out of reach

The purple-podded pole beans were a last-minute addition to the Victory Garden this year — which is another way of saying that I was out of ground by the time I decided I wanted to grow them.  I did, however, have two large, plastic pots, an unused section of pea fence, and a blank wall on the side of my porch.  I pushed the two pots up against the wall, jerry-rigged the fencing to hang from the porch railing (with some help from F. and a few lengths of biodegradable twine), and popped six seeds in each the second week of June.

I’d purchased open-pollinated heirloom seeds, specifically named Louisiana Purple-Podded Pole Beans.  (Nice alliteration.)  I hadn’t planned on saving my own seeds, especially once I thinned the seedlings to three per container, and it’s not a wise practice to save seed from such a narrow genetic pool, six plants.  Yet because they’re an open-pollinated and not a hybrid variety, it is theoretically possible to get seeds which are “true” to their parent.

And then the vines took the decision out of my hands.  Literally.

They had already taken over the porch railing and insinuated their way among the tomato branches.  And yet I was able to keep them picked, due to their bright color.  It was actually a lovely combination, the scarlet tomatoes and plum pods.  The pods of this pole bean are a visual feast, as well, beginning pale green and progressing through a brief striped violet-&-green phase, and maturing to a rich aubergine with a slight shimmer, as of crushed velvet.

The color contrast makes them easy to find for harvest, one reason why purple-podded pole beans are often suggested for a children’s garden, as little ones can be successful harvesting.  This Louisiana heirloom gets my two thumbs up for a child’s first kitchen garden planting.  It was super easy to grow in this climate, even for a pole bean, and even crammed into containers and going through a bit of a dry spell after being planted late.  It would work even for renters, urban gardeners limited to containers, and busy parents who don’t want their kids to have a disappointing garden experience.

A few pods did make it past ideal ripeness, and usually those ended up shelled for the fresh, tender white beans, much appreciated in soups.  Not that I wished to waste the pod, but the skin of Louisiana Purple-Podded Pole does quickly toughen up if not picked, and the strings are thick and hard to remove completely at that stage.  The color progresses to a matte dark purple, nearly black at that point, and the pods grow fat and lumpy.  Whenever possible, I tried to avoid this and pick at the tender stage.

This photo shows the pods at the end stage, being allowed to set seeds.  Because a lone vine went off on its own from the porch, hooking itself onto a branch that F. had stuck in the pot to prop up a trailing Rutgers tomato branch.  (I thought this a very unorthodox solution at first, perhaps even ugly conceptual art – “dead branch in plastic pot vis-a-vis brick wall” – but was later charmed by the birds choosing to perch in it as if it were a tree growing beside the porch.  It didn’t hurt that their perch was in my line of sight as I did dishes staring out the kitchen window.)

However, this branch is too far for me to reach from the porch, and the pods dangle far above my head when I stand on the ground.

F. offered to get them down for me.  But this offer was made well past their harvest-by date, when he saw me standing gazing up at them.  I will be happy to let him remove them, once they are dried pods, and I’ll hope to plant them next year along with the commercial seed, to see if I get similar results.

I’ve been reading a bit of Michael Pollan’s work this summer, and I’m beginning to wonder if the plant kingdom doesn’t have something like its own innate intelligence and strategy.  F.  said, “Of course,” when I first discussed this with him, but my rational mind is still having trouble with the idea.  My artist-brain already assumed this was true, based on nothing much but feeling and imagination.  (And it felt its theories confirmed by a recent read of Through the Looking Glass, where the Tiger Lily is loud and obnoxious, the rose a snob with a perfect complexion, and the daisies all talk together at once.)

So either I’m anthropomorphizing my purple-podded pole beans, or they’ve come up with a clever strategy, after observing me all summer, to get their seeds to mature out of range of my greedy hands.

What do you think?

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