Monthly Archives: November 2012

Grow So Easy Organic – Bugs That Bug Green Beans

I used to ask myself, “What’s a Mexican Bean Beetle?”

Now, every summer, I ask myself, “Of all the bugs in all the world, why does the Mexican Bean Beetle have to find my garden?”

The Mexican Bean Beetle is the worst of the worst when it comes to green beans.  One day there is nothing there.  The next day there are one or two Mexican Bean Beetles.  Once you see the beetles, it’s almost too late to save your crop.

Mexican Bean Beetles are members of the lady beetle family.  But they aren’t the Lady Beetle relatives you want in your garden.  Copper-colored, about 6 mm

Pesky bean beetle

Tiny & destructive (Photo credit: Michael Bok)

(1/4 inch) long and 5 mm (1/5 inch) wide, with 8 small black spots on each wing, the adults resemble large lady beetles but they’re really wholesale destruction machines.  And they come in force.

How do they find your garden and your bean plants so quickly?

Chances are they never left when the winter came; they simply tucked in to the ground in leaf litter and other sheltered areas in fence rows of your garden plot and waited out the freezing temperatures and the snow.

Adults begin emerging from these protected areas when beans begin sprouting and continue to emerge for up to two months. The adults feed for approximately two weeks before depositing their eggs on the underside of leaves.  And when I say feed, I mean ravage.

Nasty beetles eating everything.

Mexican Bean Beetles eat the life out of the bean plants. (Photo credit: Jason Riedy)

Yellow eggs 1 mm (1/20 inch) in length are laid in groups of 40-60 on the lower leaf surfaces.  Females may deposit an egg-mass every two to three days. Eggs hatch in 5-24 days.  Immature larvae are yellow and are covered with large spines.  Larvae feed for two to five weeks before pupation.

You have 3 chances to kill these beetles off – crush the eggs, crush the larvae and crush the mature beetles.  The first two are the easiest but you can catch and kill the beetles too.  You just have to be persistent.  If you can make it through July and August, when the greatest amount of injury occurs and the adults begin to disappear, you might save some of your bean harvest.

Green Bean Diseases
Green beans can fall victim to some of the typical, soil and air borne diseases like bacterial spot, bacterial blight, Anthracnose and powdery mildew and a few I never heard of like Cercospora leaf spot.

Bottom line, I have not experienced one of these diseases in my garden.  Maybe I’ve been lucky.  Maybe I rotate my crops properly and buy seed that is resistant to bacterial infections.  And just maybe, my climate helps me along.

In any case, if you want to know all about raising green beans and managing the multiple diseases that might just affect your plants, check out the 12 diseases that are included in one of the most comprehensive guides to growing green beans I have ever read.

Then take a chance and plant some beans.  They grow fast.  They set tons of beans.  If you plant them properly, train them right (if they’re pole beans) and aggressively crush all variations of the Mexican Bean Beetle, you will be able to harvest and enjoy green beans all summer long.

My Harvest Trick
I said I had one and I do.  I plant enough green beans in my garden to satisfy the need for fresh green beans on the table all summer long.  But I’m a pragmatist with a limited amount of growing space.

So, when I’m ready to can green beans for the winter, I visit my favorite Amish farmer and buy as bushel and a half of beans and start cleaning, trimming, packing and pressure cooking green beans.

NOTE:  You MUST pressure cook green beans to preserve them.  You CANNOT simply water bath them.  Why not?

Green beans are not acidic.

According to the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving,  (my favorite guide), green beans must be heated, under 10 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes (for quarts) to make sure you kill all bacteria including Clostridium botulinium, the cause of botulism, a life-threatening disease.

Fresh or canned, I love green beans and I love everything about growing them except the Mexican Bean Beetles.

RECIPE:  Roasted Green Beans

1 pound green beans, ends snapped off
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher or large grain salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  This is the most important step.
Line baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Spread beans on baking sheet and drizzle with oil.
Toss with both hands to coat beans with oil, evenly.
Sprinkle lightly with  salt and pepper.
Roast for 10 minutes.  Remove baking sheet from the oven and flip beans over.
Roast for another 10 to 15 minutes.

