When the plants were 4 inches high and the ground was warming up, I planted each seedling under a dripper. But five days later we had a killing frost. It killed every tiny bunch of grapes in the vineyard and on the trellis. Any plants I had introduced to the garden early, hoping for fair weather, were killed outright—including the beans.
I soaked more beans and replanted the whole bed without waiting for the seed to sprout, since I was running out of time. Although we have a fairly long summer, we have a short watering year, and the earlier crops ripen, the better.
This time, the beans came up—and kept growing. They seemed slow at first, but then we left for a weeklong PV installation in July. When we came back home, we couldn’t believe how much they’d grown in that week. The bed looked like a ruffled sea of green.
We weeded the bed a couple of times, usually after a rain. The nice thing about growing beans for drying is you can let them go without a lot of fussing—just keep them watered.
When some of the pods started drying out on the bushes, we picked the brittle pods and hand-shucked the beans into a big steel bowl that I stirred several times a day. More pods dried and soon I was shucking half of a bucketful every couple of days. I have to say that shucking beans is very meditative and Zen. It was so pleasing to pop the dried pod along its seam and thumb out the line of beans into the bowl.
Every so often, I’d encounter beans that were cranberry red—a fun surprise. Since intermittent reward is the greatest behavior modifier (that’s why gambling is addictive), I told myself I would just shell beans until I hit a pod of the cranberry-colored ones. This was easy to fudge on because some pods had both colors of beans, so it had to be a pod of completely red beans.
Soon there were too many beans to shell by hand. Bob-O and I picked bucketfuls of dry, rattling pods. We put them into an old pillowcase, rolled the open end shut and secured the roll with clothespins. Bob-O then danced on top of the pillowcase with his socks on. The pods crunched loudly underfoot. Bob-O poured the contents of the pillowcase into a big steel bowl.
We separated the beans from the pods with wind power. While our down-slope, down-canyon breeze was blowing, we’d take the bowls of beans outside, and pour the beans and pods from one bowl to another, letting the wind carry the lightweight pods away. We had to repeat the pillowcase dance several times.
When it was all said and done, we ended up with 38 pounds of dried Vermont Cranberry beans. They almost fill a 7-gallon bucket. At two cups of dried beans per meal, I think we are victorious in our goal of growing a major food staple.
Every year my garden is a question mark: What will grow this year? What new plant can I try?
I can’t wait to get my hands on this coming season’s seed catalogs.
Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze is growing her own kitchen scrubbers—luffa gourds—at her off-grid home in northernmost California.