Know how many beans make five.

You can do a wealth of good to our climate, the soils and all those little pollinators around by simply eating beans. And if you even opt to top this: grow the beans yourself. This is easy going: in your garden, in your raised bed or even on your balcony. Beans have been grown by humans for thousends of years and are one of the oldest crops we have. And soon comes the perfect time to sow them.

Pod of climbing Borlotto next to hops

Why is eating beans good for the climate? Beans are very rich in protein. They are high in nutritional value for whoever eats them. If we eat them ourselves, all the nutrition and energy value can be used by our own body. If we feed the beans to cattle, poultry or pigs, all the nutritional and energy value will be used by those animals. From the beans they eat they will built bones and skin, hooves and teeth, hair, feathers and keep up their body temperature, some of what they eat will go as poo & pee, and only what ist left they will turn into steaks or sausages respectively.

Climbing beans flowering visited by common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Thus on the way of producing steaks or sausages the animals use up some of the nutritional value for themselves. So, the steaks and sausages will come with a lower energy level than the beans had in the first place. Add to this: while growing steaks and sausages the pigs and cattle produce greenhouse gases like CO2.Thus, eating the beans ourselves means we can make use of the whole of the energy contained in the beans and we‘ll save some of the greenhouse gases otherwise produced by the life stock.

What about the soil? Beans are special in that they are team players. They do not just grow on their own. They team up with special bacteria. The roots of the beans grow tiny bumps for the bacteria to live in. Thus sheltered the bacteria thankfully take up Nitrogen from the surrrounding air, turn it into fertilizer, and share it with the bean plant. This is the reason why you do not need to give your beans the sort and amount of fertilizer other plants desperately need: the beans make their own, well: they have it made by their little friends. Since producing artificial fertilizers uses up a lot of energy and thus produces a great amount of green house gases, growing crops that do not need such fertilizers comes in handy when trying to keep one’s CO2 footstep small.

Climbing beans: Blauhilde

But the beans do not stop at giving their bacteria a home to start fix nitrogen from thin air, so to speak. They also feed all sorts of pollinators: butterflies and bees and bumblebees, to name but a few. Beans‘ flowers are white or colourful red, pink or violet and come with pollen and nectar.

Bumblebee on flowers of climbing beans

Unless you are dealing with Broad Beans, wait with sowing until the soil has warmed up a bit after winter. In not particularly mild regions this would be mid May. The period of 12-15 May in some years brings a last frosty spell of weather in the Northern Hemisphere: called the Ice Saints („Eisheilige“). Here a good rule of thumb is to sow your beans after the last of the Ice Saints has passed, which would be Cold Sophia („Kalte Sophie“) on 15 May. In cold soil the beans will just not germinate but sit and wait. Being patient and sowing a little later will be thanked by quicker growth of the plants. So there is no need to put the seeds out too early. Once the plants start to bring out their flowers they need enough moisture in the soil. In dry periods they will need to be watered regularly but do not soak them.
Often beans are sown every 10 or so days to ensure a longer harvest. Read the instructions on the sachet of the variety you have chosen and then have a gow. With a couple of seasons of practice you will know which variety wants which sort of treatment in your location.

Bean poles
Bush Beans: Purple Teepee
Climbing Borlotto Beans: pods

One special method of cultivating beans is the „Three Sisters“ method traditionally used in regions of South America. Here beans, maize and squash are grown together. The maize will give the support to the beans and the pumpkin leaves will cover the soil to keep the moisture in.

Climbing beans with maize (corn) as support

My experience is, that this is a pretty good way to cultivate the three, if you opt for dry beans, maize for starch, i.e. flour, and pumpkins for pumpkins. This means you plant all three, and let them grow undisturbed throughout summer, until the beans and the corn cobs are fully ripe and dry. Then you harvest them all in virtually one go. You then have the beans and maize for storage and winter food. If you wish to pick green beans for vegetables and sweet corn to nibble, it will be hard to harvest them, since the „Three Sisters“ will grow to something resembling a small forest.

