Excerpt: Your Midwest Garden

The following is an excerpt from Your Midwest Garden: An Owner’s Manual (Bison Books, 2013) by Jan Riggenbach. These tips are for gardeners planting in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Chapter 7: Vegetables 


Fresh-picked green beans are a superb taste treat I look forward to every summer. Luckily, beans are easy to grow and produce a bumper crop in little space.

The first picking of most kinds of bush beans begins in about fifty five days. If you make your first planting in May, do a second planting in June to ensure a continuous supply.

If space permits, it’s fun to grow some purple and yellow beans, too. I also like to plant some Italian flat-pod beans, which hold up best in stir-fries. For a gourmet treat, plant one of the French filet types, called haricots verts. These are the very slender beans served in upscale restaurants.

If you find it difficult to bend over to pick bush beans, plant pole beans instead. Pole beans produce over a much longer period and many gardeners find the taste superior. Kentucky Blue is an award-winning variety that produces sweet and tender beans. Support pole beans on a fence, trellis, or pole teepee. You’ll not only get a huge harvest in a small space, you’ll also be able to pick the harvest from a standing position.

Beans require a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Soak seeds in a jar of water for an hour or more before planting, particularly if the weather is dry. If you have a new garden or haven’t planted beans in recent years, pick up a package of legume inoculant at the garden center. Before planting, drain off the water used to soak the seeds, sprinkle a little inoculant over the wet seeds, and shake the jar. The good bacteria in the inoculant will help your beans grow better and produce more.

Go easy on fertilizer. Too much nitrogen invites problems.

Thin bean plants to stand about 6 inches apart.

To control diseases, choose disease-resistant varieties, stay out of the garden when the plants are wet, rotate beans to a different spot in the garden each year, and clean up dead plants in the fall.

Bean beetles, which eat the foliage and damage the beans, may require control in Midwest gardens. If necessary to save my beans, I use a pyrethrin product such as Pyola or Safer Yard and Garden Insect Killer. Although these products are approved for organic gardens, I use them only as a last resort because pyrethrin is a broad-spectrum product that is also toxic to beneficial insects.

Once the beans start to produce, regular picking every few days is a must. Frequent picking ensures the best quality harvest while also encouraging the plants to keep producing. Strive to pick the pods before the seeds inside them start to swell. If you’re growing one of the French filet varieties, forty-eight hours is the absolute maximum between pickings.

Green-seeded soybeans, called edamame, make a delicious high-protein snack. With the rising popularity of edamame growing, there are now soybean varieties developed especially for eating at the fresh-shell stage. A short-season variety called Envy is ready to eat just seventy-five to eighty days after you plant the seeds in the garden.

To prepare edamame, just boil fresh soybeans five or ten minutes, then pop them out of their shells like peanuts.

Rabbits adore soybeans, so be prepared to protect your plants with an enclosure or repellent spray.

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