May 28, 2017

Guess Who Wins the Annual War of the Beans?

The lush growth of Rattlesnake pole beans never fails to test the trellis.

Janine Pineo Photo | The lush growth of Rattlesnake pole beans never fails to test the trellis.

• By Janine Pineo •

I don’t set out on quests intentionally.

It’s simply that the garden makes a request from time to time and I have to find it. Easy, right?

While that looks good on paper, I have discovered these quests aren’t easy because “finding” is involved.

Take this year’s first big request quest: The garden needed organic fertilizer. The business where I always bought it was no longer in business.

I found a new supplier – more than 50 miles from home.

I later discovered another brand that also might do the trick. It’s sold about 12 miles from the Pineo homestead.

I live. I learn.

Then came the next request: poles.

The 2013 trellis structure is not of hardwood stakes, but bamboo.

Janine Pineo Photo | The 2013 trellis structure is not of hardwood stakes, but bamboo.

As in beanpoles. Also pea poles, flower poles and, this year, cucumber poles.

My old poles were disintegrating from the pointy end up – if they even had a pointy end left. Most were less than 5 feet long, which affected how the vines produced.

The business where I bought my 6-foot-long poles was the same now-defunct business where I bought my fertilizer.

One should heed cliches, especially the one about putting all your eggs in one basket.

I knew I probably could find poles at the more-than-50-miles-from-here place where I got my fertilizer, but I was determined to honor the “I live, I learn” discovery and avoid the “eggs in one basket” cliche.

Just last year, I tried to beef up my dwindling pole collection by buying a few new ones of a national brand that shall remain nameless but only because she is now a convicted felon and I wouldn’t want to add to her troubles. I was thrilled to find them because not only were they 6 feet long, they also were planed to a smooth finish, which cut the splinter potential down considerably.

They were, however, puny. Not even an inch in diameter. I remained hopeful until behemoth bean vines wrestled them to the ground. I will grant the puny poles this: The vines even tipped the metal poles I used to reinforce the wooden ones.

I thought about duct-taping two puny poles together, so I headed back to the nameless garden center this spring and found only 4-foot-long bamboo poles.

Not a hardwood stake in sight.

I tried another garden center and found 5-foot poles. If it was 6-foot stakes I wanted, I was told, then I needed to go to the far, far side of the building in the lumber section.

Off I marched, wondering what kind of goose chase this was.

It turned out to be one for metal stakes, the kind used to install wire fencing.

My ears began to ring as I thought about pounding in three dozen. I wondered about the effect on my garden’s ambience.

I left.

I tried the 12-miles-from-home store. No luck, but a suggestion: lumberyard.

I called one, asked for 6-foot garden stakes and was told they had 5-foot ones.

I began to wonder what looby decided 5-foot stakes were all that the gardening public needed. Don’t these people ask? Are trees growing only 5 feet tall now before they whack ’em down? Do we convict the only woman with enough intelligence to sell 6-foot garden stakes and then offer only 5-foot poles to distance ourselves from any chance of being compared to you-know-who?

As you can see, I was beginning to lose patience, if not a grip on reality. My simple errand had blossomed into a full-fledged Holy Grail mission to discover a source for 6-foot-long poles.

I decided to swing by another lumberyard on my way to work. There I was, spit and polished, asking for 6-foot garden stakes.

Nope, had 5-foot stakes.

Argh.

They had 8-foot tree stakes.

Hmmm, that might do, I said. Diameter?

About two inches, they said.

Twice the size of the old ones, I said. If only they weren’t so long, those would work nicely for my beans.

Well, they’d like to see what kind of beans I was growing if I thought it necessary to have tree stakes to hold them up.

Oh, just regular beans, I said. I began to feel like a circus sideshow as more men sidled past the counter to take a look at the you-insert-the-adjectives woman at the cash register. Amazingly ingenious or wildly wacky, I couldn’t tell what they were thinking. (Actually, I could. I wonder if I should have told them I can be wildly wacky.)

Nah, I decided, 8-foot stakes were too big for my car. I pointed out my tiny-to-them-spacious-to-me vehicle.

Headed to work, I said. Didn’t want poles poking out of the trunk.

They could cut them to size, they said.

Hmmm.

Sold, I said.

When I told them how many, their response hinted that they doubted my ability to comprehend how much space three dozen stakes would take. There were vague mumblings about what kind of garden needed that many poles before they said they didn’t know how I was going to fit the stakes in that car. They even suggested they could leave my stakes at the gate so I could return with a more suitable vehicle after closing time and then load my purchase.

Oh, just watch me.

After driving to the loading area, I pulled on gloves, folded down the back seat and loaded up the shortened poles. For good measure, I also tossed in all the ends that had been cut off.

And guess what? There was still room for me in the car.

My glow of triumph lasted until I had to pound in all those stakes. I have determined that in previous years I was driving in toothpicks.

As I surveyed the garden for the umpteenth time from atop my cement block – I couldn’t get enough leverage to pound them in from ground level and had to cart around the cement block and a sledgehammer to every pole position – I had high hopes that this would be the year the beans would stay upright.

And victory would finally be mine.

Give it a month. Then we’ll know who wins.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in July 2004.

2013 update: The hardwood stakes have proven more effective at holding down the black plastic mulch. I have opted for 6-foot bamboo stakes. Not the puny kind, but 1-inch thick ones that seem to stand up well over the summer. They last in the beans for a couple of years before moving on to tomato or pea stakes. You live; you learn.