Next week, I’ll share my own experience with trying to grow dried beans and  what I discovered about growing, harvesting and eating dried beans.


Grow So Easy Organic – How To Grow Beans — Bush & Pole

My mom used to raise enough green beans every summer to put up about 40 quarts!  Now that’s a lot of green beans.

And it ‘s a bit of work just to get them started, keep them free from Mexican Bean Beetles (another villain on my Top 10 Most Hated Bugs), and pick them.  Now imagine how many hours it took to cut off both ends (and string them if they had strings), stuff them in jars and process them in the pressure cooker!

But how very glad I was (and am) that she did all that work so we could open the pantry on a cold, snowy, December day and pull out her string beans for dinner.  No other canned bean has ever tasted as good to me except, maybe, my own.

Green Beans
I love fresh steamed or roasted green beans and I so love being able to walk out into my garden in the early evening and pick the beans I am serving for dinner.  Nothing tastes better.

Green common beans on the plant.

Green beans ready to harvest.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And, green beans are relatively easy to grow.  Most of us got out first experience with sprouting seedlings by watching a single green bean seed in a Styrofoam cup crack the soil and start rising up to greet the 6th graders who planted it.

In my Zone –6a according the updated US Department of Agriculture (USDA) chart —  old timers tell you to put bean seeds in the ground when lilacs are in full bloom.  This tip is tried and true and it works.  I have never lost a bean plant yet.  And I’ve gotten a jump-start on being able to harvest and eat them.

Planting & Harvesting Green Beans
Beans do best if direct-sowed.  And they do best when the soil is at least 60 degrees.  That’s why you wait until most of your other crops are in the ground before putting beans in dirt.

For me, there are two types of beans – pole and bush.  Pole beans produce all season long.  Bush beans produce all at once.  What does that mean to you?

I only put pole beans in the ground once each season.  I do succession plantings with bush beans every 2 to 3 weeks so I can keep the harvest going.

Whichever type you choose (I do both), they are planted the same way – 1 inch deep.  But here they start to differ because of how they grow.

Plant seeds of bush beans 2 to 4 inches apart in rows at least 18 to 24 inches apart. Plant seeds of pole beans 4 to 6 inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart.  You can also plant pole beans in hills. Put four to six seeds in each hill and make sure your keep 30 inches between each hill and 30 inches between rows.

Why different rules for pole beans?

English: Beanpoles at the Freilichtmuseum Neuh...

How they raise pole beans in Germany at  the Freilichtmuseum Neuhausen ob Eck Deutsch: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pole beans are prolific but they will take up space in the garden.  These plants need some real estate for them to “run” through and a tall enough structure to take the vines they send out.  Why?  These babies will grow and grow and if you don’t provide a nice, tall structure for them to climb, they will twine together, make masses of knotted vines and pretty much try to produce beans that way.

By the way, don’t waste your money buying bean towers.  They just aren’t tall enough to take on pole beans.  I know, I tried and I lost the battle.  I now use 8 foot high fence sections and I still have to direct the bean runners over the top and down the other side.   Or use bamboo tepees like those in the picture.

Caring & Feeding of Pole & Bush Green Beans
Beans are pretty easy keepers but there are a few rules you should know about raising them.

Once you plant them, water the seeds into the soil but do NOT over water them.  Seeds of most varieties tend to crack and germinate poorly if the soil’s moisture content is too high. For this reason, never soak bean seed before planting. Instead water just after planting or plant right before a heavy rain.

Do NOT over water the plants.  Their roots are close to the surface and they do like to be moist but use mulch like straw or grass to keep the roots damp.  Too much water makes the plants vulnerable to fungal or bacterial diseases like gray mold, bacterial blight, Rust or bean mosaic virus.

In most cases, if you are an organic gardener, the only way to rid yourself of these diseases is to remove and destroy the infected parts of the plants or just pull the whole plant out and start again.

So, remember, with green beans, a little mulch and a little water go a long way.

Feeding is something I’ve never done with beans but you can side dress pole beans with a little compost half way through the growing season.  Why would you do that?   Because pole beans are putting all their energy into producing bean after bean after bean.  They might need a boost.

But generally, beans in my garden are happy to grow and produce.  So, I usually plant, pick and eat.

