Bean Teepee

Each year of gardening brings new thoughts and perspective on how to improve production and efficiency for the following year. After realizing that things aren’t planted in a good location, I start scouting a better position for the next season. If I start to notice that there are ample amounts of bugs causing damage to certain crops, I begin researching which companion plants to set out and which beneficial insects to attract to help eliminate the issue next time. Another thing I take notice of is how efficient my set up is. Have I planted too little, too much or just enough? Is it easy to get to and to harvest? My gardening mind is always growing!

After being inspired by my mother’s walk-through bean arbor (pictured right) that she designed in her garden, and by countless pictures on Pinterest, I decided a bean teepee would be the perfect addition to our backyard homestead. It’s cheap to assemble, easy to grow, fun to play in, pretty to look at AND it produces food to eat! Win! I loved the idea of Raygan being able to sit inside its shade and read a book, observe critters up close and pick beans to enjoy. Fun, yet functional!

If you’ve ever grown beans or seen them in a garden before, you know that there are two types of bean plants: bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans are usually short and wide when fully matured. The bush is typically stable enough to hold its own weight, not requiring any extra structure to support it. Pole beans grow long and narrow vines that need some sort of trellis to climb up on. They will naturally send out their “reachers” to cling to the nearest object it can find for support. I’ve always grown pole beans because I enjoy the variety of beans that they produce, they look pretty and plus that’s what my family has always grown before me. Stick to what you know, right?

However, I’ve chosen in the past couple of years not to plant beans in my garden. My reasoning is that they require a good amount of space for the ample amount of stalks needed to produce enough beans (at one time) to enjoy for a meal. This was our first year in our new house, so our garden is completely from scratch this season. We chose to build a few raised beds that are level with the sides of our back porch.. and while they’re beautiful and functional, it really limited the amount of vegetation that we could grow this year. (I’ve already taken it into account for next year though.. remember?) So beans were ruled out of the community garden space this year. Thankfully, my mother plants a generous amount of beans and enjoys sharing her bounty with us (thanks Mom!). Also, with beans being a crop that grows well in our area, our local farmer’s market has plenty to choose from as well.

So for this year, I was more concerned with the fun of a bean teepee rather than the production. We planted just enough vines to cover our structure and to produce a few extra beans to add to our gifted goodies from GiGi. Next season, I’m thinking of converting the structure to support something a little more aromatic and colorful and letting it be a bee buffet. Raygan will likely be too tall to sit inside of it by next spring and (fingers crossed) we’ll have a more established garden in the yard where our beloved beans can have their own piece of real estate once again. I’m envisioning jasmine or wisteria. *Swoon!

At the end of this past winter, our mimosa tree was due for a good trimming. As you may have read in my previous post Happy Hummingbirds, this favorite tree of ours, sits right off the corner of our back porch. It’s beautiful and it’s massive. A few of its branches had reached the roof of our house, but after a little snip snip, the problem was solved. Anyone who has trimmed (or tried to trim) a mimosa tree knows that a “little snip snip” is hardly an appropriate description. Mimosa trees are some of the sturdiest, most hardy trees of the South. They require power tools to remove their branches and they don’t give them up without a fight. I was in recovery from a surgical procedure at the time of year that it needed pruning, so my lovely mother came to my rescue once again. (Thanks again, Mom!) After the trimming, we were left with the perfect limbs to build our bean teepee with. We chose all of the straight branches from our harvest and cropped them to approximately 6 ft. or so.

We began the construction of our teepee by picking a location in the yard that would provide the sun and shade requirements that our beans needed. Since it had existing grass on it, we escavated the ground with a hoe to expose the soil underneath, about 2 inches down. We then started our teepee structure with 3 limbs, dug into the ground about 2-3 inches deep, secured at their tops with gardening twine, forming a tripod. Then we repeated these steps with 3 more branches, tying them into the existing limbs. We added 2 final limbs to fill in gaps, bringing our branch count to 8 total. This teepee is solid!

Once our structure was in place, we dumped a bag of organic gardening soil over the exposed ground, since it was a new planting location and lacked the minerals needed to produce our stalks. We carefully placed 2 beans at the base of each pole, one on each side. Later as the sprouts began appearing, we added a few more seeds here and there to fill in gaps. I decided to add 4 pavers and a soft, ground covering plant to encourage Raygan to spend more than a few seconds inside of it. She can be a bit… squeamish, when it comes to creepy crawlers. So I figured the covering would provide a cushioned barrier to protect her from the critters lurking below.

Over time, with adequate watering (did I mention this has been the hottest and driest season we’ve had in like, forever?!) and temporary netting (apparently our cat enjoys fresh soil to to toilet in), our little sprouts grew one by one. Every few days, I would gently guide the climbers up their designated poles. And after about 2 months of planting, we had baby beans growing! We’ve harvested a few handfuls here and there to supplement our market-bought and gifted beans. And begrudgingly, the Japanese beetles have eaten their fair share as well. I guess they need to eat too, huh? It has been marked in my notes for next year.

Overall, the bean teepee has been a fun project to watch from idea to maturity. As mentioned, there are a few things that I’d change, but it served its intended purpose for this year.. so I’d call it a success!

I hope you find this article inspiring and maybe even attempt a bean teepee of your own! Or maybe just use the information and idea to form your own out-of-the-ordinary structure for your plants that need a little extra support. Gardening is personal. Make it pretty. Make it functional. Get the family involved. Enjoy the process and hopefully even the fruits of your labor together… because that’s what it’s all about!

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