By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

Summer of the Bean
Summer of the Bean

It has been the summer of the bean. Only our second season in the Fortress Garden, the space given for it too confining to do otherwise, we’ve exploited the vertical column of sky above the tiny containment to best advantage. Tomatoes lived in tall wire cages, spilling even so over the tops before the ubiquitous blight of this cool-wet summer spotted, blotched and killed all the leaves, leaving many dozens of green fruits hanging or slightly ripe ones simply falling to the ground where our late-season groundhog eats half of each one.

With regard to the beans, we experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but next year, given the same conditions (we are NEVER given the same conditions as gardeners!) we will know the strengths and weaknesses of our saved heirloom bean seeds.

The ones you see here were our super-stars: Goose Beans, a fitting winner on the banks of the creek by the same name. The losers (though planted in greatest abundance and partly losing BECAUSE they were planted to0 thickly due to both ignorance and vegetable greed) were Turkey Gizzard Beans. The latter literally need to be picked from a ladder; the ones ripening on the perimeter fence grew another couple of feet past the eight foot tops, and the fruits that ripen at that height will go to seed.

Goose Beans, on the other hand, did very well with lesser support, and next year, I’ll set T-posts and mount cattle panels (four feet tall and up to 16 feet uncut) to start at about two feet from the ground where vigorous tendrils will surely find them, gain a strangle hold embrace on the stout wire, and begin their spiraling dance on every warm summer night while we sleep.

The ones pictured here are growing (and are being allowed to go to seed for next years crop) on the reinforcing-wire cages I made for the tomatoes. To give you some sense of scale, the ones pictured here are about 7 inches long.

So, we’ll look back on this year remembering the cool July, the early rains, and the beanstalks that once grow to the sky and inspired stories of Giants and Magic Harps above the clouds. I understand the story so much better now.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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