It’s almost that time of year. The time where all of the vegetables in the garden are all ready to be picked at once. It’s like the Olympics, Senior Finals, or Tax Season, but for farming. We have been waiting all year for this! I can’t help but think of the hours of tilling, fertilizing, hoeing, planting, weeding, and more weeding that has led up to this moment.
Yesterday morning Sadie and I got up and went straight to the garden. The green beans were ready, Sadie and I had to catch up. We have been picking the squash and zucchini as it becomes ready, that’s not so difficult, but with beans -well, you go by their book. We started at the very end of the row, we got a bench and a bucket to sit on, and lined another bucket with a plastic bag.
It was a beautiful morning, we were in the shade from the walnut tree across the road, and all the birds were singing. There are several ways to grow green beans, some people put them by a trellis, others make an arch from a sturdy piece of fence, like a hog or cattle panel. You can put posts in the ground on either side of the rows, tie string at the top and bottom, then run another string up and down so the vines have something to climb.
Sadie and I did the “oh we waited to long to string these, now what” option. One Saturday I put 3 or 4 T-Posts across the rows, tied some string across, and called it a day. It didn’t get us too far. The vines are so strong, they pull the strings down into U shapes, then just kept going around the posts and each other.
The next weekend, we got some 5″ square wire fencing and tied to the posts, so the beans could have something to pull on that wouldn’t give. We only have enough for one row, so the next row got some rust pieces I found out by the barn. Those only went halfway across, so the rest of the row got more string. Next year, we will have the good wire up by the time the first seedlings appear.
Once we had two buckets full, and had finished most of the first row, we came inside to ‘break’ the beans. We dumped them in the sink and ran cold water over them to get off the dirt and bugs, then spread them out over a towel on the kitchen table. I don’t quite know how to describe stringing and breaking beans, I’m assuming you may have done it sometime in your life, hopefully.
You start at the end where the bean grows off the vine, break it with your thumb, and pull the string all the way to the other end where the bean tapers off. Then you pull the string back to the stem end, a bit like unzipping something, then you break the bean in half so it’s bite sized, the strings go in one bucket and the broken bean go in another.
I don’t know how to tell you how many beans we broke either. It was a lot of beans. You have to watch out for brown spots where the bugs may have gotten to them, or for a skin that doesn’t crisp well, if it feels soft you open it up, drop the white beans in, and discard the shell. Those are called shelly’s, when the bean is good but the skin isn’t worth saving.
When I came home from work to eat lunch, Sadie and I broke beans. When I got home from work in the evening, we broke beans. Once that batch was done, we boiled them in big pots on the stove to blanch them. Then they went in the fridge. Sadie and I went back outside with our buckets to pick the next row, Uncle came by to help, and we filled up pretty quickly. The beans went into the sink, onto the towel, and we set to work.
You know in those old movies how you see the ladies sitting on the porch, breaking beans over a bowl and talking? It was almost exactly like that. The dogs napped under the table, I had a cat in my lap, and we sat at the table, breaking beans and pulling strings. We talked about everything, horses, favorite meals, the weather, old scars, you name it. I was so cozy with the cat in my lap, the sun setting outside, and us all sitting around the table in our bright, cheerful kitchen. The lightning bugs came out and I got so sleepy, we broke beans until after 11, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I know you can get canned beans at the store. I know in today’s world, you don’t have to grow, break, and can your own to survive. But there’s something about the feeling of tending your own garden, of growing beans from a seed and taking each step in the process from planting it, to having it on your table. It’s so rewarding. It’s so much work, and it is incredibly worth it.
This morning Sadie and I got the blanched beans out of the fridge and put them on the stove to heat. We put pint mason jars in the oven at 200 degrees, and put the lids in a pot of boiling water to heat. She got the pressure cooker from the basement (that thing is massive) and filled it with hot water.
Canning beans is different than canning relish or jam. Once you get the beans in the hot jar, you pack them in with a slotted spoon, add boiling water and a teaspoon of salt, then place the sealed jar in the pressure cooker under about an inch of water. The pressure cooker holds 7 pint jars. Then the lid screws on and you can’t leave the kitchen for anything. You want to heat the cooker so the pressure builds to 12 pounds and holds. It has to stay there for 25 minutes to prevent botulism, and to accurately seal the beans in the jar.
I got a little antsy being in the kitchen, I’ll be honest. I’m not the best cook. I don’t quite have enough patience to see a meal through, but it helped having Sadie there. We watched the gauge, adjusted the eye, and set the timer. Boy do we make a mess. There were pots of boiling water, pot holders, spoons and towels everywhere. I felt like we both had full facials from standing over all that steam, but I’d say it was a success.
When the timer beeped, we cut the stove off and we were free. Sadie went to work, and I headed up to the chicken coop. It would be hours before that thing was cool enough to touch, and I didn’t mind being away from the kitchen until then. We left plenty of smaller beans on the vine, in just a few more days, it will be time to pick, string, break and can all over again!