Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: The garden's full of dried beans, time to harvest them!


Oh beans! Dry beans, that is. What's a dry bean? It's any bean that is allowed to develop to full maturity. It could be the same beans initially planted for harvest as tender green beans; however, for best flavor, there are varieties specifically grown for drying. Most people are familiar with dry beans as navy beans, red kidney beans or black beans sold in one-pound packages at the grocery store. However, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of dry bean varieties, including many heirlooms, such as "Vermont Cranberry," with interesting histories.

Dry beans are an easy crop to grow and maintain. Once planted, I don't pay much attention to them, other than applying mulch for weed control. Most of the varieties I grow are bush types, but I prefer runner or pole varieties, such as "Marrow Fat" for ease of harvesting. Pole dry beans are a good choice for small gardens, where they can be grown on a teepee of wooden stakes. My "Marrow Fat" beans are planted around a 5-foot-high, 18-inch diameter cylinder made from concrete reinforcement wire.

Now is when dry beans are typically harvested. The beans are mature when the pods are tan or brown and somewhat crisp to the touch. Another sign of maturity is the beans rattling when the pod is shaken. If impatient, I'll snip off the plants when the pods are leathery and then hang the plants in a dry, airy location, such as the garden shed. Otherwise, I'll snip off the pods and dry them on trays placed in the sun. Once dried, the pods can be threshed by placing in an onion bag or a pillow case, and then beaten with a flat slat, after which the beans can be winnowed from the chaff by tossing the threshed pods in the air on a windy day or in front of a fan. I leave the beans in baskets to further dry for about 2 to 3 weeks before storing them in canning jars with tight lids. A dehydrating agent, or rice grains, or powdered milk wrapped in tissue paper is also placed in the jars.

We dry a lot of beans since they can be used throughout the year in a variety of dishes ranging from soups and stews to chili, baked dishes, bean burgers and mashed dishes. Dry beans are also very healthy as they are high in proteins, fiber and various minerals. As the rhyme goes: "Beans, beans, good for your heart ..." I'll forgo the rest of that verse, but do keep some Beano on hand.

STILL MORE TASKS                                                             

Don't forgo these tasks:                                                       

- Take cuttings from a few select garden plants that will make good houseplants this winter. Among these are coleus, fuchsias, geraniums (Pelargonium) and begonias.

- Buy tulip bulbs now, but wait until mid-month before planting. If planting in a single bed, be sure you get varieties of the same height and flowering time. Having failed many times to get it right, I now plant tulips informally in small groups in perennial borders.

- Wait until asparagus foliage has turned brown before cutting it back. As long as the foliage is green, the plants will continue to make food for a strong, healthy root system and abundant production of spears next spring.

- Don't let the arrival of October lull you into ignoring weeds and debris in flower and vegetable gardens. Ridding the garden of weeds and plant debris will drastically reduce the number of garden pests and weeds next year. There go my plans to lull.

- Harvest popcorn and ornamental Indian corn when the stalks have dried. To keep the ears from becoming moldy, be sure the ears are completely dry before storing.

- Start planning next year's vegetable garden by evaluating this year's. For example, did you plant enough of a given vegetable to meet family needs? Was the timing of planting succession crops properly managed to sustain a harvest through the season? If planting more than one variety of a given vegetable, which produced the better yield? Were some varieties more resistant to disease than others? Were your pest management strategies effective? Could you have done a better job of keeping rabbits and raccoons from ruining some of your crops . oops, that one I am still obsessing over?

- Dethatch or aerate lawns now if needed. Dethatching removes the thick layer of slow-decaying shoots, roots and stems which accumulates on the soil surface. A thick layer of thatch interferes with movement of oxygen and water into the soil. Aeration requires a machine that pulls up plugs of soil and is used primarily to relieve soil compaction. It also allows movement of water and oxygen to grass roots. Aerating lawns can reduce the amount of thatch and is generally considered less damaging to lawns than dethatching.

- Load grandma, grandpa and the kids into the Model T and motor off to Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge to take part in the fun at the 83rd annual Garden Harvest Festival. This year, the festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7 and 8, both days. Admission to the festival is $7 and kids younger than 12 are free, and all proceeds go to benefit the Garden's education program.


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