My son Mike is an expert green bean and banana grower. For many years he’s produced enough beans to give the extras away to his family and fellow workers, even though it involved a great deal of stoop and squat just to pick them. So he tried pole beans and found his solution.
This fall he has walls of beans 10 feet tall that began filling kettles only seven weeks after planting in mid August.
Mike planted two, 25-foot rows of long beans, two types of green beans, and two types of purple snap beans that morning and left for Iowa the same afternoon. When he came back the seeds were sprouting. He bought 20, 10-foot-long conduit poles and placed them along four rows and tethered them well with wires from the top to stakes in the ground with clothesline rope. To keep himself and any visitors, including me, from tripping over the stakes, he put old white socks on them to remind us.
He installed 100 feet of 4-foot-tall fencing along the top of the poles. Then he got two balls of strong string and wove it from the base of the plants to the fencing, up and down, up and down, one long string for each row so when and if he takes it down, he can pull out the whole string from one end. He figures he’s getting the equivalent of 250 square feet of bush beans in each row.
My son also put down old newspapers and covered them with mulch between the rows. This shaded the soil and kept it from being too hot, even in August, and with the plentiful rains, the beans grew to the top in three weeks. The mulch also has kept the weeds out.
The long beans ripened first. By the first week of October he was picking them, and the regular ones he planted followed a week or two later. He likes the long beans because he can come home from work, walk through the garden on the way inside and grab enough to fill a kettle in no time. He cuts them in clumps. Since most of them never touch the ground, a quick rinse and they are ready to cook within five minutes after he closes his car door.
The plants should continue bearing until a frost stops them. In November he plans to plant sugar pod peas and let them grow up the fading bean vines. He’ll plant more green beans in the spring and long beans for all of next summer.
Mike keeps them well-watered, but his only fertilizer now is mulch. For years he’s been adding leaves, grass clippings, wood chips and chopped-up banana leaves and spent banana trunks. Two years ago he and his brothers spread six pickup loads of mulch from the landfill. Between that and the fact that a small canal borders two sides of his yard, his soil is much richer than most. He also has full sun.
Setting up was the hardest, but not too hard even for a 50-year-old. Now’s it’s easy. No stooping to pick. He’s considering putting a wall of beans along the road in front, both for a privacy fence and with a sign welcoming passers-by to help themselves.
My son’s walls of banana trees have produced 15 bunches so far this year. He planted tomato seeds on his back porch in mid July and has some fruit ripening already. His Brogdon avocado tree had a bumper crop from July to September, much of which he also shared.
I taught him well, but he has far surpassed me with his crops.
Today’s pick is the Confederate rose, Hibiscus mutabilis, which is blooming now in the garden of Bob and Nancy Gasperment. The plant is only 2 years old and has grown from 2 feet in a pot to 8 feet high and wide in the garden. The flowers open almost white in the morning, turn a delicate pink by afternoon and hot pink the next day. Some varieties turn dark rose at the end.
They are easy to grow from seeds or cuttings, bloom from September through November, and then drop their leaves for the winter. They come back in the spring bigger and better, and need full sun and ample room to spread.
Now’s the time to mention I’m working on a column about planting with the moon. If anyone has experience or information to share, please email me.
Now that my column is in all the community papers, I can visit gardens in all areas. So if you have a good one or know someone who does, let me know. If I have to drive far from Brandon, I’m hoping to find two gardens close together to visit in one morning, if at all possible. Most good gardeners know about the other good gardeners nearby. Email me, and we can try to double up.
I invite everyone to a Book and Plant Sale from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday at my home, 1508 Burning Tree Lane, Brandon. My blue ginger is still blooming. There will be plants of blue ginger, red fire spike, cat whiskers, pentas, plumerias, snowbush, edible salad plants, bulbs of pinecone ginger, butterfly ginger and more. You’re welcome to walk through the garden. For more details, or if you get lost, call (813) 295-1479 that morning or (813) 654-1969 before. The same invitation holds for Nov. 9.
While you’re in Brandon, also stop by Neem Tree Farms from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 602 Ronele Drive. Tour the greenhouses where they grow the herb an agency of the U.S. government has called “a tree for solving global problems.” They’ll also have free samples of their top-selling Anti-itch Formula and complimentary milkweed plants to boost populations of monarch butterflies across the state. For more information, visit www.neemtreefarms.com.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.