Broad Beans: Crimson flowering
Broad Beans: flowering

Broad beans
These are the only ones sown really early: the seeds can be sown outdoors from February onwards. They do not mind cold weather, even frost, and by the time the warm days start bringing in blackflies the stems will have grown a thicker skin and won‘t be so easily infected by those aphids. Broad Beans produce large pods and the seeds are big too. They can be used for stews („Eintöpfe“), for stir fry dishes and salads, and can be very aromatic.

Broad Beans: young plants
Broad Beans: pods
Broad Beans: harvest of fresh seeds

Green bean: 
Green beans differ in that one group is climbing and needs poles and the other growing as little bushes with no need of support. In each group there is a wealth of varieties. Flowers can be white or bright red, pods can be green, blue to purple or green with red stripes, and seeds will be anything from white, pink, dark red to brown and speckled, either huge or small.

Dry beans: Borlotto on top, varieties of the Scarlett runner bean bottom left & right.

Often the blue or purple pods will turn green during cooking. And cook they must, uncooked beans are poisonous. After cooking green beans make a lovely vegetable dish and can be made into very nice summer salads.
Some of the beans grow fibrous pods, i.e. they are not so much fun to eat as vegetables dish because of the long and rather sturdy fibers. Those varieties are better left to produce dry beans. In the northern parts of Germany these fibrous pods traditionally are made into a regional speciality called „Schnippelbohnen“ – in some respect this dish is a bit like Marmite: either love it or hate it.
Dry beans make lovely stews („Eintöpfe“) and of course the white varieties are needed for Baked Beans. And they can be made into phantastic salads, too.

The bean‘s cousins: peas and lentils
Peas, Mangetouts and lentils are also members of the larger bean family, so to speak. They are all of the Fabaceae family and come with their Nitrogen fixing bacteria. Their seeds are rich in protein and they can be used for a great number of tasty meals.

Mang-tout peas purple pod and flowers

Contrary to beans peas like it cool. They won‘t do well in hot, dry and tropical conditions. They come in climbing or vining varieties and in low-growing, their pods are mostly green, but there are purple ones, too. The seeds are either green or yellow. Some are mange-tout, meaning they can be eaten in whole while the seeds inside the pods are still small. Others are „sweet peas“ where the seeds only are eaten. They can be eaten fresh as vegetables and, another difference to beans, they can be eaten uncooked. The fresh peas cooked are lovely vegetable and go perfectly with Shepherd’s Pie. Alternatively they can be harvested for dry peas – which was the original use since medieval times – and then make lovely soups and stews.

Mange-tout peas flowering

One more cousin of the bean is the lentil. These are delicate plants with tiny but very beautiful flowers. They need some support otherwise they will lie on the floor and felter when getting wet. Some people grow them together with oats, so the oat stems give the support to the lentils. Lentils are known to improve soil quality which very likely might be due to them having their own nitrogen-fixing bacteria, as have all members of the Fabaceae.

Very young lentil plants

The seeds of lentils come in a great variety of colours from brown, multicoloured or marbled to red and bright yellow. They make lovely soups, salads, curry dishes and stews. They are very common in oriental regions as well as in India and Africa. But they are also well known in the Mediterranean and in European regions north of the Alps. Probably THE traditional dish in Swabia is „Linsen mit Spätzle“, a lentil soup with – originally – handmade spätzle, seasoned with vinegar. Spätzle are made from a dough (eggs, water, flower and salt) and traditionally are scraped with a knife from a special wooden board straight into slightly boiling water. A couple of years ago in the region of the Swabian Alb Mountains the cultivation of „Alb Leisa“ ( has been taken up again, a cultivar that has typically been used for this traditional dish in Swabia.

Lentils: young pods

Supplier for organic vegetable seeds in Germany are:

Bingenheimer Saatgut AG, Kronstraße 24, 61209 Echzell,

Dreschflegel Bio-Saatgut, In der Aue 31, 37213 Witzenhausen,

Information and seeds of traditional and endangered cultivars provides 
VEN Verein zur Erhaltung der Nutzpflanzenvielfalt e. V.:

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) another member of the Fabaceae tribe – good for the soil (with nitrogen fixing bacteria), loved by bees and bumblebees and simply beautiful in the garden

An almost endless summer

This summer was a challenge for two reasons. Firstly: it started in mid April with temperatures rising to 30 degrees and lastet well into October. And even though November has seen the odd morning with white frost it is still too mild for the season. Secondly: there was hardly any rain.

