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Growing beans squash and corn in your garden

Updated on October 15, 2012

Food you can grow, eat and store for later

Don't think 'I only have my backyard - I can't garden'. It does not take much space to make a great start. As you grow more experienced, you can find other ways to use your space to be the best it can be.

A family garden can provide lots of food, entertainment and learning opportunities. It is hard work but only as much as you plan for - and work that will return much in memories, self-confidence and a sense of preparedness for the future. There is something about holding a bowl full of homegrown tomatoes or a bucket full of fresh picked sweet corn ears that is indescribably satisfying and can create an ear to ear grin. Growing a garden can make healthier eating habits seem easy - and it can become a joy to find new ways to put the produce together in a tasty and useful way. A lot of produce, when treated properly, can be frozen or canned for use in months and the entire year to come.

Gardening for your own family

Pick the types of things your family will eat. Tomatoes and peppers are the most commonly grown, but sweet corn and green beans and zucchini are not far away. However, don't leave an item out simply because you are the 'only one' who will eat it. Make that your special treat - there is most likely room to include it and you will get a lot more joy from having it there!

First you will need to till the ground or at least dig the surface down several inches. You might read up on how to make raised beds out of wood, and then pour deeper earth into the boxes than you could dig down otherwise. Plants need lots of room to put their roots out - to keep stable when high winds blow and to reach deeper water when it has not rained for a while. Strong deep roots make strong plants!

Some items will need to be started inside in a sunny window. As soon as they begin to pop the surface find them a permanent home outside. Their roots will go deeper outside and form a stronger plant. Shown: Kenearly yellow eye dry soup beans starting to germinate

Gardening books you can use

This is a great book for those who have been gardening a while but want to know more about growing for hard times. It also includes great chapters on how to pick the 'right' squash breeds and how to breed dry corn for animal use. If you are looking to start a small farm - get this book and peruse it slowly!

What do you mean - there are different KINDS of beans?

There are some beans that are the garden 'green bean'' variety most people are used to. Then, there are some that can be used as a green bean or eaten out of the shell similar to lima beans (but a different flavor). Pinto beans are sometimes eaten 'fresh' in this shelled (shelly) stage.

And, there are also beans that are saved all year growing on the plant until the END of the season, and picked after they have dried out. These beans are used in soup - like black bean tortilla soup - or in chilis, like kidney beans and navy beans. Some species of bean can be used all three ways - we call those 'triple purpose'.

And then there is another breed altogether - of which we are probably most familiar with the black eyed pea. These are a family called 'cowpeas'. There are many more breeds of them, as well, and different flavors to be gotten from each one. The "beans", actually a breed of cowpea, shown in the picture were purchased from an old heritage farm in Tennessee near my city. They had been grown since the late 1800s in one family.

Saving seeds

The best guide for how to save seeds that will grow again from all sorts of garden produce.

Heirloom seeds

You can collect the seeds from your produce and grow them 'true' year after year.

Squash

Different types have entirely different flavors, especially when grown and used well. A great (but dangerous!) book that will have you buying types of squash seed you never heard of before in anticipation of the harvest...

Pumpkins and squash for the long haul

Did you think squash was bland the last time you had it? You probably didn't have a good squash, or one that had not sat long enough after it was picked to be truly 'done'.. Farmers usually pick them unripe and they go right to the supermarket there - and unsuspecting new squash tryers get them in that condition and are sadly disappointed. An unripe squash will be stringy, bland and watery. Growing them yourself will give you the best 'ripe and ready' squash you have ever tasted.

Big squash (and pumpkins) keep fairly well, but take a long time to get there. Even with starting indoors pumpkins and large squash take several months to begin to put on fruit in the field. They may, after this, take several more months for that squash to grow and become ready for picking. It is all worth it if you like squash in any way, shape or form. And, the zucchini will keep you busy in the meantime!

Did you know that zucchini and classic orange pumpkins are really the same species? That is cool, unless you want to save seeds for next year and they have crossed genes between themselves. Yes, that can happen! There are other species of pumpkins or squashes that are not the same as the zucchini, and can be planted close together. This pumpkin 'Jarrahdale' also known as Once Upon a Blue Moon, is a 'maxima' type squash that can be grown next to zucchini with no fear of seed crossing.

It was delicious roasted, too - and even good for pumpkin pie recipes!

Another wonderful thing about these sort of pumpkins and squash is that they will keep at room temperature (or slightly cooler) in a dark place for many months after harvest, barring pests and bugs are kept away. In fact, they are even better after they have sat for at least a month before cutting open. The sugars get a chance to develop and mingle making a much sweeter lovely squash taste.

Natural pest control

I plant zinnias, cosmos, marigolds and radishes in my garden as natural pest control. I especially like to put the zinnias and radishes near the squash and brassicas (cabbage, broccoli etc). It seems to make the area 'unsavory' for some but not all of the bugs that like to chew and/or lay eggs on them. Watering them down also helps to keep some of the bugs from multiplying as quickly (although watch out it may wash off some of your pollen and reduce fruiting if watered early in the morning). Zinnias and marigolds are also self-seeding and will come back year after year. They will attract lots of birds, bees and good butterflies to try to keep the bad bugs out. Planting seeding sunflowers will also help bring in some birds that will gladly eat some of the bugs, but not until the sunflowers begin to seed later in the season.

Three sisters - a Native American gardening tradition

Native Americans called beans, squash and corn the 'Three Sisters' and grew them together in very specific ways. The beans would climb the corn, the pumpkins or squash would crawl along the ground between the corn and the corn and beans would use different parts of the same soil to get the maximum from the provided garden space.

Today, we can do more with this method, and other methods to include lots of different varieties of squash, corn and beans (and cowpeas, too!) in our gardens. You will improve your health, grocery bill costs and also the ground you work in! Just read on and then get digging.

Field Corn vs. Sweet Corn

If you want to grow corn only for your family to eat, sweet corn is the way to go. It will tassell on the top of the stalk, then silk on the individual ears, and when the silks begin to brown your corn will be ready to eat! Fresh sweet corn should be used quickly, or frozen, to keep that best sweet taste. There is another kind of corn that has a different use. It is left in the field to dry, to be used for feed for animals or for grinding into cornmeal. Grinding into cornmeal is a laborious task - although there are companies that will grind your corn for you, and lots of machines on the market that will do it as well. (Finding a good one is a whole other lens worth!). Growing field corn for ducks or chickens, goats, pigs or cows can be a wonderful way to use your land resources and keep a good stock of food for the long winter. Field corn is low maintenance and reseeds easily the next year from saved kernels. The corn can also be highly ornamental when hung to dry and used in floral arrangements and holiday decorations. Indian corn is a type of field corn!

Where else can I find seeds?

There are a lot of 'heirloom' seed companies out there that are selling varieties 'tried and true' and that will come back from saved seeds the same year after year (barring crossing like discussed in the zucchini incident). Take a look at some of these companies!

Varieties we have grown to love:

beans : Black shackamaxon, King of the Early triple purpose, Mayflower

corn: Painted mountain field corn

squash: Connecticut field pumpkin, Jarrahdale pumpkin, White scallop summer squash, Dark Green Zucchini,

Tomatoes: Black Prince, Black Krim, Amish Yellow Pear

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