Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bean House

“Beans, Beans, the American Fruit,
The More you eat, the more you toot”

I heard these words at least three to four times a week growing up; every time we sat down to dinner and had green beans.  It took me a long time to figure out that the words my dad quipped upon beholding the green beans were not about green beans, but referred to dry legumes, like navy or white beans.  So it was probably something that he grew up with that he had to say.  And he said this so often because green beans were always on our table; they were a staple in our diet.

My mom and dad had two main crops in their garden; tomatoes and green beans.  They grew enough of these in just a small city garden to feed a family of 5 for a year.  That worked out to about 300 quarts of beans.  In order to get that much from just twenty-five to thirty feet of plantings, you have to start picking when the beans are small – the size of haricot verts.  You have to pick every day, because as soon as the bean plant starts forming beans with actual beans in them, it starts shutting down; it’s job is done.  We usually picked beans up through the frosts in November.  I was so glad when the canning was finally over.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have home canned beans till I went off to college.  It was there I discovered the taste and texture difference between our home canned beans and the ones commercially canned.  When I lived in Ohio and West Virginia, I was horrified to find that they grew beans until there were huge seeds in them and the outer part was tough – then cooked then for several hours in bacon fat till they were mush.  I shudder even now remembering the horror of it.

One of the influences behind our purchasing a house in 2009 was so I could grow enough beans to have for the whole year.  One of my daughters is on a sodium-free diet, and there is too much sodium in commercially canned and frozen vegetables.  So I needed to grow a lot of beans!  Having a small yard, I needed to take advantage of every space, which is why I decided to have a bean house.

A play space for my granddaughter

I saw a great pic on the Internet of a “house” where three of the four walls were trellis for beans; the fourth wall was the front of the house with windows and a door. click on the link below for a look at what inspired me:

Bean House

Perfect for my granddaughter, but it wouldn’t give me the amount of space I needed for beans.  So this is what I came up with:

My oldest daughter was visiting from Minnesota last year (2010) for her brother’s college graduation and I talked her into helping me with this project.  It only took a couple of hours to set up, making up 6’ x 8' panels, stringing them with garden twine, and then leaning them together to form a triangle.  Three sets were pushed together, and then bolted together for stability.  The kids removed strips of the sod next to the bean racks, and two weeks later I planted my bean seedlings.  I had to put up some fencing to keep my granddaughter out - didn't keep out the grass though.  This was in mid-June 2010.  Even though I had a late start, we canned about 65 quarts and 25 pints of beans, and gave away 6-7 gallons of beans.  We picked beans up till mid-November; they would have gone longer but we had let too many vines let the beans get too big, so they stopped setting blossoms.

The Bean house was almost perfect.  It did exactly what I thought it would do – draw my granddaughter in – she loved running up and down the grassy area – create a shady spot to hang out, and the beans were easy to pick, hanging down the inside area.  The only drawback was picking the beans at the top – the area was so narrow, you came away with bean leaves stuck all over your hair and clothes from brushing against them.  Clearly a modification would have to be made.

Bean House, circa 2011

During the early spring, I unscrewed the sections, tipped them over, took off the wood that held them together at the peak, and put in spreader sections I had made.  Once I had all three done, I just tipped them back into place and screwed them together.  Then I decided it would be easier if I actually had raised beds to plant the beans in, so added those.  It did take about a cubic yard of soil mix to fill the beds – all 36 feet!  Then I thought back to the original house I had seen on the Internet, and with the leftover cedar fence boards from making the raised beds, decided to seal off the end of the Bean House.

What it looks like now:

Added the section in at the top

 Built raised beds on either side
 Covered the end - being whimsical only takes a little extra time
 Added supports inside for the row cover supports
View from the outside

 detail of support - the other end is pushed down over 24" rebar
 One side complete
 Beans and carrots planted and row cover added

I still need to make a door for my granddaughter to go in and out.  She loves the windows. She filled the window boxes with soil herself, and I planted the flowers for her.

 I had some vines in planter boxes that we just stuck at the ends last year - my son-in-law dug those in for me - they had chocolate peppermint growing in the boxes so that will probably spread as ground cover - unless my granddaughter eats it all - she loves to come out and pick the leaves and eat them.

I still have the other side to do, but had to get the tomatoes planted - they were growing up into my grow lights - still a bit chilly out, but I have the row cover on so hopefully they will do OK. When I have the other side done, I will post a picture of the completed "Bean House".


  1. Stunning! I love the whimsical new entrance. And it looks like you found something better than the garden twin for the bean to grow up. Can't wait to see what it looks like in a few months, all covered in beans!

  2. (make that "twine" and "beans" - stupid keyboard...

  3. I was going for a "rays of sun" look, but it kind of came out "Mayan temple". Once the vines are growing up, and I have a sign that says "bean house" on it, and the door on it, it will look a lot more finished.