Bean harvest is in full swing. We picked about 1 1/2 bushel off one row this afternoon. Some of them will be lightly steamed and frozen, the rest will be snapped, and bottled. We will probably be completely over run by beans.
In the past beans have been a challenge. They are a challenge for a lot of people I know in our area. The reason is the Mexican Bean Beetle. They are voracious eaters of all things bean. They multiply very quickly, and if you don't use some pretty aggressive chemical interventions, you wont get much past the first picking. The strategy that has worked best for me in the past was garlic spray almost daily and multiple successions. Not fun, but it works. You pick the beans once or maybe twice if you are lucky and then pull the plants and burn them. With good planning and a lot of luck your next planting will be ready about the time the first ones croak.
Last year I didn't notice much bean beetle damage, but we didn't plant many beans and I thought it was probably a fluke. This year we wanted beans, and I knew how to ensure we had them. (Our friend George, who lives up the road from us, raises all his for his CSA in poly-tunnels to protect them. I didn't want to go that rout if i didn't have to.) So I planned to use the methods which had worked for me in the past. "Fortunately" for us, we haven't had a bean beetle problem this year. I've only found a couple, and they were pretty easily controlled by hand.
After talking with some of the big bean producers at the farmers market, I think I have found an answer. Calcium. Several old timers told me that if you put down lime in the rows before the beans blossom you wont have any problem with bean beetles. I hadn't done this, but I have been aggressively working to get my garden soil into chemical balance (it's a bit complicated so I'll save the how for another post). One of the first things I did was add a large quantity of calcium , as directed by my soil test results. I guess it reduced the plant stress enough that the beans weren't attractive to the bean beetles any more. Something I'm going to have to explore more.
To deal with the very large quantity of beans and other produce arriving in our kitchen to be processed we had to add a new tool. We can process 7 quarts of beans in 19 minutes with this pressure cooker. It's a bit intimidating (if you do something wrong it can explode), but we have been assured by the canning gurus in the area that this is the way to go.