The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
September 5, 2012
Colonial Virginians had a great number of bean varieties to choose from. But as we discussed in our last conversation, the preferred variety for snaps was the White Dutch. This was a pole bean, and as John Randolph, the last Royal Attorney General for the Virginia colony observed, “The Dutch sort are not so apt to be stringy, which the dwarf sort are.”
Another advantage of pole beans over dwarf varieties was recorded by John Abercrombie in 1776: “The advantage of planting these running kinds, is very great, for those that are now planted, will, after they begin, continue bearing till the cold weather destroys the plants.” Dwarf varieties will provide only a limited number of harvests and then must be replanted. Pole varieties, if harvested assiduously, will produce beans throughout the season.
The disadvantage of pole varieties is that they must be trellised or, as John Parkinson wrote in 1629, “Without they be sustained with stickes or poles . . . they would lye fruitlesss upon the ground.” For those limited by space, a vertical approach will produce the most abundant harvest. Many fashion teepees out of poles to support the vines but a more economical use of both poles and space is to sink a line of poles 18” in the ground at about two feet asunder, connect them together with one horizontal piece and then brace the whole apparatus with two support poles (observe illustration). This method does, however, require that one mount a ladder to harvest the upper most beans.
For those with more space or for those who may suffer from a fear of height, a horizontal approach may better serve. We construct a trellis by placing two rows of sticks in the ground on either side of the row, tying them together with horizontal sticks at their tops and along the sides and allow the beans to progress up and sideways along the frame. They can then be harvested with your feet placed firmly on the ground.
For fuller instructions on all aspects of growing this estimable crop we invite you to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press).