2021 Garden Reflections: Life Lessons From a Pole Bean

Where did July go? It feels like we just got back from our fourth of July mountain trip, blinked our eyes, and it was suddenly August. One of the major thieves of our time lately has been the garden, and we are certainly not complaining. For the past month we have been in full-on harvesting and preserving mode. Throughout the month of July we had a bumper crop of tomatoes and cucumbers which we made into sauce and pickles, respectively. The sauce was divided up into pint sized containers and frozen, and the pickles are nestled away in our fridge for snacking over the next few months. We also made garlic scape pesto at the end of June and we harvested and cured all of our garlic for winter storage shortly thereafter. The first eggplants have been harvested and turned into eggplant lasagna – our favorite way to eat and preserve them. The okra has really started to come in as well, and we’ve even frozen a few batches to enjoy over the winter. We said a sad goodbye to our summer squash and zucchini as they succumbed to the squash borers. For the first year ever, I really dedicated a lot of time to picking squash borer eggs off of the plants as well as applying lime to the base of the plants routinely. Unfortunately, all of my efforts were for nothing because the squash borers destroyed the plants quicker than ever. Next year, we’re probably going to just plant a small plot of zucchini right in the beginning of the season and then wait until the end of July to plant a second round of summer squashes once the squash borers have moved on. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I’ll tell you one thing though, I’m about sick of watching all of our hard work get destroyed so swiftly by those borer bastards. 

The pole beans have been cranking out beans like crazy. Likewise, we have been eating, giving away, and preserving tons and tons of beans. As far as preserving is concerned, we choose to vacuum seal and freeze our beans because neither of us love canned veggies. Freezing is also less time consuming and works better with our schedules right now. When the pole beans first started producing back in June, I was really disappointed in our “heirloom” purple pole beans. The plants were vigorous, but they weren’t producing a whole lot of beans. The beans that they did produce were small, unattractive, and really slow growing. Since these purple bean plants are from seeds that I’ve been saving from a mystery bean that I received in a seed swap a few years ago, I was certain that I somehow saved the bean seeds wrong last year and that the plants were just going to be duds this year. Well, about a week later the plants exploded with big, beautiful, purple beans that have been the undisputed garden champion this year. It turns out I just hadn’t waited long enough before letting my disappointment set in. This was a good reminder, and is a lesson that is applicable in many other facets of life. Not only is the garden a food source and a sanctuary for us, it is also a good teacher. The garden has taught us many lessons throughout the years – lessons of hope, humility, perseverance, determination, and patience. 

Our garden struggles this year have revolved mostly around our different squash varieties. Our butternut squash wasn’t bothered by the pests, but unfortunately all but one small squash molded before they grew to maturity. Next year we will have to come up with a new vertical growing system – whether we plant the squash around the perimeter walls of the garden, or we build some sort of cattle panel trellis system. We also tried growing Seminole squash for the first time this year – a variety with origins in the everglades that is touted for being mold-resistant and heat tolerant. The plants all look great, but we haven’t seen a single baby squash yet. The native pollinators are all over the flowers, so we’re not completely sure what the issue is. But, seeing as this year’s garden lesson is all about patience, we are leaving the plants in place and just seeing what happens. If nothing else, the flowers are providing a pollen source to all of the native pollinators. 

Now that July has come and gone, we have ripped out all of our cucumber plants and the majority of our tomato plants. They had both succumbed to the heat, humidity, and disease, and it was time to say goodbye. The tomatoes worried the crap out of me for about two weeks when all of the plants were adorned with big beautiful not-yet-ripening green fruit, but were also suffering a major case of blight and septoria leaf spot. I pruned the plants in agony day after day trying to control both diseases but also keep all of the plants alive until the tomatoes showed the first signs of ripening. Again with the patience. Magically, only a week or two into the depths of my tomato despair, all of the fruits seemed to ripen at once and we got away with harvesting our largest tomato haul yet despite a heavy disease load. Whew! 

We are now entering the beginning of pepper season, the true sign that the summer garden is going to start winding down. All of the hot peppers are starting to ripen, and we are right around the corner from enjoying some homemade pimento cheese. Typically in August, we harvest the remainder of any straggling tomatoes, as well as the rest of the eggplant. As the last of these veggies are harvested, the plants will be pulled. From mid August until October we typically continue to enjoy a bounty of peppers, okra, and beans. Overall, our garden has proven to be quite a success this year, despite some failures and challenges. Every year in the garden is different, with this year being no exception. No matter how successful the garden is, or how much we may struggle and agonize over it, being able to grow food for ourselves and our family is incredibly fulfilling and is worth all of the hard work, sweat, and occasional heartache. 

One of my favorite parts of our garden is the zinnia and Mexican sunflower boxes that surround the gate. The boxes always start out nice and organized, and by this time of year they are an all-out flower pandemonium. There are abundant blooms and native pollinators galore, and it brings me great joy. In years past, we started zinnia seeds in the greenhouse and transplanted them into the boxes, but this year we decided to direct sow the zinnia seeds right into the boxes. This year’s zinnias are our most robust zinnias yet, so we will continue to direct sow in the years to come. Our other pollinator boxes have been dominated by perennials which has been great, because either the squirrels or the birds dug up and ate every single one of our sunflower seeds which was quite the bummer. Nevertheless, the agastache, yarrow, hyssop, and black eyed susans really stepped up and have provided blooms upon blooms for the pollinators to enjoy.

In other news, we integrated our young pullets with the rest of the flock of chickens earlier this month which was a surprisingly smooth process this year. We’ve really figured out a great system for flock integration over the years, and it has made the transition pretty seamless. Many of the pullets have begun laying eggs – including our very first olive eggers! I practically screamed with excitement and joy when I found the first teeny olive egg. Now I’m regretting only getting three olive eggers – I guess there’s always next year! July is always a hard month for our flock – the heat and humidity really take a toll on the chickens despite our best efforts at keeping everyone cool. We’ve lost a few birds presumably from the heat over the past few weeks which is always a bummer, but we’ve sadly come to expect it this time of year. Other than the difficulties with the heat, the flock free ranges on. Now that the chickens aren’t able to fly into the garden and destroy our crops, they have become an integral part of our garden pest management. As we pick the pole beans that grow along the edge of the garden fence, the chickens follow along and wait for any Japanese beetles, stink bugs, or grasshoppers that we find along the way. Since we do not use any pesticides, we rely heavily on hand-picking the bugs off of our crops. I hate the actual act of squishing bugs – it just makes my stomach turn – so I get far more joy from grabbing the bugs off of the plants and handing them right to the chickens. The chickens seem to love it as well.

As far as the goats and Maya are concerned, all is well in the goat pen. Maya has been keeping cool in the dirt underneath the goat pen, and the goats spend their days lounging in the shade under the canopy of trees. Besides keeping up with the garden and our usual farm chores and activities, we are gearing up to go on a couple of exciting trips in the next few months that we are already super excited about. We hope that you all have been having a wonderful, safe, and healthy summer.

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