Harvesting your snap beans

Alright, so here I am, the curious gardener, always looking to experiment with my plants. After a long (to me) wait, my snap beans finally went all the way and fruited. Yes, after more than a month of taunting me with pretty bunches of flowers, the courtship is finally over and we are in business!

Remember this picture? Yup, meet the Firstborn.

So my next puzzle was deciding when to harvest the beans.

There are many, many sites that tell you that, but I am ever the Doubting Thomas – I have to see and do things myself to believe they should be done that way. I know, I know, it’s a character flaw… :P

So, do you remember Baby Bean? Well, BB wasn’t the firstborn. There was actually another bean that was so well-hidden under a bunch of hanging leaves, that was fully grown when I finally found it. So it reached adulthood while the others were just becoming teens. Because of this, I decided to keep it for seeds for the next generation, and wait for the others to grow up. I guess Firstborn is going to be my benchmark for the entire life cycle of a bean on the vine.

So, coming back to the question… how grown up is “grown up”? I knew that keeping the beans on mama plant would result in less tenderness as they grew up. But, I wanted to know how big they’d be able to grow. Some grew pretty straight while others were curved like a sickle. Would the shape affect the length, I wondered? Not really, it appears. Some were just longer or shorter than others, regardless of shape.

Again, back to the question… WHEN to harvest the beans from the plant?

The University of Illinois extension mentions:

Harvest when the pods are firm, crisp and fully elongated, but before the seed within the pod has developed significantly. … Be careful not to break the stems or branches, which are brittle on most bean varieties. The bean plant continues to form new flowers and produces more beans if pods are continually removed before the seeds mature.

Ohio State University advises harvesting “when tender and well-shaped, before the developing seeds cause the pods to bulge”.

My dad simply told me to pick them before the beans got bumpy.

So… we’ve had our first harvest. It was a modest one with just six beans ranging from 10 to 13cm long. But, it was just the first. There are more beans still developing on the vines and I really hope bean season will last for a while. If it doesn’t, then I’ll have to take note of how long it took to reach this point, and work out a timetable for successive planting in the future, like what I’m doing with my sweet potatoes and sweet corn. It’s kind of challenging planning that, but I’m up for it. Here’s to the future. Cheers!

Our first humble harvest of snap beans

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Getting the veggie family started

It’s odd that it’s only been four weeks since we finally left the dry monsoon season in it’s own dust and started getting rain more regularly. Somehow, it seems much longer than a month. The dry, withering lawn is green once more – although it’ll be another month or so before I consider it “lush” – and the only areas of brown are patches of earth where the grass hasn’t grown back yet. Or where the dogs have… well, never mind. :P

The break in the weather brought out my desire to start playing with the packets of seeds that I’d been holding on to. Why did I choose to wait? Because of how my snap beans were behaving – flowering and aborting for over a month. I figured the weather wasn’t right yet. But, once that changed, so did my plans.

As you know, my whim right now is for vegetables, and I’d accumulated a nice variety of seeds – Marigold and Torenia flowers and lots of veggies – long purple and round green brinjals (eggplant), chilli, pepper paprika, loofah, cucumber, tomato, hairy basil, okra, long beans and sweet corn. It was time to start my little veggie “family”.

3-week old sweet corn plant. Doesn't it look like long grass?

I was most excited about the sweet corn, so that was planted first. I wanted to stagger the harvest, so I decided to plant three to four plants every other week or so. The seeds sprouted well and the older lot is over 20cm high now. I had to mark the spot of each plant with a short stick to remind everyone, including myself, not to touch them, because they really, really look like grass, and I have an uncontrollable urge to weed them out! I can’t wait for them to grow even bigger so that I can stop thinking that…

And marking where you’ve planted seeds is so very crucial. I had planted three loofah seeds along the fence, thinking they’d take about a week to sprout. On day four, someone went around with a weed-whacker and beheaded one of the little sprouts that were already 5cm high! I had no idea that those little fellas would grow so vigorously! Anyway, I’ve decided to stick with two plants for now because I’m not sure if I’ll really enjoy eating the fruit. At the very least, I suppose I’ll end up with some natural scrubbies… :D The plants are about 15cm high now and busily extending tendrils for support. I’ve been directing them towards the chain-link fence and then they should be on their way.

Loofah vine at 2 weeks

One little problem, though – the seed leaves of one of the loofah plants developed some weird, squiggly marks that a GCS Forumer said were the work of leaf miners. I’ve removed the offensive leaves and have my fingers crossed that the plant won’t be affected by the miners. Talk about your alien invasion… :(

The long beans germinated with no problems. Beans seem inclined to vigorous growth. I set up a trellis for them using 6-foot bamboo sticks in the A-frame setup, and the most advanced plant has already wound it’s way to the top of it’s pole. One seedling was a bit sickly, so I had to get rid of it and plant a new seed in it’s place. I didn’t enjoy that at all. Culling is not my thing; I’m more inclined to let all my plants just grow and be happy. :(

Blissful okra after an afternoon rain shower.