A note about weeding around beans.  As I mentioned, the plants have shallow roots so you can hoe around them to remove small weeds and grasses.  But don’t get too vigorous or go too deep.  With their  fairly weak root systems, deep or close cultivation damages the roots and could delay or reduce yields of beans.

Next week a look at bugs that bug beans and how to handle them.

Grow So Easy Organic: Protect Cucumbers from Diseases & Bugs

Cucumbers are a favorite in my home garden and I’m sure they are a favorite in other gardens, too.  They produce a lot of tasty product for a very small investment in seed.

But cucumbers are also one of the fastest plants to succumb to infestations from one particular bug and the diseases that bug carries.

So, let’s talk a bit about armed warfare on Cucumber Beetles…another of my top 10 most hated insects.

Bugs That Bug Cucumbers
Diseases that affect cucumbers are transmitted by bugs.  So instead of listing the diseases, I’m going to share the disease name(s) and the critters that carry them throughout your garden.  I’ll also share my unorthodox methods for controlling them.

Bacterial Wilt – Plants infected with bacterial wilt are victims of a cucumber beetle attack. Cuke beetles carry the disease organism in their bodies.  It overwinters with them as the beetles take up residence and hibernate in any vegetation, including weeds that are left in the garden.  Cucumber beetles emerge just in time to feed on tender cucumber seedlings.

Spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpun...

Spotted cucumber beetle (they come with stripes, too). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if you can’t see them, plants are frequently infected with the disease-causing bacteria from beetles long before the symptoms show. When the vines wilt and collapse (usually about the same time that the first cucumbers are half-grown), it is too late to prevent the disease.

It’s easy to see why cucumber beetles are on my Top 10 Most Hated list and they deserve to be.  Small — 1/4 inch long, black and yellow spotted or striped beetles, cucumber beetles are voracious and can kill cucumber plants whether they’re young or established.  They even attack seedlings!

They feed on foliage, flowers, and fruit and bore into stems. And they fly from one plant to another and can easily carry bacterial wilt with them.  So, cucumber beetles should be controlled from the time that the young seedlings emerge from the soil.

Your best defenses for these beetles and the bacterial wilt they bring with them are:

  1. Clean up the garden in the fall.
  2. In planting season, cover your baby cucumber plants with a light, spun row cover until just before pollination is required.

If you do these two things, you might just cut down on the number of cucumber beetles and be able to raise a nice crop of these wonderful, crunchy, green delicacies!

Use row covers early in the game but remember, cukes need to be pollinated so you can’t keep them covered forever.  You can also make up a mix of insecticidal soap and spray frequently.

And squash these beetles relentlessly.  I shake the vines and when they fly out, use my thumb and forefinger to crush them.  You can put a dent in the population if you take 15 minutes every evening to find and kill them.  These really are the only organic methods I know of to kill cucumber beetles.

Keep in mind that cucumber beetles are equal opportunity pests so make sure you check any squash or melon that you are trying to grow for these bugs.

Aphids — Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.  These tiny bugs come in a whole lot of colors – green, black, brown, red, pink – but if they’re pear-shaped, slow-moving and small — 1/16 to 1/8 inch long – you are looking at an aphid colony.

Colonies are found along stems and on the underside of a leaf. These little munchers like succulent new growth. They suck sap from the plants causing leaves and stems to become distorted and damaging the plant.  Aphids can also transmit other plant diseases so they are not welcome guests in any gardener’s patch.

And aphids reproduce quickly so if you don’t control them, you will have several generations of aphids living in your garden.  The University of Illinois  has  good information on cucumber beetles and a great data bank on a lot of bugs – what they are, what they do and how to handle them.


