The Garden Patch: Join the popular crowd – grow beans

052514-garden-excericiseHello! Ready for the second of a series of the most popular garden plants for our area? Hope so! Here goes …

Last time we talked about asparagus, let’s visit now about another favorite of yours and mine, beans!

Beans grow with little care, produce an abundance of pods, and can add nitrogen to the soil, making them ideal plants for organic (or regular) vegetable gardens. Be sure to select varieties that will mature within our growing season and thrive in our region’s conditions.

Sun and Soil. Choose a spot that’s sunny most of the day. The soil should be well drained; otherwise bean seeds can rot before germination occurs.

Planting. Sow bean seeds directly into your garden around the last frost date in spring – beans get off to a strong start in soil that is at least 60 degrees F, usually two weeks after the last frost date. Plant bush bean varieties every 2 to 3 weeks until 60 days before the first expected fall frost.

Growing. Keep the soil moist but not wet. Do not wet the leaves when watering because it can encourage rust and other fungal diseases. Support pole beans on a trellis or other structure. (I grow and use bamboo for this purpose).

Problem Solving. Rust, a fungal disease, robs the plant of nutrients and water. It appears as reddish spots on the undersides of leaves and is most commonly a problem in humid climates – such as ours can be. If rust has been a problem in your garden, plant resistant varieties and don’t water plants from overhead. If you catch symptoms early, spraying with sulfur may contain the problem.

Plants with stunted growth and with leaves that have yellow spots or that curl downward may be suffering from bean common mosaic virus (often referred to on seed packets as “BCMV”). Pesky aphids and contaminated seeds transmit this disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure – organic or synthetic – for viral diseases. Planting disease-resistant varieties is the best way to deal with viruses.

Bacterial blights (common blight, halo blight and brown spot), as well as other anthracnose and bacterial wilt diseases, generally come from contaminated seeds. So, buy fresh seeds and allow room for air to circulate around plants. Many diseases are more likely to develop in the high humidity found when plants are grown at high density.

The Mexican bean beetle skeletonizes leaves. It looks so much like a lady bug that gardeners often confuse the two at first glance, but Mexican bean beetles are coppery or bronze-colored, with eight black spots on each wing cover. Companion planting is an effective way to head them off at the garden path. Interplant your beans with dill, potatoes, sage or tansy to attract insects’ natural predators such as assassin bugs and spined soldier bugs.

Harvesting. When snap beans are ready to be picked, they snap in half easily and you can see outlines of the bean inside. Pick filet beans before they reach pencil thickness. Harvest shell beans when the seeds have reached full size but before the pods begin to dry.

Beets

We’re on a roll here, so let’s move on with beets …

Besides bringing you their unique, sweet flavor, beets deliver health benefits (who said health food?) The same pigments that give them their rich reds, golden yellows, creamy whites and stunning stripes provide cancer-fighting nutrients. And the greens – tasty raw, braised or stir-fried – are loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, which helps keep your vision sharp!

Sun and soil. Plant in full sun to produce healthy roots; if you’re growing beets for greens only, partial shade is fine. Loosen the top 12 inches of soil before planting; remove as many rocks and clods as possible. Work in a 1-inch layer of compost. Because the taproot delves down more than a foot, beets are happiest in loamy or sandy soil. If you have heavy clay soil (are you kidding – in eastern Kansas?), grow beets in a raised bed if possible.

Planting. Because beets develop the best flavor during cool weather, spring and fall are prime growing times. Also, early and late plantings suffer from fewer pest and disease problems than summer crops do. Sow seeds directly in the garden up to two weeks before the last expected spring frost. Stop planting from mid spring through mid summer.

About 2 months before the first expected fall frost, sow a crop for fall harvest. In mild-winter areas, repeat sowings are possible until mid or late fall.

Growing. When the first true leaves have formed, use a small pair of scissors to snip off all but the strongest seedling is each cluster at soil level. About 2 weeks later, thin again so that plants are at least 2 inches apart. Use the young greens in a salad or sauté. Wait another 2 weeks and you should be able to harvest a first crop of baby beets (about 1 inch in diameter). The remaining plants, now about 4 inches apart, will provide your main harvest in another 2 to 3 weeks (longer for large storage beets).

Cover young plants with row covers if a long spell of cold weather is predicted. After the soil warms, mulch well to maintain even soil moisture, and check soil moisture regularly.

If weeds shade or crowd out beet foliage, the plants can’t produce enough sugars to sweeten the roots. So, hoe and mulch to suppress weed growth.

Problem Solving. Cover seedbeds with row covers and seal the edges to keep out aphids, leaf miners and flea beetles during the insects’ busiest time between May and late June. If leaf miners do get into you beet leaves, just tear off the damaged portion. To control this pest, which tunnels into the leaves, feel the leaves for any bumps and squish between your thumb and forefinger any bumps you find.

Strong tasting beets with white rings inside have been exposed to high heat or uneven watering. To prevent this problem, mulch beets, water regularly and harvest roots before hot weather arrives. Prevent disease in beets by rotating crops with other types of vegetables.

Harvesting. Cut greens when young and tender, begin checking roots about 6 weeks after sowing.

As they used to say in the cartoon at the movie, “That’s all, folks!” Thanks for reading. Good gardening and we’ll visit again. Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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