Since we moved here in 2016 we have planted more than 30 trees and well over 40 shrubs and bushes. Most of them had been in the soil for less than or not much over one year, so the ongoing lack of rain was putting them at considerable risk. Starting from April until well into October watering the bushes and young trees was a main concern.

During spring and early summer there was a wealth of poppies and cornflowers and bees and bumblebees were feasting. I desperately tried to keep the crimson clover alive and it started flowering in early autumn. We had a large plot of buckwheat which the bees enjoyed and once the seeds appeared the plot got invaded by sparrows.

We had a patch with rye which mostly succumbed to the drought. But the crown-of-the-field was going strong. The patches with flax were doing well. Some of the rhododendrons kept struggling and some even did not manage to open their flowers due to lack of water.

After last year’s failure to bear fruit due to a spell of rather late frost, this year the fruit trees went bonkers with blooming and making apples and pears. Unfortunately the latter became gradually more difficult due to the lack of rain. Most of our young apples got infestated by insect larvae. Some just stopped growing and ended up as miniature apples eventhough they were meant to grow into propper edible fruit. But we got a fair share of pears and a few apples.

Our sunflowers were thriving. At first they were full with bumble bees and once they started building seeds they got raided by the birds. They all came to feed: blue tits and great tits, goldfinches and greenfinches, sparrows and willow tits. The goldfinches came as a family with three youngsters. Later in summer they all were joined by chaffinches and the little wren came back – no idea where it had spent summer, but it had been there in early spring already. In November a cheeky robin appeared feasting on the left over elder berries.

The climbing beans waited out summer and started flowering and producing beans once the days got shorter and the worst heat had gone around September. We did have a bumper crop of beet root and black currants and a fair share of sweet corn. And pumpkins. This year it was Hokkaidos, Sweet Dumpling and White Acorn.

In late May Lotta came to complete the team. Back then she was around half a year of age and we picked her up at an animal shelter. As far as we know she had not been living with people so far, and a lot of pretty ordinary things were completely unknown to her. On a first encounter she decides to sit down and think about it.

She chewed up a couple of things but luckily she learned pretty quickly to keep her teeth off cables and she did not ruin any of our shoes. She has grown into a friendly funny little mate and we love her to bits. There is still a lot she needs to learn but she is young enough so there is still time. We have started attending dog school in summer and she is making good progress.

With having the dog we now get out and about much more. This is lovely because we do live in a beautiful spot and in autumn the cranes come to rest and you can see them feed in the fields – which is not to every farmers liking. Nevertheless they are impressive birds.

Our house garden was getting along fairly well in the dry weather, apart from the hydrangeas. They are thirsty plants and wish for a fair share of rain. I kept watering them but they did not manage to grow to their usual size. The roses, though, and the grasses could take advantage of the dry weather, mainly because we did have no strong winds or gusts. So the grasses still stand in their beauty as they did not get torn to pieces by gales.

We almost lost one of our medlar trees to root voles. The roots had gone alltogether. I put the young tree in a pot with good compost soil and kept it in a sheltered place on the patio. It dropped all its buds, but kept its leaves that were far too tiny. At some point in summer it started growing new leaves of normal size. Now its leaves are golden and it prepares for winter. Next spring we will plant it out again. From our second medlar tree we got a nice first harvest which made for three jars of medlar jelly. We had our first three walnuts but their size does not seem right.

By the time I write this it has gone dark outside. Not all of the resting cranes have left by now. Autumn has coloured the foliage of the trees bright yellow and golden. They days have gone short and rain is falling every now and then. We could do with a couple of weeks of ongoing rain to moisten the dried out soils.

On the Brink of Summer

Lady od Shalott

It is only late May and it is still some time to go until we’ll have summer proper. But the light and the atmosphere feel like summer already. The huge oak trees have put on their full green coats. The tulips and daffodils are long gone. Now is the time for the poppies, the wild ones and the garden varieties. The first roses have started to bloom just recently. A dark blue larkspur shines next to the huge white oriental poppy.

