Growing up in Indiana, I dreaded family gatherings at my grandmother’s house. And I mean nothing against dear, departed Grandma, mind you. It wasn’t her fault. The problem stemmed from the age difference between me and my female cousins. They were all older. While I was still playing with baby dolls, the two girls closest to me had already graduated to Barbies. When my Barbie stage eventually rolled around, they had both eschewed dolls altogether and were sporting training bras and experimenting with make-up. Every time my parents loaded me and my brother into the back seat of the car for the 45 minute trek from Anderson to Marion, I sulked.

It was a life lesson, I suppose. Sometimes, no matter how harmonious one might think a situation should be – big family get-togethers capped off by Grandma’s homemade fried chicken dinners with cinnamon-sprinkled vanilla custard for dessert – there’s probably going to be someone who’s unhappy; someone who feels like she’ll never fit in.

Like green beans seem to feel about our farm. Like almost all legumes feel about our farm, actually. We’re still trying to figure out what exactly the cause might be (although I think we can pretty much rule out any problems with doll choices), but since the inception of this farm we’ve had a heck of a time trying to grow beans and, to a somewhat lesser extent, peas.

Granted, we’ve been harvesting from one of our best snow pea crops ever (though the harvest is indeed being cut short due to the record heat).

Yet this 400-foot bed of peas wasn’t always so lush. As with all legumes we attempt to grow, the tiny cotyledons popped through the ground nice and green, then soon after true leaves formed the color faded to a sickly yellow from chlorosis. Something about our soil prevents young legumes from taking up enough iron. We suspect high alkalinity is the culprit, as the pH level on our farm is fairly insane what with all the limestone in this area.

We try to combat the problem with a weekly regimen of fish emulsion foliar sprays on leguminous plants while they’re young. It worked with these peas, but that’s not always the case. Especially when it comes to green beans. Through the years we’ve had only marginal success trying to keep beans alive. I remember fondly one incredible summer filled with sweet, tender Grenoble bush beans. We thought sure we’d finally discovered a variety that actually enjoyed its seasonal visit to the farm.

Until it didn’t anymore, no matter how many times we doused it with fish. Just as a disenchanted granddaughter might wish she could do, the Grenoble beans simply stopped trying to fit in here. The leaves invariably turned from green, to yellow, to white, to dead. In a last-ditch effort Farmer John and I decided to give pole beans a shot. Last spring, for the first time, we planted heirloom Rattlesnake beans. They thrived.

We’re growing the Rattlesnakes again – although it’s a much tougher spring season than last year, with no water from the sky and no lightning (Mother Nature’s nitrogen-fixer). The beans are proving that they intend to stick it out, however, and have grown large enough to merit building a trellise for them.

John constructed tepee type structures using 10-foot sections of rebar, then laid 20-foot lengths of rebar along the top. Dana and Mary worked together rolling out plastic netting up and down both sides of the tepees, attaching the net to the posts every whipstitch with pieces of twine.

Following behind them, Charles filled in the gaps with intermediate ties to strengthen the structure’s hold on the netting so the beans can climb to the top.

It’s just in the nick of time, too. As the plants have struggled to retain essential chlorophyll and stay green, they’ve sent out runners in search of support.

Now they’ll have all the support they need.

Still, the plants might occasionally become a little dissatisfied as their visit wears on, kind of like a certain youngest grandchild did all those years ago.

Rather than pouting, the Rattlesnake plants will show us their frustration with yellowing leaves. When we see that happening, we’ll cheer them up with another hearty helping of foliar spray. It may not be homemade fried chicken and vanilla custard, but it seems to suit this green bean crop just fine.

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We’ve got some great stuff for market this Wednesday! Here’s what we’ll be bringing:

Early Girl tomatoes! Plus lots of summer squashes — zucchini, yellow squash, Zephyr and our yummy new Cousa; “topless” bulk sweet white turnips; bunches of carrots; purple and golden beets; bunches of chard; spring onions; bags of arugula; bunches of leeks; the first bell peppers; fennel; head lettuces – Romaine, Red Leaf and Green Butterhead; the last few pints of snow peas; some lettuce mix and Provencal salad mix; and a little of this and that.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)