Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: beans

The Southern Agrarian Last Ditch List

Okra pods and flower

Most of us garden primarily for pleasure. It’s what we do because – well, because we are Southern Agrarians. Yes, what we grow ends up on our table or given to friends and neighbors; however, what our garden produces generally does not determine whether we eat or starve.

But what if it did? What if our very fragile system were to collapse leaving the grocery store shelves empty and the streets too dangerous to venture out in? Part of Southern Agrarianism is being independent of that complex system, so this is very much a topic for discussion.

My garden tends to be planned more around what we enjoy eating and growing rather than for maximizing food production when lives depend on it. The Last Ditch List is what I would be planting if lives did depend on it.


The Southern Agrarian Last Ditch List

Sweet Potatoes (Centennial)
Incredibly easy to grow; I’m still growing them from the very first slips that I got about eight years ago. I keep moving them around to avoid soil-borne pests and diseases, and they will take transplanting without any problem.
ꔷ The taste is delicious
ꔷ High in nutritional value
ꔷ Will last for months if stored in a cool, dark place
ꔷ The leaves are edible

Okra (Clemson Spineless)
ꔷ Continuous production through hot weather
ꔷ Very resistant to disease and pest
ꔷ Each plant will produce one or two edible pods about every two to three days
ꔷ Easy to save seeds
ꔷ Delicious when fried

Eggplant (Florida Highbush)
ꔷ Highly productive through hot weather
ꔷ Easily prepared and makes a good, filling meal
ꔷ Minimal problems from disease or pests
ꔷ Relatively easy to save seeds if you know the technique
ꔷ Should plant a fairly large number to maintain genetic diversity in seeds

Seminole Pumpkin
ꔷ Fruit can last up to a full year when properly stored
ꔷ Almost impervious to disease or pests
ꔷ Huge vines that drop roots along the way making the plant very resilient and able to thrive on relatively poor ground
ꔷ Lots of organic matter at the end of the season to keep the ground rich
ꔷ Needs good care and lots of water to get started; once established, requires almost no care

Collards (Georgia Southern)
ꔷ Winter crop
ꔷ Other greens will not reliably produce seeds in this area


Second Tier crops

These are ones that I am still working with but don’t have enough experience yet to put them on the Last Ditch List. Nothing other than lack of a well established track record keeps me from putting them on the Last Ditch List.

Potatoes (Yukon Gold)
This is only my second time planting these, but all indications are that they should make the Last Ditch List in the next year or two.

Squash (Tromboncino)
The variety makes all the difference. I have given up on the more typical yellow squash; bugs have destroyed them every single time I have tried. Tromboncino, on the other hand, is highly resistant to pests due to its tough outer skin. The fruit is pale green, long and thin, and grows on a vine. I have them growing along a fence.


Not On The List

These are crops that I grow now, but they don’t meet the criteria for inclusion on the Last Ditch List.

Beans (Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake) – Too many poor results. Sometimes I get a good crop, and other times it’s a poor crop. Inconsistent. May be moved to the Last Ditch List once I learn more, but not yet. Good potential once I learn more.

Corn (Reid’s Yellow Dent) – Low yield for the amount of space it takes up. Heavy drain on the garden soil. If any crops would be available for purchase following a collapse, it would be grains. They are well suited for large scale, highly mechanized farming, and they transport and store well. I keep some seeds on hand for use in corn meal or for chicken feed – just in case.

Tomatoes (Homestead 24) – Too easily damaged by bugs or disease or blossom end rot. They stop producing when the weather gets hot.

Peppers (Carolina Wonder) – Susceptibility to Blossom End Rot keeps peppers off the list. If I can get the calcium deficiency solved, this might be moved to the Last Ditch List.


Final Notes

Vegetable gardening is very location-dependent. This Last Ditch List is what works for me here in north central Florida. There is a really good chance that your Last Ditch List would be different. Maybe very different. Perhaps the most value from this list is in the criteria – why I chose what I did for this list.

What is on your Last Ditch List – and why?

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).