Bringing in the beans

With the first of the Fall frosts imminent, I knew I had to bring in the last of summer’s tender crops. SofĂ­a and I went outside with our milk-crate/step-stool and cut off all the bean plants nearly flush with the soil. That was a lot of bean plants… and the deer had gotten most of them before I could.

These were black beans, planted to be used as dried beans. If the frost got them before they were ready, they might just rot away. So instead we brought them in to dry out upside-down…

On an old folding clothes rack I found in the basement.

There was a pretty miserable yield; most bushes only have about 2-3 good-sized beans on them. I hope I can get at least a pound of dried beans out of them, but it’s doubtful. I just have to remind myself they were really a double crop – soil improvement and edible by-product – and then maybe it won’t seem so pitiful.

Which brings me to a little chat about no-till agriculture:

It was for the soil-amendment reason that I cut the bean plants rather than pulled them out – yes it was more work, but I’m very interested in pursuing as close to a no-till agricultural method as I can. I’m convinced that turning the soil is bad for the soil over the long term, destroying the delicate networks of microbes, fungi, and all the other flora and microorganisms that should be teeming within it. I’ve been reading about the no-till method for years, but I was finally convinced to at least try it when I watched this documentary of a British woman who inherits her family farm and attempts to restore it to productivity.

Here’s segment 1 of BBC’s A Farm for the Future:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Sometimes tilling the soil seems unavoidable – like on Backfill Hill where I’m going to have to double-dig all the beds at least once because the soil is so terribly poor that it is otherwise impenetrable to roots (and my pickax too!). But once I’ve double-dug what I have to, I’m going to try to implement a system of green-mulching in winter (hence all the clover), then in the spring sprinkling amendments and smothering the green-manure crop with used, already-half-composted pathway mulch along with manure/compost. A couple weeks later I can plant my seedlings directly through that mixture into the soil. This system should provide plenty of compost each year and keep the soil structure intact and the earthworms alive, while providing no opportunity for uprooted weed seeds to sprout. That’s the theory anyway!

In practice, my hens have already torn apart one of my winter-cropped beds, thickly green-mulched with turnips. They really and truly did a number on it! Obviously I’ll have to invest in more rebar, hoops, and bird netting before I can easily implement this plan farm-wide. Til then, we’ll just see if it works with the beds the birds don’t destroy.

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