Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Sprawl Friday

I've noticed on other blogs that Fridays are held for something ceremonious, like Belloc Friday at The Blue Boar, or Foodie Fridays (I think) at Amy Welborn's.

Not that I'm one to jump on bandwagons; not that there is any bandwagon to jump on, but I've given thought to what I might post on every Friday, and have come to the conclusion of gardening. I know, it's not terribly light, but I couldn't think of any other.

But not just any gardening. Anyone can easily get a thousand different books on the subject and promptly ignore what this writer has to say about it. Plus, I don't have years of experience.

There has to be a certain slant to it. I want rough and ready gardening. Sensitive but barbaric:

"Can I direct seed this one outdoors?"

"Well, yes, but it is better if you start it indo--"

"No. Then I will direct seed outdoors. What about this one, can I direct seed this one?"

"Well, it is emphatically recommended that one be started indo--"

"No. Then I will start it in the unheated greenhouse."

I notice on the internet when searching for various tips and techniques and how-to's, I inevitably come across a sanctimonious tone in articles or posts, on top of which will sometimes be this ridiculous overabundance of almost morbidly detailed instructions - and on the most simple things, like composting. Real complex, that.

I hate, hate, hate how so many gardeners write as if you've never seen or heard of an onion before. They start off their article with something like, "Onions have been a great boon for cooking in the kitchen, and you can't beat a good fresh onion…" Blah, blah, blah. On they go for three paragraphs.

Then there are the earth worshippers. Ironically, I find many of these provide the best tips. If they just weren't so pagan. And sanctimonious.

Of course, there are good ones out there. You just have to wade through the rest. Good ones are people who give freely of their information and experience without trying to look like a wizard; but they also inspire you with desire. They're easy-going in their tone and lightly tell of huge harvests one can reap without going overboard. They don't talk to you; they give you hoards of wonderful information off the cuff.

The other problem about writing about gardening is regional. Some on the internet write as if everywhere were the same. I will hopefully avoid this simply by not getting too technical. Everyone already has their own local sources anyway.

My posts will be, well, simply me talking about what I do, or what I've done; how things turned out; together with my ideas. The title will be Garden Sprawl, which takes as part of its inspiration the poem by Les Murray: The Quality of Sprawl.

It will hopefully be the center of gravity for my posts, so that they don't just become generic gardening posts. I've decided on three principles that will be my general guide:




You'll notice the first and last are sort of contradictory; but they need each other. I'm sure they don't need much explaining. For sprawl you can read Les Murray's poem. I will talk not just about gardening but also tree growing.

So, today, the feast of St. Isidore, I'll just say a few words about pole beans. Here in the northern hemisphere the cool season (spring) is starting to wrap up - though other places not yet. It's still not consistently hot enough to plant pole beans in the PNW. The book says mid-May through to the beginning of July. Which means, it could be consistently hot enough at any point during that time to plant beans, but you have to use your common sense; that is to say, you have to see for yourself within that time period if it is consistently hot enough. It has to be warm enough that the soil is warm. Good rule of thumb with pole beans for those in the more northern parts: don't rush to plant. A little late better than a little early.

Why speak of beans? Because there are people out there disillusioned with gardening. They've planted this and that and everything and it didn't turn out, and so on. Problem is, they started out with too many different things and planted it like they were following model airplane instructions.

Good way to get a firm grasp on gardening: Pole beans. Just pole beans. Other stuff can come later. But you say you have space for other things as well? Just plant pole beans. Fixate on the one thing. When you go to the seed store or nursery go straight to the packages of beans. Open-pollinated (they are all open-pollinated) beans. Just you ignore all those other seeds calling for your attention and walk straight to the cashier - with of course more than one bean package.

Find something for the pole beans to climb on. Anything thicker than a shovel handle is probably too thick. This is where shrewdness and sprawl come in. Neighbour down the street has a thicket of six foot or higher bamboo that is just getting out of hand? Go to his place and ask him if you can cut some of it out for yourself. Use anything. Devise an ingenious trellis system; the more suited to your uses and not for another, the better.

The soil for beans need not be too fertile. It should be relatively rich and loamy of course. Legumes are nitrogen fixers. They put nitrogen back into the soil and they hate being fertilized. When they're done producing (that is, when the frost kills them) till it all into the soil.

With pole beans, you have to keep picking the beans as they form, or else the vine will stop producing new beans and simply put its energy into the beans that are there. And once the beans get to a certain late growing stage, they are not so edible or tasty or tender or crisp. The bean seeds inside keep growing, and the outer husk, which in its earlier stage we eat together with the undeveloped bean seeds, becomes more and more fibrous.

But here's the thing: You select and tag some vines in your patch which you will not pick from. You leave these ones while picking your edibles from the rest. The ones you've tagged will be the beans you save for seed - for next year. You just let them grow. Depending on your climate, you can let the beans fully mature outside on the plant until it dries, or, if rainy, damp weather threatens when the beans are in their maturity, wait as long as possible then pull up the entire plant and hang it in a garage or shed or whatnot.

Use your good discrimination in selecting which bean plants you will use for seed. First producers; quickest growers; no disease; vigor, yadda yadda.

Make sure you have your poles and/or trellis system in the ground (firmly fixed) before planting the seeds around.

I am perhaps a hypocrite in saying just plant pole beans. Since I'm growing other things myself this year. And it is of course always good to purchase lots of seed (open-pollinated only; not F1. Garden Sprawl Rule Number 1 of Self Limitation and Sticking to It) for next year; though they say onion seed does not remain viable for more than a year, though I've heard some say they've grown onion from older.

But as a self-imposed limitation to stick to: going all out with nothing but pole beans, and putting all your effort into caring for them (and not thinking you can treat them like rhubarb) is a good place to start.

Next week on Garden Sprawl Friday: I don't know.


Jim Janknegt said...

Thanks for the gardening post. I look forward to more. I am growing pole beans too. But not the only thing. I am trying what is called the 3 sisters: corn beans and squash/melon together. I've never tried it before. So far everything is looking pretty good.

Paul Stilwell said...

Ah, the three sisters. I am going to have to try that next year. I'm not growing corn this year, but I am growing squash (heirloom pumpkin called Rouge de something - it's French), on the other side of the yard though, away from where the beans will go. I didn't plan on digging up a new bed, but it gets addictive.

I have been doing my best to companion plant, and make sure 'enemies' don't go beside each other (beans and onions etc.), and I'm definitely intrigued by the three sisters.