The okra plants – or ladies fingers, as we call ‘em here – grew with no problems. All five seeds that I sowed in a pot grew cheerfully, and once established, I transplanted them to a prepared plot where they’re thriving right now. Less than 8 weeks to harvest! (fingers crossed)

The pepper paprika put up one, maybe two sprouting seedlings. I say maybe because I’m not sure of the second seedling will survive. They seem to be quite fragile and can die out after a day or so, which has happened twice already. They’re slow growing, compared to the okra and loofah, but I’ve definitely got my eye on them…

I’ve had 50-50 success with the cucumbers. Only half the seeds sprouted where I’d sowed them at the base of another prepared trellis. After waiting more than a week since the first seeds sprouted, I decided to re-sow seeds at the vacant trellis legs. I’d really like to have one plant growing up each trellis support, and by George, I will have that! There are still several seeds left in the packet, so I’ll keep trying until I run out of them…

Cucumber sprout. Aren't the seed leaves shaped uncannily like a cucumber?

Now the rest of the seeds that I planted in pots are playing hide-and-seek with me. Interestingly, they seem to be the plants with smaller seeds – namely the brinjals, chilli, tomato and basil for the veggies, and the marigold and Torenia flowers. Man, those seeds for the Torenia were microscopic! It might as well have been powder in the packet! Anyway it’s been more than 3 weeks and I’ve gone through two rounds of sowing seeds. Nothing’s showed up except for one tomato, one marigold and a couple of chilli seedlings that died off after a couple of days. I’ll lay a bet that the seeds are just waiting for me to stop peering down into the pots several times a day before they all decide to simultaneously sprout! Isn’t that what happens when you watch a pot of water on the stove? It only starts to boil when you turn away… Hopefully those naughty seeds will miss me and burst into activity. Nothing makes my day more than seeing my plants thriving!

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Baby Bean grows up

Ah, Baby Bean has grown up, and has cousins and siblings – I can’t tell which unless I trace the vines from the roots, and there are 8 of them! So let’s just call them relatives, and leave it at that. Here are a couple of shots for the family album:

This kind of gives a new meaning to the term "family tree"... Spot the cousins/siblings? There are two of them.

I'm guessing this is the largest it'll grow, but for curiosity's sake, I'm going to leave this one on the vine to grow as big as possible, and so I can get more seeds later. It's also the only one this size, and I prefer to eat more than one bean at a time, so I'll just wait for the rest that are growing at the same pace before I harvest them... :|

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Seed dispersal, nature’s way

Bittergourd vine (I hope!) growing out of my pot of Dracaena Surculosa

I was out taking a look at my plants one evening when I noticed a different plant growing in my big pot of Japanese Bamboo (Dracaena Surculosa). It had obviously sprouted within the last few days, because the two halves of the seed bean it had grown from were still attached to the stem.

This particular pot of Jap bamboo tends to have lots of “visitors”. The big pot sits just under the edge of our mango tree canopy, and it’s bushy enough to attract birds to perch on it frequently. There are always lots of weeds and uninvited plants growing in it that have to be extracted.

However, this time, something made me pause. Maybe it was my new “inner veggie gardener” telling me to hold on for a minute. I took a photo of the 15cm high vine, and posted it on the GCS forum to see if anyone could identify it. In less than 2 hours, as many people said it looked like a bittergourd plant.

In fact, a couple of days later, I showed it to my mum. Surprising us both, she blurted, “That’s periak” – the Malay name for bittergourd. Seeing the plant had triggered memories of her childhood, when they had grown the veggie.

A sprouting palm tree at the base of my bean trellis. It could have been deposited by a bird, or dropped by the palm tree nearby.

Now I know that no person planted that seed there, so it had to have been “deposited” by one of our feathered visitors. Not wanting to transplant and shock the plant, I redirected it so the tendrils found the fencing around my new compost pit, next to the pot. Yup, I had to break that self-imposed rule about not growing an edible creeper there, but it was either do that or let it smother the Japanese bamboo.

This made me look into how birds help plants to disperse their seeds. We have an established curry leaf tree that produces clusters of berries. The birds love the berries, and we subsequently have lots of little curry leaf trees sprouting in the ground below wherever the birds perch to poop. The same goes for the berries of palm trees. Thanks to the birds, we’ve had several different varieties of palm trees growing here at one time or another.

Curry leaf plant sprouting from the crevice of a brick next to the fence - obviously deposited there by a bird, because there's NO parent plant that close!

My initial assumption was that birds only dispersed seeds by pooping them, but research taught me that they also regurgitate them. Urk. Their digestive systems can’t process hard things like, oh, the exoskeletons of insects, undigested bones, hairs and feathers, so they eventually spit them out in a process known as pellet casting. Good to know, huh? :|

But on to other dispersal methods…

Lighter and/or hooked seeds can hitch a ride on creatures that feed on them or simply pass by. Or they can be spread via wind, water or explosive action on the plant’s part. (Here, I get the image of a drawing of the balsam plant in my head, thanks to old school books…) But then, that’s how my Peacock trees disperse their seeds – another reason we have lots of them sprouting all over the garden, too.

Dispersal is just Nature’s way of conducting a lucky draw – and for people like me, it’s an exciting event, because I never know what’s going to start growing in the garden until I see it!

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