Planning my new allotment garden space has been exciting. Last Autumn, as I pored over seed catalogues filled to the brim with tempting produce, I had some decision-making to do. Whilst the garden space available is quite extensive, I always manage to have more ideas than I have space (or time!), so choices had to be made.
I’m aiming to garden organically and I’m also planning on doing a bit of seed-saving. With this in mind, I sought out seed companies selling ‘old-fashioned’ open-pollinated varieties of vegetables.
A particularly useful online catalogue was ‘The Real Seed Catalogue’ as they only sell open-pollinated varieties. They also give lots of really helpful information about seed-saving. However, the best thing about The Real Seed Catalogue is their wonderful selection of heirloom and heritage vegetables that are not available in many (or any) other places.
‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ Climbing French Bean’
‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ Climbing French Bean’ caught my eye and my imagination. This was a ‘must have’, a real piece of history. I learned that in the 1830s after the US Federal Government introduced the Indian Removal Act, the Cherokee people took some of these beans with them when they were driven out of their Georgia homelands on the long forced march known as ‘The Trail of Tears’. This variety of bean has then been grown and passed on down through the generations. How fascinating … and amazing!
“A very rare bean,” it says on the brown paper seed packet. The beans themselves are small and black and I am growing them as French beans – they are the tasty green, pencil-thick pods. But as well as eating them in their fresh green state, I will also grow them on to be fully ripe (hopefully!) and save some of the dried beans to sow next year as well as using them as dried beans for Winter soups. The Real Seed Catalogue describes this variety as “incredibly prolific”, so I am hopeful for a good crop. This is the plan!
However, to grow climbing beans, you need something for them to climb. I’d decided to build an old-fashioned tall bean frame from hazel poles. I built a similar tall frame for my very tall peas earlier this Spring – you’ll see it in one of the photos below.
I am anticipating the bean plants growing around 6-8 feet tall (that’s around 2-2.5 metres, if you’re metric 😉 ). Then I needed to add a generous allowance, for tying the bean poles together at the top and for planting deep enough in the ground at the bottom, for the bean frame to be wind-proof on our rather exposed northern hillside. The hazel poles I’m using are around 12 feet (3.5 metres).
I selected two pairs of slightly heavier-duty poles to make my initial A-frame – they’re around 2.5 inches (6cm) in diameter at the butt end. I tied each pair of poles together at the top, measuring and marking each pole at the 8 feet point. The poles are lashed together with thick cotton string. I used a figure-of-eight lashing to hold the poles tightly together but also allowing a degree of flexibility for manoeuvering the A-frame into place.
I’d measured out the row and marked where the frame was going to stand. I had to amend the exact position of the frame as I had been so busy looking down at the soil, I found when I looked up, my bean frame would have stretched half-way into one of the plum trees! Whoops! So, a bit of jiggling and re-measuring was needed.
Using a heavy digging iron and a lump hammer, I made holes 18 inches (45cm) deep, then pushed the legs of each of the A-frames into place and refirmed the soil around the poles. Climbing very carefully on the step ladders, I added the ridge pole and lashed this in place at each end, making sure the A-frames were (fairly!) perpendicular to the ground. When you’re working with green timber, sometimes it isn’t always exactly straight, so allowances have to be made. These poles were all cut in late Winter, ready for use this Spring.
Next, came the side poles. The bean frame is 2 feet (60cm) wide and 7 feet (2 metres) long. The side poles are placed at 1 foot (30cm) intervals along each side of the A-frame. The side poles are thinner than the A-frame poles, only about 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3cm) in diameter. I didn’t tie the pairs of side poles together initially; I started off by leaning them in their places along each side and resting them on the ridge pole. Then it was back to the digging iron and lump hammer, as I made more deep holes to plant the side poles into.
Eventually, all of the side poles were planted in their holes. Then it was back to climbing carefully on the step ladders to tie the side poles in place onto the ridge pole. To finish, I added a cross-brace through from corner to corner and lashed this in place at about 3 feet (1 metre) from the ground.
It certainly seems quite a strong structure and I know the tall pea frame has stood up well to some strong winds already, so I am hopeful for my tall bean frame too.
Now it’s time to plant the beans ….
J Peggy Taylor