Readers of this column could argue that the writer is full of beans. Well, it is true. I am not only full of beans but so is our pantry. These are dried shell beans which I’ve been harvesting over the past few weeks and will continue to do so until the last bean pod is stripped from its plant. It is not unusual or difficult to grow dry shell beans. Many are simply beans which may be eaten fresh, but may also be left on the plant until the pods and beans within are dry. Anyone who enjoys a meal of baked beans, bean soup, or beans and rice may be growing these beans.

Shell beans - Orca.JPG

Just one of the numerous varieties of dry shell beans, orca gets its name from the similarity of a color pattern resembling the killer whale, a.k.a. orca.

Red kidney, black turtle, Great Northern, and Vermont cranberry are some common varieties with which most gardeners are familiar. However, there are many other varieties of varying color and color patterns, so much so that growing these can easily become an obsession. Currently, I am growing 11 varieties including orca which derives its name from the white and black color pattern resembling that of the killer whale of the same name. Another variety is Lazy Housewife, one which I feel guilty about growing considering the workaholic habits of my wife.

Dry shell beans are not harvested until the pods are dry and feel crispy when squeezed. If impatient, plants whose leaves are mostly yellow but with pods not quite crisp may be pulled up and hung on a trellis or wire until the pods are fully dry. This may be indoors or out but preferably out. Once dried, I collect the pods and place them in bushel baskets or in onion bags until ready for shelling. My favorite time for shelling is in the evening after the day’s work is done and while watching TV or listening to music and sometimes contemplating the role of beans in musical composition.

You need not be full of beans nor spend time in contemplation before getting on with these tasks:

  • Remove the tip from Brussels sprouts now. This should promote an increase in size of the sprouts. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to snap off some of the lowest and largest sprouts as needed.
  • Harvest butternut, acorn, and other winter squash when the skin is hard enough to resist being punctured by your fingernail. Cure the squash by leaving them outdoors, on a picnic table for example, in full sun for about a week. Then, store the squash in a single layer in a cool, dimly lit spot in the basement, or beneath your bed as early settlers did. Do not store squash near apples or pears since these fruit give off ethylene gas (a natural growth regulator) that will shorten the storage life of the squash.
  • Cut down spent corn stalks and use these for fall decorations. Just don’t surround the mailbox with a stack of the corn stalks. Your mail delivery person finds this very annoying.
  • Trim the garlic plants that have been curing over the past 6 to 8 weeks. Cut off the shoots leaving about 2 inches of stem attached to the bulb. Then cut off the roots. Sort out some of the bulbs with the largest cloves and use these as the “seed” source for planting near the end of this month or in early November. Any bulbs in which the cloves have separated should be used first since these will not keep in storage as long as those with the skins intact.
  • Don’t delay any longer moving houseplants indoors. Since night time temperatures are now consistently in the 40 F range, it would be best to acclimate these plants to the indoors by placing them in the coolest but brightly lit room of the house for a week or two.
  • Plant crocus and other spring flowering bulbs now that night time temperatures are consistently in the 40-50 F range. Do not apply any fertilizer at this time. Fertilizer applications for spring flowering bulbs is best done right after flowering in spring. Do plan to have some sort of mulch available to cover the bulb plantings once the ground has begun to freeze. A 2- or 3-inch layer of straw, pine needles, of mower-shredded leaves are some good mulch options.
  • Make a visit to the Berkshire Botanical Garden, Chesterwood, Naumkeag, Springside Park, The Mount, and other public gardens in the area to get ideas for fall blooming perennials to add to your flower garden. Fall foliage should not be the only color in your home landscape at this time of year.
  • Don’t cut back ornamental grasses now. Miscanthus, feather reed grass, big bluestem, and blue oat grass are some examples of ornamental grasses which sustain interest in the winter garden even when the ground is snow covered. Besides their ornamental value, these grasses also provide food and shelter for birds.

By the way, in British slang “full of beans” means energetic and high spirited. So, that leaves me out.

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.