The nutritional limitations of lettuce work against it as a survival food. Another obstacle is that once the heat arrives and the soil warms, lettuce will be slow to germinate and fast to bolt, and the flavor shift from sweet to bitter all too rapid. In Washington, with its Southern climate, lettuce is a marvelous leafy green for the spring and fall. It is not the vegetable to lead us through the pandemic. What is?
The obvious staple is the potato, but even with inventive practices of planting early-, mid- and late-season varieties, you have to wait weeks for a finite crop, even if it stores.
There is only one nutrient-dense veggie I can think of that will grow and yield continuously the whole season long, arrive in fairly short order and function as a harvest for fresh eating and storing. All hail the bean.
According to a 2017 study, the United States could significantly reduce greenhouse gases — and hit as much as three-quarters of Obama administration targets — if every American stopped eating beef and ate beans instead.
There is no one bean, and its many forms present a legume for every climate in the land.
The seeds — are there any more tactile or easier to sow? — should be sown directly after the last frost of spring. If you keep seeding them in well-prepared soil every two weeks from then on, until two months before the fall frost, you will have a conveyor belt of beans for eating fresh, for long-term storage and for seed saving.
I usually wait until May to sow beans, but this year, I sowed some pole wax beans a month early. The impulse was to get this pandemic production line started as quickly as possible — it takes about two months from seeding to harvest — but also because the late frosts of April seem a thing of the past in my community garden, even with last week’s near miss.
A single trellis of such beans will produce for many weeks, but if you want the freshest continuous supply, successive sowing is the order of the day. The challenge is to have open beds ready to receive new seeds over the late spring and summer. One tactic is to grow leafy greens between now and June and follow them with beans. Another is to forgo crops that take months to develop and use that real estate. I can go a year without growing parsnips, for example. It is a time of sacrifice.
The common green or snap bean abounds in its variety, with standard green beans such as Blue Lake, a purple-podded creature such as Amethyst or the gourmet filet types harvested bootlace thin.
Such beans are available as bush beans or pole beans. Generally, bush beans produce a larger harvest over a shorter period and don’t require a trellis, though they can swoon after a storm. They are less fuss and thus suited to the beginner. Pole beans produce over a longer period and earn their keep in gardens where space is limited. Climbing beans are like city dwellers, inhabiting different floors of the same skyscraper. For the handy gardener with a design bent, bean trellises offer a chance to get creative and add verticality to an achingly flat plot.
I use something more prosaic: stackable oversize tomato cages. My planting plan this year includes a long row of dent corn that grows to eight feet and higher. Native Americans, as that old TV ad used to say, know corn as maize, but they also knew it as a bean trellis.
Taking my cue thus, I plan to grow more climbing beans up the sturdy corn stalks. I’ve read that you sow the seeds of corn and bean together, but I wonder if I should give the corn a week or two’s start. It seems a nice conundrum to have at the moment.
Edamame beans are a type of soybean developed in Japan for fresh eating. Each bush produces more beans than you imagine, happily, but they should be eaten when the pods are green and the seeds soft. If you wait too long, they become chewy and lose their value.
The fava bean, beautiful in flower, delicious on the plate, has deep cultural significance in Quebec, where it is grown as a summer-into-fall crop. Down here, it is more of a novelty, and one that is best grown before July ignites. It can be cultivated through mild winters to mature in late spring, though this is always a gamble. Last winter would have been a great year for such a sowing.
Gardeners with hotter, longer growing seasons have the chance to grow beans that produce into September and beyond, and, with climbing varieties, to provide lush late-summer draperies of bean vines. These include Romanos, lima beans and the Asian yard-long bean.
Unless you are growing beans for storage and soups, or at an intermediate stage called shelling beans, you need to pick the pods before they get too big. A regular harvest will ensure that the beans keep coming and provide the most tender pods.
Bean plants should not be handled when it is wet, to prevent the spread of disease. But the biggest threat to the bean, in my experience, is the appearance and rapid increase of the Mexican bean beetle, which can devastate the foliage. The best way to deal with this is to be in the garden frequently so that each plant can be checked for the pest, especially under the leaves. Squash the eggs and put the yellow fuzzy larvae and the ladybird-like adults into a glass of soapy water. It’s not as unpleasant as it sounds. For us, that is.
Tip of the Week
Herbaceous peonies should be staked and tied in early growth to prevent flopping once in bloom. Be careful not to spear the growing crown. Green stakes and string will recede into the foliage.
— Adrian Higgins
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