If this is August, it must be green bean season in Maine. Should you have any doubt, you need look no further than my kitchen, where Douglas and I have been up to our elbows in beans for the past week. There are beans in baskets, beans in bags, beans in jars, and still they come through the back door, continuing to ripen and over-ripen in the garden. There is no end to them! At least, that’s how it’s beginning to feel.
This beany explosion is all my fault. Back in the early spring, on an unseasonably warm day, I couldn’t resist planting a long row of Provider bush beans — reliable old favorites — in “my” garden, the 36-foot raised bed in front of the house. The seed, which I found in the barn, was pretty old and the earth was still chilly, so I didn’t really expect much by way of germination. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, there was no sign of bean plants poking through the soil, so I put in another row of Providers next to the first, using seed packed for this year.
About the time that second row started to appear, the first row came to life as well. But the germination in both rows was spotty, maybe because the ground had remained damp and cool, so I bought a packet of long-podded Jade beans at the hardware store and threw them in alongside. By the time these started uncurling their sticky leaves above the soil, the ground had warmed and both rows of Providers had filled in nicely.
“Looks like we’ll have plenty of green beans after all,” I reported to my husband, feeling undeservedly smug about this inadvertent succession planting.
“Are you sure?” Douglas responded. “Because we want enough for the dilly beans.” I paused. Douglas’ spicy dilly beans are famous among our friends and family. They’re his signature gift at Christmas and we proudly bring them along as hostess gifts and potluck contributions. I’ve always been a cautious condiment-consumer — not all that interested homemade jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles and the like — but Douglas’ dilly beans have made a believer of me.
It would be terrible to run out of beans. So — you guessed it — I planted another half-row of the Jades, just in case.
Then, Douglas reported that the slender French filet beans we favor for the table had failed to germinate in “his” garden, the smaller kitchen plot he tends at the top of the driveway. Must have been a bad spring for beans, I mused, as I sowed a row of dark-purple Velour filet beans adjacent to the Jades.
I figured that between my too-early plantings, the outdated Provider seed, the spotty germination, the late-planted Jade seed, the wet spring weather and the late sowing of the Velours, we’d have enough regular beans for a few meals and enough to dilly, plus a modest supply of the purple-podded filets for fresh eating. I figured they would ripen and be ready to harvest in some sort of dignified sequence.
This is what comes of not reading the seed packets. Because, of course, what actually happened, what is happening right now as I write, is not at all dignified. Instead, we have an explosion, a total glut of beans, all ripe and ready to harvest at once. Even Douglas’ Velours came through.
We’ve stayed up late to dilly the beans while they’re perfect. We rinse the beans in the sink and snip each one to fit in a pint jar, adding a pungent chunk of garlic, some spicy sprigs of dill, a bit of mustard seed, some hot pepper flakes and the special brine that Douglas brews up in a kettle. We drop the jars into a hot water bath for a few minutes, set them to dry on a rack on the counter and listen for the satisfying “plink” of the lids as they cool and seal.
Then we stash the jars away in the cellar stairwell, ready for the holidays and other gift-giving occasions. I think it’s safe to say we already have way more than enough to go around, but just in case — and because we really have no choice — we fully expect to spend a few more evenings in this industrious manner.
We’ll also be blanching and freezing some of the green beans and the filet beans. They’re so much better fresh, but despite gobbling them down as fast as we can, we just can’t keep up with them all.
The good thing about growing a vegetable garden — one of the many good things — is that each year brings a new opportunity to refine your plan. Already, I’m resolved to do a better job next year of planting our bean crop, staggering the dates in a more disciplined way so we can take a breather between batches of dilly beans. That is, assuming I don’t get carried away again on the first warm day of spring.