Sunday, June 8, 2008

Planting Dry Beans

Dry beans are so called because they dry in the pod, are threshed or shaken out of the pods dry, will store easily in jars at room temperature, and must be simmered back to softness in cooking; overnight soaking cuts the simmering time and makes it easier to get the right texture without splitting or bursting the bean as it cooks. I planted out dry beans yesterday. The weather forecast was for a heat wave--more on that later--which would bring the ground temperature up above 60 degrees, ideal for germinating beans, squash, cucumbers and corn. I used to plant corn but not anymore; I sometimes plant squash but the yield of the winter squash is low and I don't care that much for the summer squash. Cucumbers will have to go in soon. I planted out four 40' rows of light red kidney, four 40' rows of black coco, two 40' rows of Jacob's cattle, and two 25' rows of Hutterite soup beans. I saved the Montcalm red kidney seed for next year. Before planting I dropped some organic fertilizer atop the soil and lightly tilled it in, then used the earthway seeder which made the whole activity take only a couple of hours, whereas dropping the seed by hand would have taken at least twice as long and left me with an aching back and hips. I'd grown buckwheat in this garden spot last summer, and tilled it in six weeks ago, so that it's been decomposing, adding organic matter to the soil (which certainly can use all the help it can get), and shouldn't compete much with the beans for nitrogen. The buckwheat should have smothered the quackgrass that had been growing up in that spot, more and more each year, till it became troublesome. It remains to be seen what weeds come up between the rows--these are easy enough to deal with--and in the rows, which are not as easy to deal with. Those very close to the plants must be hand weeded young before pulling them up would disturb the roots of the bean plants. That is the ideal, anyway. It's possible to purchase dry beans inexpensively in the supermarket, but growing them is easy, saving the heirloom seed is satisfying, and knowing where what you're eating is coming from is always better than not. Store-bought beans can be old, tough, and tasteless, not to mention the pesticides that may have been used on them. About that heat wave: I drove over to western Maine very early this morning and drove back to the coast early in the afternoon, the temperature steadily dropping from about 86 near Waterville to 77 by the time I got back to the island around 2:30. It would have hit 90 in Waterville by then, surely. The ocean cools the land and the air near the coast in the summertime, particularly when an ocean breeze blows, usually in the afternoon. But occasionally, after a heat wave of a few days, there is no wind, and the ocean exhausts itself; it can get up to the high 80s here, and usually does once or twice a summer. But not today, while the rest of New England sweltered; it was in the 90s in Connecticut and Rhode Island. In the fall and winter the ocean warms the coastal air and land, which makes the growing season longer, though not hotter, than inland. Long-season, and late-season crops can be brought in here, such as Brussels sprouts, and fall broccoli, and various greens, that would be hurt by the colder temperatures inland. Tomorrow it may be warmer or cooler, but probably not by much, here; and a temperature in the high 70s is just fine for the beans to germinate--not only the dry beans but also the edamame and snaps. It will cause the spinach to bolt, though, so I need to harvest it pretty soon. Planting beans used to remind me of Thoreau and his beans at Walden Pond, and Yeats at Innisfree; but now I seldom think of them. Rather, it's good just to do it simply and deliberately, centered in the task, enjoying the work, thinking of the harvest to come, not the weeding that has to go on in the meantime. The beans are fenced, as all the gardens are, against the deer. I will need to make new bags of hair and hang them from the fences within the next couple of weeks. That is not a pleasant job nor do I imagine Yeats or Thoreau doing it.

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