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Leonard Moorehead, The Urban Gardener: Harvesting Green Beans + Sunflowers

Saturday, August 29, 2015


A staple of any September garden, green beans are the perfect combination of great taste and nutrition.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published September 14, 2013.

Spring beans are gardener’s friends and true New Englanders savor their flavor. Sunflowers inspire joy and fill the heart. I grow them together in my garden. They define the abundant September garden. Full of nutritious fiber, vitamins and nutty flavor string beans arrive in the garden as bush or pole types. Both have the same desire to remain in sunshine all day with their faces to the sun and their roots in rich well drained soil. Heavily composted soils reward gardeners with abundant crops and if I can grow them you can too.

Growing Green Beans

Ponder the wonderful choices, usually divided into gold/yellow and green string beans. This year I tried Cherokee Gold, a yellow bush type that is an old time favorite. Beans relish warm composted soil, long sunny days and require very little care. The large beans are the seeds making this humble garden crop a favorite way to introduce children to planting. Nothing could be simpler than to push the bean an inch into cultivated soil, water, and expect 7-10 days to germinate. How does one develop heavily composted soils? A tried and true method is easy and works: keep soil covered in a thick layer of organic materials. I pull aside the permanent mulch, plant the seed, push the mulch close to the planting hole. It is good for the soul and body to be close to the soil, breath deep, observe. Watch the plants grow, string beans are so eager to jump up they sometimes swell above the soil and need a friendly push back down, mulch closer.

Let Your Garden Reflect Your Personality

There is no need to follow convention in the garden. Be yourself. String beans amicably grow thickly together in a thick patch. The dense and lovely foliage cooperates with the mulch to keep all chance weeds shaded out or very obvious to the vigilant. A mulch gives the gardener freedom from dry soil and allows one to walk anywhere in the garden with clean feet. Plant in circles, orderly rows or in patches, whimsy is a prime source of garden joy. I often plant beans of several types, whether yellow or green, for variety. Most of the time, I plant beans at the end of June in the areas where lettuces, arugula, and mesclun are prostrate from summer heat. Turn under the spent spring greens and replant with beans.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Beans are legumes and entertain a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their root system. It’s possible to inoculate beans with bacteria found in any decent catalog, buy beans pre-inoculated or rely upon nature by burying the entire plant after harvest introducing next year’s nitrogen from the composted plant. Not only does the gardener enjoy the robust flavor of the string bean but the soil benefits and becomes more fertile with each season. Freeze string beans, some enjoy canning them, but do cultivate these easy to grow, joy to harvest, beneficial plants. Families come together over good food and children especially understand the relationship between bean seeds, plants, and healthy eating.

Don't Forget About Next Year

As I harvest beans, always attempting to gather them while young and tender, fearful of all going to seed, sunflowers tower overhead. Everyone should grow sunflowers for laughter and the soul. Plant the same way and in the same conditions as string beans and you’ll have tall sturdy plants with All-American values: bright cheerful smiles, bountiful seed pods, enormous range of colors ranging from sunshine yellow to mahogany. Each sunflower contains prime numbers of seeds in swirling patterns. I like to grow taller types as individual plants or groups of 3 in those odd spaces between other plants. They take all summer to burst suddenly up and away, blooms calling all seed loving birds to the garden. Sunflowers and beans are such good friends to gardeners that saving only a small portion of the seeds provide plenty of seeds for next year’s crop. Soon you too will have a legendary heirloom plant that costs only loving memory and the hands of a gardener.

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit trees


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