the zucchini and cucumbers have been playing out their melodrama of insect and disease persecution, the string beans have been quietly growing.  The Blue Lake variety are proving themselves as climbers and have already reached to the top of the trellis, a lofty perch they share with a wandering vine of the slicing cucumbers.  The tip of the tallest vine is now lunging up and out, looking for a higher point to cling to.

The French Filet string beans, on the other hand, are holding the low ground.  They have not reached any higher than about 12 inches but true to their type, they are getting bushier.  This morning, we noticed a few preliminary blossoms which I take to mean they are happy with their environment.

The string beans still have a long way to go—we don’t expect to be eating any until after Labor Day—but they are well on their way.

Yesterday morning, the string bean seedlings were only just breaking the surface of the soil.  This afternoon, a day and a half later, they are already three inches high.  If I were to pull up a chair, I could probably see the plants getting taller by the second.  It would be like watching a time-lapse video but in real time.  It is amazing to see them growing so fast.

When we planted these seeds less than a week ago, Rachel remarked that it is one of her favorite things to do in the garden.  One reason is that it is more active than many other gardening tasks and another is that it holds such promise, a true act of optimism.  You dig a hole, drop in a seed, cover it up and sprinkle on some water.  Although the ground looks no different from before you started, you hope—no, you know—that a new plant will emerge from that spot in a very short time.  It’s a matter of when, not if.

And when it does emerge, that is a truly wondrous moment.  I always feel a childlike sense of awe when I see seedlings pushing their way out of the ground, rising above the confines of the earth and spreading their tiny leaves broadly and proudly.  The feeling of freedom and release is exhilarating.  I suppose these emotions might fade with repetition (do commercial farmers feel this way?) but I hope not.  It is a rewarding sensation that keeps me motivated to keep on gardening.

After only five days, the string beans have sprouted.  I wasn’t expecting them—the seed packets estimated seven to 14 days to germination—and, in fact, I didn’t notice them when I went down to the garden this morning.  When Rachel joined me a few minutes later, she spotted them instantly.  She is much more observant and in tune than I am.

With plenty of water and an abundance of sunlight and heat, they have quickly pushed their way up through the soil and mulch.  I had read that some gardeners have been reluctant to sow seeds in this hot weather—too harsh for delicate and tender seedlings—but the pale green shoots are safely tucked in behind the squash plants.  The zucchinis should cast enough shade to protect the sprouts from the intense light and heat of the midday sun.

Another week, another application of liquid fertilizer.  In fact, I watered everything in the west planter with several bucketsful of the stuff (in lieu of regular watering).  The plants in this bed have turned a corner, growthwise, thanks in part to this light pink fluid.  As a further indicator, two bell peppers have started to form.

The garden was also due for general purpose fertilizer—it has been about a month since I sprinkled out a batch of Garden-Tone—but the only plants that looked like they could use it are the zucchinis.  I troweled a small mound of the granular product near the root end of each stem and watered it in.

To fill the void left by the Sugar Snap peas, we sowed seeds (from Burpee) for two types of string beans:  French Filet, a bush variety, and Blue Lake, a pole bean.  Using a stick of kindling as a dibble, I poked two-inch-deep holes into the soil and Rachel dropped a single seed into each one.  The seed packets suggested a spacing of three inches, thinned to six inches, but we learned from the Sugar Snap peas that we can plant much closer.  We chose a spacing of two inches.  When the shoots appear, we may thin them out (especially if they look stir-fryable) or we may not.

We planted the bush beans under the east half of the trellis, behind the squash plant that is not doing so well (and hence, not casting much shade).  The pole beans we planted behind the other, larger, squash plant.  Hopefully, the pole beans will quickly rise above them to get their share of the sun.

Of course, it is possible that neither squash plant will still be in the garden when the beans are reaching maturity.  Both varieties need about two months before they start producing.  Based on my spreadsheet (in which I track these things), that will bring us to the Labor Day weekend.  At this point in the summer, that seems like the very distant future.

I tend to focus on the harmful insects we have encountered but there are many helpful bugs in the garden as well, including dragonflies, lacewings and bees.  Of these, dragonflies (a category in which I include damselflies, whitetails and other similar insects) are my favorites.  They look to be enjoying themselves, quietly sunning on a rock or one of the tomato cages, and sometimes follow me around the garden when I am working.  They seem to be curious about what I am up to and want to be involved.

As we were finishing up, I spotted a ladybug on one of the squash leaves.  This is the first time I have noticed this beneficial insect in the garden (we have had many of them in the house over the years).  To her, I say “Welcome!”  (And ask, “Where were you when the aphids invaded the pea plants?”)