Bruises result from epic battle with pole beans

Posted Aug. 29, 2008, at 9:27 p.m.

It wasn’t a sight I wanted to see.

The garden seemed to have developed a dip overnight.

A rather large one, at that.

I stood at the window looking at the dip; it resembled either the stern of a sinking ship or a cheeky vegetative round of the wave at a stadium.

From my vantage point, neither was a good thing.

Part of me hoped that a giant sinkhole had developed right there on the east side of the garden. Or maybe a monster groundhog had decided to take up residence smack dab in that corner. Or maybe both together.

No, it couldn’t be that easy.

With great trepidation, I hauled myself outside where my worst fears were confirmed. Actually, not the worst; the worst would have been for the entire thing to be listing.

Yes, folks, more than half of the pole beans had toppled.

I know it was my smug attitude these past few years that was my undoing. Ever since I went out and bought 8-foot tree stakes to build my bean trellis in ’04, I have been on a mission to overcome the power that is the pole bean.

Up until last week, I had pretty much succeeded. Not with the oversized 8-foot bean poles, but with bamboo poles that had done a mighty fine job these past three summers. I even learned to build “beams” across and lengthwise to make the whole thing more stable. (If you can’t quite picture it, check out this year’s previously stunning structure on my July 24 posting at www.janinepineo.com.)

It usually takes about two or three days to construct the marvel and string the trellis net.

And one measly shower to topple.

All the rain this summer led to the lushest of bean vines. I had fought my way through the tangle a couple of days before the crash to see how soon I could start picking in earnest, only to wake up to more than 20 feet of row smashed into the corn, which in turn smashed into the eggplants and peppers. The bamboo, now 4 years old, couldn’t stand up to the weight of those vines nor the ravages of the elements. So they snapped like wee twigs under the strain.

Hoping against hope, I tried by myself to pull the mass upright again, only to hear more snapping of those wee twigs I had pounded into the ground. For a split second, I actually considered leaving it there.

But I couldn’t waste all those plants and vegetables, no matter how peeved I was.

Gathering up leftover stakes and a hammer, I called on my father and sister, getting them into position along the outside of the rows while I crawled into the tiny space between the collapsed rows and the ground. I hollered that I was going to try to stand up, with the intention of lifting the entire mass on my back until I was upright with the beans. Then I could — in theory — pound in some of the new stakes and tie them to the broken poles.

Do you have any idea how heavy two rows of pole beans are?

A good thing I didn’t or I wouldn’t have been able to hoist myself upright, groaning as I tried to lift the two rows. I managed to stand up, feeling the scrape of the vines as I stood. One after another, I pounded in poles and reattached the broken ones, trying to salvage what I could.

When I ran out of bamboo poles, I started in with the old tree stakes from four years ago.

By the time I was done, I had reinforced the collapsed area, with new supports on both ends of the rows. The crossbeams, however, were pretty much a loss, with most of the trellis sagging below shoulder level under the weight of all those bean vines.

After a few minutes of pulling the cornstalks upright and tying them off, I exited the garden, thoroughly scratched on my arms from the bean vines and bleeding from a peppering of bites from a horde of black flies that got me whilst I was tangled in trellis. It wouldn’t be until hours later that welts from the vines would show up the lengths of my arms, along with puffy spots from the bites.

I doubt a trip down the Amazon would have been worse.

But the aftereffects didn’t end there: The next morning I could barely stand up, and my chest felt like I had done a few hundred push-ups.

Once outside, I found the reinforced trellis still standing. In I plunged, emerging a short time later with enough beans to can seven quarts. Just Monday, I picked a little more than a bushel to can and freeze.

It’s hard not to have at least a smidgen of smugness.

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