52 Weeks Fresh: Hardworking and Productive (Who Doesn’t Like a Garden Hero?)

By: Michael Blakeney

Dry beans are quiet garden stalwarts. Kidney and black beans — my legumes of choice — produce abundant yields with few needs.

To maximize yield, plant beans early in the summer once the soil has warmed, then pull them from the ground when the pods are dry and the plant is mostly dead, in about 100 days. I plant seeds two or three times a season to increase yield.

These are bush beans: They don’t climb, and they grow to be about only 2 feet high. They don’t block light from other plants, and they are dense enough to control weeds. If you’re varying the planting order, mix in marigolds (to repel pests), as well as beets, carrots and cabbages, which thrive on the nitrogen that beans add to the soil.

In lieu of seeds, plant dry beans in rows one-half inch into the ground, 2 or 3 inches apart, then gently cover them and lightly water the soil. In a few weeks, repeat the pattern in a different section of the garden.

To harvest, pull the plants out of the ground completely when the pods are brown and the leaves are fading. I hang mine on a clothesline in the garage for about two weeks to prevent mildew, then I separate the beans from the pods and compost the waste. The plants can be threshed too. Keep the beans spread out on a tray for a few days to ensure the moisture is gone. Store them in a sealed container away from direct sunlight; you can consider adding an oxygen-eating packet for added freshness. When you’re ready to cook them, they’ll need as little as two hours of soaking.

PRODUCE REPORT: Start pruning tomatoes now. Prune only indeterminate plants (ones bearing fruit over a period of weeks) by pinching off new branches emerging in the joint between the main vertical stem and horizontal leaf. This trains the plant to redirect the energy into producing more tomatoes.

EAT WITH THE SEASON: Strawberries are all over the markets this month. For a savory spin, try making strawberry risotto. Start with a basic risotto recipe using vegetable stock and onions, then fold in sliced strawberries during the final minute of cooking. Add a few blueberries and sliced strawberries as a garnish on top for a fun and surprising addition to July 4th meals.

Self-taught gardener Michael Blakeney enjoys his Bedford, N.Y., garden all year: working in it, watching it grow and eating it through every season.  A visual artist and arts educator, Mike has been gardening for 25 years. You can find him at mikegrowgarden.com.

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