Sowing beans

I planned to write about making use of soil test results and deciding what soil amendments are needed. But I haven’t got to grips with the task enough to say anything helpful yet! So instead I’ll write about what we are actually doing today.

Provider Beans. Credit Fedco Seeds

Provider Beans.
Credit Fedco Seeds

Today we sowed our first beans.I soaked the seeds overnight for about 13 or 14 hours. The goal is to get the seeds plumped up but not to split the bean skins. We like Provider bush beans for reliably fast results, even in the early part of the season. They are purple-seeded, so they are better at emerging from cold soils than the white-seeded varieties. An open-pollinated variety, they take only 50 days from seed to harvest. I make that June 14!

Looking forward to eating green beans. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Looking forward to eating green beans.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We follow the old wisdom to wait till the oak leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears before sowing beans. We have plenty of oak trees and plenty of squirrels! Today the white oak leaves are a little bigger than squirrels’ ears, but the red oak leaves are smaller. Another phenology sign I look for is for the lilac to be in full bloom. The lilac got messed up this spring. It was half-blooming when we got a two very cold nights – 20F on the night of Saturday 4/9 and 22F on Tuesday 4/12. The lilac florets got frozen. The rest of the florets have now opened. I guess it would be full bloom, if half the bloom hadn’t got blasted! The same phenology signs apply to corn, but that’s a task for tomorrow.

When we plant beans in our 4ft raised beds, we put two rows in the bed, about 16″ apart. When we sow them in our row crops area we put up a rope and sow a row either side of the rope, so the rows are only 6″ apart. Both ways work. You can read more about growing beans in my book Sustainable Market Farming. Click the About the Book tab.

Bean sowing jig (multi-dibble) Photo by Nina Gentle

Bean sowing jig (multi-dibble)
Photo by Nina Gentle

We have also sown beans into (through) biodegradable black plastic. Initially we did this by using two long dowels (one in each hand) to poke holes through the plastic. Next we went back and pushed a bean in each hole and smushed the soil over the bean under the plastic. We upgraded by making a multiple seed dibble (sowing jig). It’s got two long handles made from home-grown bamboo, a cull hammock stretcher bar from our hammocks business, and a set of dowel pegs hammered into the holes the ropes would go through in a hammock spreader. bar in normal life. We were able to use an commercial pencil sharpener to put points on the pegs.The bean planting dibble is held together by two lengths of metal strapping tape as you can see in the photo.

Using the bean dibble to plant through plastic mulch. Photo by Brittany Lewis

Using the bean dibble to plant through plastic mulch.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

To use this, after we have installed the drip tape and the biodegradable plastic, we put a stake in the ground at each end of the row and run a rope from end to end to keep us aligned. Then we go along each side of the rope, stepping on the dibble to make a set of holes about 3″ from the rope. In this photo, the row happens to be on the overlap of two widths of black plastic, so what you can see is the soil which is holding the edges of the plastic down.

Planting beans through holes in biodegradable plastic mulch. Photo Brittany Lewis

Planting beans through holes in biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Then we sprinkle inoculant on the drained, soaked beans, and poke one in each hole. You can read more about the benefits of adding the nitrogen-fixing bacteria as an inoculant when sowing peas and beans at the Planet Natural site. We keep our inoculant in a plastic jar in the fridge and just sprinkle a little of the black powder on the damp beans before planting. You don’t need a lot. I tell the crew to imagine they are putting pepper on their dinner.

We just use our finger to push a little soil over the bean seed. I’m not sure if this is even necessary, or if the hole would fill in by itself. The beans have no trouble finding their way out of the holes in the plastic. Plants only need to see a glimpse of daylight to know which way to head.

The pictures all look cool and muddy. This method can be quite fast, although not as fast as sowing in open soil. The time-saving comes later, when there are almost no weeds to deal with!

Pushing soil over the bean through a hole in the biodegradable plastic. Photo Brittany Lewis

Pushing soil over the bean through a hole in the biodegradable plastic.
Photo Brittany Lewis

We also add a few sunflower seeds to each row of beans we plant. Sunflowers attract beneficial insects and birds, and provide attractive landmarks in our gardens. When someone asks where are the beans to pick, we point them to the sunflowers. When we are harvesting a long row with lots of people we can use the sunflowers as start and stop markers. In our fertile soil with ample irrigation, the beans do not suffer any competition from the sunflowers. If your soil is marginal or you don’t have a good supply of irrigation water, you might not want to try this at home.

Sunflowers in our vegetable garden. Photo Kati Falger

Sunflowers in our vegetable garden.
Photo Kati Falger