I’m only including one actual recipe for cukes because I love them fresh.  So here are a couple of my favorite “fresh” serving suggestions for cukes:

  1. Sliced with mayo on homemade bread is my favorite.
  2. Sliced, mixed with sliced onions and covered with a dressing made of half mayo and half plain yogurt with a dab of sugar and a bit of cider vinegar comes in a close second.
  3. Cukes as a principal ingredient in my favorite cold soup – gazpacho – well it’s a close second, too.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

¾ C kosher salt
1 Qt Cider Vinegar
2 Qts Water
Fresh Garlic cloves
Fresh Dill seed heads
Onion slices optional


  1. Thoroughly dissolve the salt in the water.
  2. Add the Vinegar
  3. Put layer of dill seed heads and garlic clovers in the bottom of a gallon glass jar.
  4. Place freshly picked cukes on top of dill.
  5. Add another layer of dill seed heads, garlic and more cukes until the jar is ¾ full.
  6. Fill the jar to the top with the vinegar mixture.
  7. Add peppercorns.
  8. Add onions.
  9. Close the jar and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days.

These will stay crunchy and keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks!  And they are one of my very favorite ways to enjoy my cucumber harvest.

Next week, beans…green and otherwise!

Grow So Easy Organic: How To Grow Great Green Cucumbers

One of my favorite, childhood memories is eating cool crisp cucumber slices on homemade bread slathered with mayonnaise.  My mom could raise just about anything but she really got a ton of cucumbers out of the dozen or so plants she put in the ground every spring.

Cucumber Flowers

Cucumber plants early in the growing season

When Mom was gardening (way back in the 50’s and 60’s), there wasn’t a slew of choices when it came to what you put in the ground.  Cucumbers were cucumbers.  Today, there are a whole lot of varieties that you might want to try.

Like tomatoes, cucumbers come in two varieties – hybrid and heirloom.  There are three general categories or types of cucumbers, too, slicing, pickling and  burpless.

I’m an equal opportunity cucumber person.  I grow and eat them all.  But if you’ve got a yen for a certain type of cuke or a bit less space than you’d like, it helps to know just how big the plants will get and what type of cucumber you will harvesting.

Let’s start with the ones that most people buy in the grocery store, the long green slicing cukes.  There are a couple of varieties that have gained popularity in the last few years.

Slicing Cucumbers
Burpless Cucumbers – burpless cukes are, according to researchers in the Department of Horticultural Research at North Carolina State University, actually Oriental Trellis cucumbers.  And they are a little less bitter and a little less prone to cause burping.  Whatever you call them, these sweeter, long hybrids grow well on trellises and are a nice addition to any garden.  But remember, this is a hybrid so seed-saving may not work.

Marketmore 76 & Marketmore 80 – this cuke likes to have a trellis to climb, too.  I use an old box spring for my cukes.  Like the burpless cucumber, Marketmore cukes are dark green and straight (unless they grow through a bit of the bedspring) and quite tasty.  And, they’re disease resistant, too.

Straight 8 –  another dark green, cuke that grows long and straight (hence its name) is a wonderful slicing cucumber.  It’s crisp flesh and mild flavor make it a favorite for cucumber salads and sandwiches.  Straight 8 is an heirloom so you can save its seeds.  Once most of your harvest is in, leave a cucumber on the vine and let it turn yellow.  Pick it, scoop out the seeds, clean them off then dry them, thoroughly.  Refrigerate and use next year.

Cukes for Limited Spaces
If you don’t have a lot of space to garden in or you’re working with container gardening, you can try a couple of the bush cucumbers.  They’ll still give you long, green slicing cukes but they’ll take up much less real estate doing it.

Bush Crop – these plants are ideal for small gardens or containers.  The Bush cucumber produces the same size cukes as it’s bigger brothers – 8 to 12 inch long – but it does it on a dwarf, mound-shaped plant.  There are no runners, either.

Fanfare is a hybrid but oh what a cucumber it is.  It’s got it all, great taste; high yield, extended harvest and disease resistant, the Fanfare produces fruit on compact vines.  It’s a great choice for someone with small gardening space or the container gardener.  The cuke is slim, dark green and grows to 8 to 9 inches long.  And it has a wonderful, sweet cucumber taste.

Salad Bush is another hybrid but it matures in just 57 days.  This tomato plant only grows that are 18 inches long but it still produces beautiful straight, 6 –plus inch long, dark green cukes. The seed is a bit expensive but if you’re garden space is small or your raising cukes in pots, this may be the one you want to try.  Direct seed the Salad Bus and sit back and wait for your beautiful, compact bush to produce beautiful, flavorful cucumbers for your table.

