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

 

 

 

 

 

Broccoli planting, hoophouse summer plantings, strawberry flowers

Spring broccoli plant one week after transplanting. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Spring broccoli plant one week after transplanting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We have at last finished planting out our broccoli – over two weeks late. The delays were due to wet soil preventing cultivation. Happily the plants were thriving in their 4″ deep wood flats. But it was tough to get them to thrive when transplanted that big. The weather was hot on most of those days, so we had to water a lot, even thought he soil was still saturated from the heavy rains.

Here you can see how we mulch our spring broccoli and cabbage: we make temporary raised beds, 4′ wide with one foot paths. then we unroll big round bales of spoiled hay over the beds and the paths too. They are just the right width for the bales. After that we make two rows of “nests” in each bed, using a measuring stick to get the right spacing. We use our hands to tease the hay apart down to soil level. Then we transplant, water in and close the hay over the soil around the stem of the plant. Then we cover with rowcover to protect from cold nights, bugs and stiff breezes. We use sticks to hold the rowcover down, rolling the edges  under rather than over, which helps them stay in place and not tangle with hoses or feet.

Not much to see - spring broccoli under rowcover. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Not much to see – spring broccoli under rowcover.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

A week after transplanting, we’ll go through and replace any casualties with slightly younger plants. We’ll also put one plant of alyssum every 6ft down the center of each bed. After we remove the rowcover, this little flowering plant will attract beneficial insects like Braconid wasps, aphid parasites, and syrphid flies. These will deal with aphids and cabbage caterpillars. The paper wasps also carry off the cabbage caterpillars, so we rarely have serious caterpillar trouble.

Completing the broccoli planting means we now have 3 of our 10 row-crop plots planted out. Another one will be cover crops, so we have 6 left to go. Next up will be the Roma paste tomatoes and peppers, on biodegradable plastic. I need to sort out the drip tape for that this week.


Hoophouse in April - transition to summer squash from winter scallions and Bulls Blood beets. Photo Cass Russillo
Hoophouse in April – transition to summer squash from winter scallions and Bulls Blood beet greens.
Photo Cass Russillo

In the hoophouse we are making the transition from winter and spring crops to early summer crops. We have planted tomatoes, peppers and summer squash in the middles of the beds (gherkins to come soon), and we are hurrying up the harvesting of the winter crops which are competing for space and sunlight. We prefer to let the winter crops continue as late as possible, for maximum harvests. Soon we won’t need the hoophouse lettuce or greens as the outdoor senposai is ready to start harvesting and the lettuce heads are not far behind.


Watering seedlings in our greenhouse. Photo Pam Dawling
Watering seedlings in our greenhouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

We’ve moved a lot more flats out of the greenhouse to the coldfarmes to harden off for two weeks before we plant them out in the garden. Not everything goes to the coldframes – we keep the melons and celery inside so they don’t get too chilled, and the eggplant so they don’t encounter fleabeetles. the greenhouse work is starting to taper off for the season. One of the biggest occupiers of space are the flats of sweet potatoes – you can see the first two in the foreground of this picture. they are limp because they have only just been set in the flats. We’ll plant them out about May 10. You can read more about our method of growing sweet potato slips here and here. We’re well on track to have enough by the time it’s warm enough to plant out.


The weather here in central Virginia has been teasing us. It was hot, then cold again. We thought we were done with frosts, then we had some cold forecasts. We covered the strawberries for two nights to protect the flowers, and built height-extenders on the walls of the cold frames with plastic crates, so we could put the lids on without squashing the very tall plants we had in there. Then we got nights of 36F, 36F, 34F, 33F. We had covered the strawberries for the 36F nights, but not the 34F or the 33F, as we followed the forecasts too gullibly! Later today I’ll go to see if the strawberry flowers have black centers – the sure sign of a frost hitting the blossoms.

We always like to think we are done with frosts once we pass April 20, but the truth is our average last frost date for the past ten years is April 30, and the range has been 4/14 to 5/14, with a mean of 5/3.

A frosted strawberry flower with a black center. Photo Kathryn Simmons
A frosted strawberry flower with a black center.
Photo Kathryn Simmons