Oriental poppy with visitor (white tailed bumblebee)

Bumblebee feeders

We have a large population of dead nettles alongside the old stables and in the odd far corner. Presumably, they have been dwelling here for a very long time. They are our bumblebee feeders. They start flowering early in the year and will feed the white tailed bumblebees (who are the earlybirds amongst the bumblebees at the very start of the season) while temperatures are still rather low. The abundant white flowers keep feeding them and their cousins including honey bees and solitary bees for months. All the bees and bumblebees here have done a fabulous job: One of our apple trees is determined to deliver fresh apples in its first year with us. The others have tried but were too early and their flowers got caught in a late spell of severe frost. But this one tree waited out the frost period before opening its buds. There is still a long way to go before we can pick our first apples. Fingers crossed.

Gooseberry youngsters – they are supposed to turn red at some point

We have put up the netting over the berry bushes these days. There are red and black and white currants and red and green gooseberries. There was good reason to do so, because our meadow welcomes a great variety of diners as regulars. We like our little helpers that come day after day and browse our meadow for grubs and wireworms and whatever they can find to fend for themselves or feed their chicks. Our guests are rooks and starlings, magpies and fieldfares. There are wagtails and black redstarts on the ground and martins and swallows in the air, there are sparrows and tits and a pair of goldfinches was checking things out the other day. However, we’d rather they stick to browsing the meadow than picking the berries off the bushes.

A very young ladybird on garden sage

Some of our little helpers are even smaller. These are ladybirds and hoverflies and all sorts of butterflies. So far I’ve seen peacock butterfly, small tortoiseshell, brimstone butterfly, a small emperor moth and many others.

Slightly longer ago we put up little fences around our fruit trees. At the foot of the tree we keep a circular patch free of weeds and grass. It is here where we decided to sow crimson clover. The sandy soil is poor in nutrients and the clover’s rhizobia will improve soil quality over time by fixing nitrogen straight out of the air. The clover is not hardy and come winter will wither and leave its roots in the soil and thus share all the fixed nitrogen with the roots of the trees. We needed the fences because apart from the feathered diners we als have hares coming in at dusk feeding on the green stuff on our meadow. They even had a go at the broom bushes which I cannot appreciate. The books say broom is poisonous to hares and other wildlife. But those hares might not have read the books yet. We also put nasturtiums in with the clover. They are said to attract black lice and also they have nice flowers. The hares are welcome to munch the dandelions and daisies and sheperd’s purses in our meadow, but we wanted to make sure they leave the clover and nasturtiums and lupines alone.



The pumpkins are going strong on top of the compost heap. I put them out much earlier than last year so I’m hopeful we’ll have a nice harvest. I had an experimental go at what is called The Three Sisters, that are maize plus climbing beans plus pumpkins. As we have strong winds pretty often and I wanted to grow climbing beans I felt it was a nice solution to have the maize as posts for the beans (with the pumpkins growing elsewhere). However, the beans are outgrowing the maize so I had to put up bamboo poles nonetheless. I’ve had to water this bed on a daily basis and it still looks like a bit of an adventure. But the broad beans nextdoor are doing well, and I had some old seeds of purple Mangetouts which are growing surprisingly strong.

We had a furious storm on Monday night. Tuesday morning the rain gauge revealed that just under 16 litres of water had fallen on to each square metre of ground. The pinks looked somewhat bedraggled. Some of the climbing beans succumbed to the strong winds, still not having attached themselves in time to either the maize plants or the bamboo poles. There were gaping holes in the soil where the water had hollowed the burrows of root voles and moles.


But most of the garden is fine despite the very strong winds and violent gusts dashing the hail against the window panes. We live on sandy soils and the large amount of water was welcome after what had been a rather hot and slightly windy weekend. We only just missed out on 30°C and it started getting humid.

As I write this dusk is closing in. It is after 10pm – the days are long, the sun rises early. The rooks that sleep in the oak trees wake up around 5.30am and straight away start telling each other the dreams they had last night. Soon the foxgloves will open their flowers, and the large bush of oxeye chamomille, too. And there will be more roses.

Patio rose Yorkshire Princess