Pickling Cukes
Pickling cucumbers are smaller, have more spines and hold up to brining better than slicing pickles.  But I think of the pickling cuke as a “two fer.”  You can pickle them; you can also slice them and eat them right off the vine!  Here are a couple that you might want to consider but don’t limit yourself to just these varieties.

The Bush Pickle is fast to harvest – producing fruit in just 48 days.  It’s another compact plant so it’s good for container growing – no need for trellises or stakes! The Bush Pickle may be small but it produces a good-sized crop while taking up just 3 to 4 feet of space. The fruit is about 4 inches long, light to mid-green, with a crisp, tender flavor – perfect for pickles!

Carolina (Hybrid  matures just one day after the Bush Pickle, taking 49 days to produce its straight, blocky fruit.  The Carolina has medium-sized vines so you may want to trellis the plants.  Vigorous, with great yields, the Carolina produces medium green fruit that are generally about 3 inches long and a bit blocky.  The Carolina comes with spines, too and makes a great dill pickle.

Tips on Planting
Cucumbers are usually started from seed.  Like their relatives, squash and melons, cucumbers like warm soil so only plant them after all danger of frost is past.  In fact, I don’t plant my cukes until almost the end of May.  They have to have warm soil and planting them early just means the seed may not germinate.  Or if they do, growth will be slow and the plants will be small.

So, wait for the warm soil and warm air before putting cuke seeds in the ground.  The same is true for transplants.  But transplanting cucumbers is a bit tricky.

“Cucumbers resent transplanting.”  I laughed out loud when I read that sentence in Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden: Creative Gardening for the Adventurous Cook.

Then I transplanted some by pulling them out of their little plastic pots and shoving them in the ground.  Needless to say the seeds I planted in the ground on the same day grew a whole lot faster than the transplants.

Apparently, cukes have lots of little tendrils  – small branches off the central root that uptake water and nutrients and feed the plants.  Harsh transplanting damages the branches and the plant may not recover, at all.

Mine didn’t.

But since I like to have a jump on the growing season, I have worked out a way to do the least damage to the baby cuke plants while giving them about a 6 week jump on being put out in the ground.

I start seeds indoors in mid-March (Zone 5 ½) and once they get their true second set of leaves I simply place the 2 inch peat pot into a 4 inch peat pot and cover with soil.  No transplant blues, no disruption and by mid-May, when these babies hit the dirt, they are tall, healthy and frequently covered with blooms

NOTE:  when transplanting into the garden, do NOT remove from the peat pot.  Just dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the 4 inch peat pot, place the whole pot in the ground and cover with soil.

Make sure you cover the top of the peat pot with soil or, just tear the first inch or so of the top of the pot.  If you don’t, the wind will blow on the top of the peat pot and wick moisture right off the plant.

If you’re using seeds, you can put a single seed in the soil about every 12 inches and cover them with ½” to 1” of soil.  Or you can create a small “hill” of soil and put 3 or 4 seeds in each hill and cover with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil and water them, gently.  NOTE:  you MUST water these seeds daily.  If they dry out in the act of sprouting, they die.

If using the hill method. Leave 24” to 30” between each hill to give the plants a chance to grow without being crowded.  If you’re using transplants, plant them in warm soil about 12 inches apart.

I usually put transplants on one side of the trellis I use for cukes (actually an antique bed spring I found by the side of the road) and put seeds in on the other side.  This ensures that I have a longer picking season and, if I lose a plant or two to cucumber beetles, I have others to replace it.

By the way, unless you live in Maine or Canada, you can do a second planting for fall harvest by planting seeds in mid- to late summer.

Make sure you water cucumbers frequently.  They have shallow roots and have to have moisture, especially when they are setting and maturing fruit.  Try to use soaker hoses for cukes, too.

Cucumbers also like mulch – something that keeps the soil warm in early spring. And floating row covers can help keep your baby cucumbers warm, too.    Once the cucumber transplants have settled into their new home, you can side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants begin to vine.

Be careful not to handle cucumber plants when they are wet as you can transmit diseases from plant to plant that way.  I only harvest in the afternoon, after the sun has dried off the leaves, top and bottom.

Next week, how to find and destroy the bugs that bug cukes and my favorite refrigerator pickle recipe