Winter Gardening Epiphanies: Plant Beans

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Well, it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post.  This summer my urban farming efforts became more overwhelming than inspirational.  Weeds took over my beds.  In trying to keep up on that, I missed the timing for crop rotations and beds went unused that could have grown something good.  I didn’t water as much as I should have.  And because we have so many oak trees, the veggie garden area only really gets partial sun, and the harvest was disappointing.  The chicken coop roof is leaking and we haven’t had time to repair it.  I felt a little bit defeated and like I didn’t deserve to be blogging about this stuff.

But now I am realizing that just like the soil, the change in weather means it is time for me to rest.  And in resting, I am starting to have hope and plans and ideas again.  Hope that we can produce more of our own food amidst the busy lives we have been given right now.  And in so doing, move toward living more simply and being able to slow down a bit.  My Seed Savers seed catalog arrived yesterday.  Sean calls it my garden “porn” because I spend so much time looking at those seed catalogs when they arrive.  So much excitement about what could be.

I need to figure out how to not need to water or weed my garden, because I have very limited time.  If I don’t have to water or weed, then I can focus my time on crop rotations and harvesting and staking.  This might sound crazy, but I think with the right irrigation systems and/or bed construction this can be possible.  This is what I’m working on in this dark and dreary time of year:  figuring out systems to make everything run more smoothly during the busy season.  Less weeding, less watering, less feeding, less cost, and more production.  I’ll keep you posted on what we come up with in my research.

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And in the meantime, I have been thinking about how smart beans (well, legumes) are.  If you can plant one thing, plant beans.  “Why?” you may ask.  Because they are good for everything, and every part of them is useful, and they grow easily, and many varieties can climb, and so can fit into small spaces.  In New Seasons this year I saw young pea shoots for sale in the produce section.  So you can eat the leaves and stalks of peas (not sure about beans?).  You can eat the young, tender pods of peas and green beans fresh.  You can freeze or pickle them.  And, if like me, you miss half your crop and they get too ripe to eat, let them.  Once the beans are fully developed, you can harvest them and eat the dry beans as well in chilis or soups or whatever you want.  Legumes (which beans are) are also great for the soil because they “fix” nitrogen.  That means they pull nitrogen out of the air and store it in little nodules on their roots, which puts it back into the soil.  So wherever you grow beans, you are fertilizing your garden just by letting them grow.  Plus you can eat them fresh or dry, and/or feed any part of them to your chickens or livestock.  They are a smart choice no matter what.  I’m going to try to tuck beans everywhere next year.

Here are some photos from bean harvesting this year:

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ImageImageAs you can see, all I did was gather all the overripe bean pods and put them in a paper bag.  Once they dried out a little bit, I pulled out all the beans.  It’s best to let the actual beans dry for a week or so before sealing them into a jar with a lid as well to prevent molding.  I have laid them out on newspaper or cookie sheets in a back room to dry them.  And once you put them in a jar, it’s even better if you put something in with them to absorb moisture:  rice, or those silica packets from vitamin jars (just don’t accidentally eat these!).  Then if you want to eat the beans throughout the winter, cook them just like any other dry beans.  And save enough to replant the next year.

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