Green beans from the garden are a big deal in our family. No body in our family will eat green beans from the store let alone from a tin can; yet if they are home canned from Grandma’s garden, we can’t get enough. Green beans are so coveted in our family that the grandkids who have moved away from home ask for jars of Grandma’s green beans on their Christmas lists. Those who are lucky enough to have a few jars in their pantry become very greedy and hide them away for special occasions that include immediate family only. It is expected that at every family get together, from Christmas to Birthdays and Easter to Thanksgiving, there will be green beans and Grandma will be bringing them. I cannot remember a time when there weren’t plenty of green beans and there is rarely any waste.
There is only one down fall of growing green beans: they are time intensive.
After you plant the beans, and they finally begin to sprout up, you have to till between the rows and make little mounds of dirt around each plant to give it stability. The stems are very brittle and will snap easily when weeding. If you don’t lose them during weeding, you will during picking. When the plants become heavy with beans, they will often lay down on the ground and when you try to stand them up again, the stem will snap. This is why we ‘hill the beans’.
After the hilling, and the weeding, you will finally begin to see beautiful white blossoms on the tender plants and you well up with excitement that you will soon have fresh green beans. In about a weeks time, the beans are ready to pick. Notice how I said ‘about’? You can never be sure with beans. They could be ready in five days, they may take 10 days, but whenever they become ready, they have to be picked. If you pick them too soon, they will be small and not fill your jars as much as they could have had you waited a couple of days. If you pick them too late, they will be too big and the outer skin will be tough and have to be discarded so all you have left is a big white bean from the inside. A few of them are nice in a pot of beans, but too many and you can’t really call them ‘green beans’ anymore.
When you are 100% certain that the beans are ready because you have been checking them morning and night for the past five days, you will have to cancel all your plans and pick the beans. Depending on how many rows of beans you pick, you will probably be picking for two or three hours. The first picking of the year is the easiest because the beans have not yet reached their full potential so it doesn’t take so long and you can snack on the wonderful, sweet, juicy, beans while you work. There is almost nothing better than a garden green bean that is eaten immediately after being picked. It is pride, satisfaction, and accomplishment bursting in your mouth and it is delicious. They second time you notice the beans are ready to be picked, you get excited because this will be the mother load. This will be the time you get to can them and enjoy Summer in the middle of Winter! This is the pay off for all that hard work. You cancel everything again, get ready to pick, and remember the pain. Yes, being bent over for three hours picking green beans is not good for any body’s knees, back, legs or neck and you will hurt for several days. Since you are dedicated, you begin to pick and snack, pick and snack, stretch, and pick. You get done, you hurt, but, depending on how many you planted, you have several buckets of green beans.
Now you get to preserve. It’s a good thing you canceled everything because now the really time consuming work begins. You have before you another two hours of snapping, (which can be shortened with the help of family and a good TV program), and three hours for the canning process if you are only doing one batch.
As you can see, the beans are time intensive, but once you’ve had Grandma’s green beans, your willing to put out the effort. That is until you see those little white blossoms again. As soon as you see them for the third time in one Summer, you begin to think, “Why did I plant so many green beans? Why did I plant them at all? If I have to cancel one more time!!!” But, you pick them, and snap them, and can them, and love them anyway. They’re like children; mostly wonderful, sometimes inconvenient, and always there needing your attention.
Unfortunately, Grandma has been unable to have as large a garden as usual these past few years. I watched her garden shrink to half the size it was when I was small, and then it became only a quarter of it original size, until it was just a few tomato plants and two short rows of beans. It became evident to me that Grandma could not supply the family with green beans forever, and this was sad. I could not tolerate the thought of my children not having green beans. That is the main reason we started having a garden every year; green beans.
It has been bittersweet to watch my garden grow larger, and larger as my Grandma’s garden has grown smaller and smaller. But I thank her for teaching me the joy of having a garden and I know she is proud of us for carrying on the tradition of fresh garden produce and especially the beans. Grandma has supported us and helped us by insisting on snapping the beans for us and has even canned them for me a couple times. I think she has done this for so many years that snapping and canning is actually a joy for her and not a burden.
This was the first year Grandma didn’t have a garden at all. Grandpa was diagnosed with colon cancer early this spring and was recovering from surgery right at the time of planting. Grandma stayed by his side and gave up her garden. It was a beautiful example of sacrificial love. Grandma stayed right by Grandpa, doing everything she could to serve him and make him comfortable. A week before he passed, he told her that she was a perfect wife. What more could any woman want to hear?
Losing Grandpa has been hard for Grandma. Right now, there is a lot of family around keeping her busy. Spending time visiting. Taking care of all the meals and funeral plans. But in a few days, all that will be gone. Life will be different without Grandpa and she will have to adjust. There is something beautiful about to happen, though, and she doesn’t even know it. About five days ago, I noticed the third set of white blossoms on my green beans. This means that the beans will be ready to pick again in about three days which falls exactly on the day after everyone is scheduled to leave. The beans should be ready and she will be able to have something familiar in her life during this transition. You never know when the beans are going to be ready, but they will always be ready when you need them.