The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: beans

Gardening in West Africa

This is a follow-up to a previous post in which I mentioned that some of the seeds that I have been collecting from my garden would be sent to Sierra Leone, West Africa with some of our missionary friends. These photos are some that they sent of their garden.

Although okra was originally brought to America from Africa, the variety of okra grown there today is typically a very primitive type. There is very little attention paid to developing improved varieties, so the best route was for them to bring seeds back from America and hope that they will serve as the foundation for a strain that will be well-suited for the West African environment.

In West Africa, the climate is tropical, but the dry season is influenced by the Sahara, to the north. The dry season is very dry and the rainy season is very rainy. In the words of Joseph, their local helper, “Sista, let de rain meet your seeds in de soil.” Very simple words from very simple people, but containing much wisdom.

Part of the garden. In the background is the classroom building where native men are trained in The Bible. The tree in the center is a Moringa tree - an incredibly useful tree that I hope to get growing here.

Okra from our garden now growing in West Africa. The variety is Clemson Spineless.

Blue Lake Bush beans getting started.

A Trellis For The Garden

Overall view showing how it fits into the raised bed garden. Blue Lake Pole Beans were planted along the trellis this afternoon.

This end view shows how the sides extend out past the edges of the garden. Also shown - in the foreground are bell peppers, the empty space beyond the trellis has newly-planted sweet potatoes, and beyond that is eggplant and squash.

A raised bed garden such as ours can present some added challenges when it comes to accommodating climbing plants. Once a trellis is filled, then it can really catch the wind, so having a structurally stable design is important. It also needs to be light enough to be able to move around easily. I had thought about having trellis capabilities built into the basic concrete structure but decided against it.

This trellis is 6′ wide at the top, while the inside dimension of the garden is 4′. This gives me the ability to simply reach straight up to pick the beans (or cucumbers or whatever I’m growing). Another benefit is that I could use an entire cattle panel (the standard size is 16′ long) without having to cut anything on it; if the sides had been straight, the top edge would have been another foot higher. I am 6’6″ tall, but there are still limits to how high I want to reach to pick vegetables.

Bending the heavy wire of a cattle panel is not easy. I bolted a fence stretcher to it so that I would have something to bend it around. It turned out to be easier than I thought it would to bend. Not easy – just easier. The cross braces are pressure-treated 2×2 with notches cut to hold the wire (I made two saw cuts and then used a wood chisel to remove the excess). They are secured with stainless steel wire wrapped and twisted. Before final assembly, I used cable ties to make sure it would work and the dimensions were right.

A fence stretcher was used to help bend the heavy wire

Planting in Stages

Looking from back to front in this photo: Tomatoes, the first batch of beans, the second batch (planted 2 weeks later), and dirt where the unsprouted next batch of beans will be coming up in another day or two. These are the Blue Lake variety – our all around favorite.

Bush beans tend to produce in one large flush of beans, followed by a few sparse beans later. By planting in stages, we get fresh beans while also having them ripen in a large enough quantity to make it worth cranking up the canning operation.

Pole beans tend to produce regularly throughout the life of the plant. Those are great when you have a good place to plant them. We have some planted so that they climb up the water tower that supplies water for the chickens (more on that project in another post).