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Beans

Photo courtesy of “An Edible Yard”
Some heirloom varieties, like Scarlet Runner, produce remarkably beautiful pods, beans.

Oh...Beans!

—Betsy Model

Beans, Beans (The Magical Fruit!) Are A Terrific Addition To Garden, Diet

As fairytales go, Jack and the Magic Beanstalk is a classic...the mythical boy, his magic bean and the fantastically growing stalk can be recited by children and adults of almost any generation.

In reality, almost any bean planted can result in borderline magic; you poke a hole in the dirt, insert a single, rather plain-looking bean and, with a little water, up grows a lush green bush or vine that produces hundreds of pods that contain...multiple beans!  It's the kind of ROI (return on investment) or compounded interest that Wall Street can only dream of - or pocket - and for the cost of a seed packet, it's yours.  No investment bankers, commissions or taxable income involved. 

Beans are a humble food source but packed with protein and complex carbohydrates.  They're part of the Leguminosae plant family - legumes - and typically can be eaten whole, pod included, when they're young and tender - think of "green beans" - or the pods can be left on the vines where, once harvested, the interior beans can be shelled, dried and saved for use.  Once dried thoroughly and kept dry and dark, most beans can last for an extended period of time and made edible again (without breaking teeth) by soaking in water or broth.

They're also an important part of man's historical diet with accounts of deliberately cultivated or grown beans being recorded prior to the second millennium.  Their importance as a food source and valuable trade commodity have been recorded in The Illiad, in Christopher Columbus' journal entries, and by the Mayan. 

Here in the Southwest, beans were a central component to indigenous tribes' diet and remain one of the three parts of what has become the famously symbiotic planting of the "Three Sisters;" corn, beans and squash. 

Easy (Peasy) To Grow

Beans are wonderfully easy to grow and a fun choice for kids because they're not only easy to plant but their rapid growth and prolific production make it a fun "measure and count" exercise for little ones who can then brag about their gardening skills.

While bean plants can be purchased as starts from your local nursery, they actually germinate from seed fairly quickly and since most beans produce harvestable pods within 55-60 days, anyone who planted after last frost is probably harvesting by now.  Those who've procrastinated or do succession planting - starting a new, small crop every two weeks or so - can still plant now and have beans by early-to-mid October.  This means fresh beans through early fall and with plenty to dry and harvest for winter bean recipes and seed for next year.

While there are more than four thousand recorded varieties of beans, there are two primary plant types to consider for your garden, pole (which includes runner beans) and bush.  Bush beans (some of the most popular varietals are Blue Lake, Bush Kentucky Wonder, Burpee Stringless and Derby) tend to have stronger stalks and can stand upright (if they have to) without major support.

If your garden area is exposed to wind - and most gardens in this area are - bush beans will appreciate a simple support such as a stake or bamboo pole that the bottom six-to-ten inches of the plant can be secured to.  Bush beans are also well suited to containers with good drainage; large pots or planter boxes can provide plenty of root growth area and stakes need to only be embedded deep enough to stay secure in wind.

Pole beans and runner beans tend to have more delicate stalks - vines, actually - and they'll want something to climb and cling to.  Purchased trellises of wood that feature a "grid" pattern are popular but sturdy poles, teepee-like structures crafted from bamboo or saplings, netting suspended between supports  or even fence line can be used to support pole beans.  One thing to remember is that since pole beans will literally wind and wend their way around their support, if you're using a fence to support the beans, some of your crop may wind up outside of the garden area and are fair game to wildlife you'd intended to keep out of your edibles.

Almost all pole varieties will work well in this climate but a few favorites include Romano, Rattlesnake and Blue Coco.

Surprising and Welcome Beauty

The term "green beans" has been a catch-all term for beans for ages although it typically referred to beans picked young enough so that the tender pod was still edible and tasty.  If you're new to growing beans, you've got a wonderful surprise when you begin considering something other than a basic Blue Lake for your garden. There are hundreds of hybrid and heirloom varieties to choose from, many with their own distinct colors, shapes and blossoms. 

