Beans, Beans, Good for the Heart

by Zoë Abram

Our harvest days go like this: First, we harvest greens, ideally when the leaves are still wet with dew – these hot days, that includes salad mix and chard. Later, we move into digging roots, picking fruits and other crops that won’t wilt. And then come the longer tasks. Green beans have unseated the peas recently as our longest harvest task. We leave beans for last also because it’s best to harvest when their leaves are dry — disease spreads quickly on wet leaves as we rifle through the plants. Soon tomatoes will join beans as a mid-day task, as they are also susceptible to transfer of disease this way.

So usually around 11 AM, we hunker down in the rows of green beans for the long haul, moving fingers fast through the narrow maxibel french beans or the purple royal burgundy beans. (Did you know? Purple beans are still “green” beans … the name green beans is given to all beans picked in their pod, to differentiate from dry beans.) As our fingers become more practiced in feeling for beans, we find space for our minds and conversations to wander.

Growing beans is a good learning experience – an exercise in precision and patience. Before we direct seed the beans, we carefully mark straight rows with chains behind the rototiller. We use a single row cultivator to weed between rows as the beans grow.  As I practiced navigating it through the rows, in just the right spots at just the right depth, I learned to appreciate those straight lines. I’m learning that you re-trace over and over the mistakes you make early in the season. When you accidentally draw a curve at the end of a row with the seeder, you must then steer the cultivator over that same irregular path.

Beetles love beans too. Bean leaf beetles can chew the leaves until they look like lace. This season, our first planting was eaten pretty badly by the bean leaf beetle, but they have recovered and are producing well. As summer comes, so do the Mexican bean beetles, a relative of the ladybug that can be devastating to bean plants when they are young. We see the spiky, yellow larvae of the Mexican bean beetle feasting on the underside of the leaves of our older bean plants, and also on the flowers and pods. We are using row cover, which is a porous, cloth-like protective covering for plants on our newest planting. So far, no noticeable damage to the young plants!

We predict a bumper bean harvest this season, with several more varieties on the way. Eat yours raw as a snack, simply steamed, or roasted in a hot oven with olive oil and salt. Add some to your potato or pasta salads. Or, here is a pickling recipe for “dilly beans,” my favorite summer treat. Keep them in your fridge for a quick and easy pickle, or process them in a hot water canning bath for 10 minutes and you can preserve summer for months!

Pickled Green Beans (aka Dilly Beans)
from Food in Jars, adapted from So Easy to Preserve

2 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons dill seed or some fresh dill
4 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups white vinegar (5%)
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup pickling salt (use a bit more if you’ve only got kosher)

Wash and trim your beans so that they fit in your jar. If you have particularly long beans, your best bet is to cut them in half, although by doing so, you do lose the visual appeal of having all the beans standing at attending.

Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. While it’s heating up, pack your beans into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon dill seeds.
Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave that 1/2 inch headspace. Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles from jar by running it around the interior of the jar.

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