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The Scoop on Beans

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Steve Solomon

I may be 66 years old and may have been food gardening for 35 years, but I still learn stuff every year. Last summer I learned how to increase the productivity of the common pole bean. It has long been my (probably incorrect) opinion that pole beans yield well for some time and then the yield tapers off. I believed this habit was to be expected/the nature of the beast/nothing to be done about that. When I lived in Oregon, I usually harvested relatively few beans during the fall unless I had started some—say about July 1st—especially for late harvesting.

Bean Background

I grew pole beans last year, as usual, planted in a single row about 10 feet long. It was located in the middle of a new garden atop a large hill that cops a fair bit of wind. The variety of pole bean I prefer, Musica, is rather delicate and doesn’t handle wind too well. I suspect that Musica was bred for glasshouse cultivation.

Several times last summer, the winds played up fiercely for a few days, the vines lost a great many leaves and production was halted. When the weather settled, the plants grew new leaves, bloomed and started bearing again.

Despite all the damage and production halts, the yield was excellent and the beans so choice that we began selling them to a local fancy restaurant. The restaurant was so happy with Musica beans, this year we planted nearly three times the length of row. To avoid having all that wind damage, the bean trellis was located in my most protected spot, against the sun-facing wall of our house. The beans grew lustily with this extra bit of heat and reflected light, and the vines lost no leaves from wind damage. After we made three or four good pickings this summer, the leaves began to get wrinkled, blistered and lost their “newness”—and the vines stopped producing.

Yield from this 25-foot row of Musica beans declined to the point that we were picking a bare handful of pods every other day, when that much row should have yielded five to ten pounds of pods daily.

Garden Visitors

During the summer, I had visitors from southern India who came to see our gardens and visit. The Varanashis are involved with organic certification for local farmers in their area and are authors of books on the organic cultivation of tropical crops. Mrs. Varanashi was with me when we came to that non-producing row of pole beans. I told her about my difficulty and she said that in India they remove old, senescent leaves on climbing beans to keep production up. We began ripping the large wrinkled old leaves from those vines—buckets of ‘em. Why not? They weren’t producing anyway.

In a few days new growth appeared all over the trellis. In a few more days, flowers appeared, and now the vines are producing quite well—not quite as well as they did originally, but considering that the vines are a month older than they were when the yield petered out, I have little to complain about.

Now, when I harvest climbing beans I routinely remove the old leaves from the vines .

I hope some of you will try stripping old leaves from your climbing bean vines and let me know if you get the same results. E-mail Northwest Garden News (norwesgard@earthlink.net) and they will forward your messages to me.

Bean Sources

Renee’s Seeds offers Musica beans; Territorial Seed Company’s Helda is similar to Musica.

 

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