Bean plants flower prolifically prior to their pod production and are an aesthetically pleasing addition not only for their flowers but for their ability to draw pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Also, pods - and definitely the interior beans or seeds - are not always green.  In fact, the interior beans are rarely green but can range from creamy whites to every shade of brown, red, black and beige imaginable.  Some varieties - like the bush bean Dragon's Tongue or the runner bean Italian Rose - feature striking, multi-colored pods and beans.

Yet others, like the bush beans Red Swan and Mellow Yellow, feature solid colored pods of maroon or creamy yellow and the long, near-black pods of the runner bean Emperor Runner contrast amazingly against the plant's lime-green leaves and scarlet flowers.

Oh, Grow Up!

Last but not least, when gardening space is at a premium - and it usually is - beans offer the ability to grow up instead of out.  Even bush beans, especially when supported, tend to stand upright and pole beans choose to go as tall as you'll let them but provide harvestable produce all the way up their stalks. 

Runner beans will actually send out runners - new, small tendril plants - and training them up a trellis, netting or fencing will maximize your planting area below while creating a lush, dense production plant above.

Derek Fell, a gardener and prolific book author who specializes in vertical gardening - the art of growing edible plants vertically to create healthy harvests while taking up as little flat soil space as possible - is a big fan of beans and his latest book "Vertical Gardening" (Rodale Books, paperback, $23.99) offers an entire chapter on building trellises and support systems for beans and similar climbing plants.

Ellen Ecker Ogden, founder of The Cook's Garden seed company (a brilliant source of heirloom seeds of all kinds, including beans) also extols both the physical beauty of bean plants and their value as a food source in her new book "The Complete Kitchen Garden" (Stewart Tabori Chang, paperback, $24.95.)  Within the book, Ogden offers recipes for both fresh and dried beans interspersed within the planting and gardening advice for a healthy, sustainable edible garden.


Valles Caldera photo adventure ends soon

—Margaret M. Nava

Time is running out. The last day to get lottery tickets for the September 27-29 Valles Grande National Preserve Photo Adventure is August 21. Twelve lucky winners will be allowed three-day access to the meadows, valleys, streams, forest and buildings of the Preserve. Like the program held in June, they will be able to pick where they go, drive their own cars, and take as many photos of the 89,000 acre preserve as they like. Although a few areas will be off limits, the bulk of the preserve will be open for them to explore and photograph. Winners can camp overnight in designated primitive campsites and are allowed to share his or her adventure with one guest.

So, if you’re a lottery winner, what might you photograph? Well, there are the elk, of course, as well as historic old buildings, Redondo Peak, Jaramillo Creek, at least 60 species of birds, golden eagles, prairie dogs, and maybe even a black bear. But think about this: there are also magnificent sunsets, early morning dew on flower petals, intricate spider webs, lichens on rocks, and swallowtail butterflies flitting through grassy areas. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and creativity.

But what if you don’t win one of the highly sought after spots? Does that mean you won’t be able to get photographs of the Preserve? Of course not. During the summer, the scenic two-mile unpaved road that leads from Hwy 4 (mile marker 39.2) to the middle of the Valle Grande is open to the public seven days a week. Here, as well as at nearby Jemez Falls and the East Fork of the Jemez Wild and Scenic River Trail, you can start a collection of photographs that rival those seen in glitzy photo journals and magazines. Download them to your computer, use them for wallpaper, email them to friends, or just sit back and enjoy them to your heart’s content. After all, isn’t that what’s so great about living in New Mexico?

In order to take advantage of the Valles Caldera Photo Adventure Lottery, interested photographers (amateur and professional) should purchase lottery tickets ($10 each) from the VCNP website: www.vallescaldera.gov/reservations/reservations.aspx. Since there are only 800 tickets available that means the odds of winning are 1:66. Of course, you can increase your odds by buying more than one ticket. Winners will be notified by email on August 26, 2011. For more information about these and other recreational opportunities at the Valles Caldera, contact the Visitor’s Center Monday through Friday at 1-866-382-5537 or logon to www.vallescaldera.gov/comevisit.

   

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