Sustainable bean poles

How do gardeners make meaningful the concept of “sustainability”?  Purchased soil mixes and organic blended fertilizers and a raised bed kit can make a wonderful instant garden, but manufactured growing space misses the big circle.  The land provides for us; we give back nourishment to the land.  For this circle to be sustainable, we have to think carefully about all of the inputs that go into growing food.  These inputs include the soil fertility sources, the tools and tillers and gas that we use to work the soil, and the seeds and pots and trellises, the plastic mulch, green house glass, and the water pump.  It’s quite a list when you think about it.  You can buy a lot of food for the cost of the “stuff of the garden”.

Part of the reason that I garden is that I believe that in my lifetime, there will come a time when it will become difficult for the majority of Americans to adequately feed themselves through the common practice of having a job so you can just go to the store and buy food.  When gardening becomes a survival strategy rather than a hobby, any purchased input is a luxury.

Which brings me to the bean poles.  I’ve seen some pretty nice garden architecture at the University of Oregon’s Urban Garden that was based on sections of heavy galvanized welded-mesh cattle fencing.  Pieces of the fencing were bent into arches for trellises for beans and cucumbers and other vining vegetables.  The fencing looks good, is simple to put up, structurally strong, and likely to last for years.  I want some.

But then this whole sustainable question rears its head.  Can I really justify that much imported steel and zinc, the cost,  and the embodied energy therein?  I’ve been using thinnings from my bamboo patch for years and they work just fine.  The bamboo structure is a bit more time-consuming to build, but it has its own charm as well.

It’s been another chilly spring this year, so I planted the beans and covered the rows with floating row cover to help them get a quick start in the cool weather.   It’s been getting warmer, the beans were well up, so time to be creative!

In the past I would just make a tall ‘X’ with the bamboo, much like I do with the tomatoes (which you can see off to the right in the photo).  But this year I want the “tunnel of beans”  even if I don’t use the cattle fence, so I tied on a few “roof” poles so the beans can move across.  I bet it will work!

Update 8/7/11:  The beans have grown and filled in to create the Tunnel of Beans!


  1. Another thought provoking piece. I like the flexible design that the bamboo offers. I don’t have bamboo in my yard, but I realize I could be making better use of the thin branches that fall from my magnolia tree.

  2. We have neighbors who have done just such a trellis for their beans. When harvest time comes, you can just walk through the tunnel and pick what you need. very cool. I don’t have bamboo, but I have an abundance of Japanese knotweed across the road that might do the trick (so long as it doesn’t manage, somehow, to take root….I am in a major death battle with it trying to prevent it from reclaiming my fields…I’ve never seen a growing thing with such a “will” to live.”

  3. Gary – what a lovely structure you have created with the bambo. Not only have you met your sustainability goals, but you have also created something that is going to give you ( and others) a lot of joy. I can only imagine how cool it will be to walk under your tunnel of beans. Please keep us up-to-date with pictures as the season progresses.

  4. Thanks to all for the nice comments.

    I’m so glad I don’t have knotweed! Do you think it makes bean poles??

    You use what you have! If I didn’t have bamboo, I would have to figure something else out – and maybe it would be cattle fencing!

    I’ll be sure to post pictures as the year progresses. I’ve got three kinds of beans planted. Kentucky wonder – standard poles beans for green eating, some Pea Beans (that might be a different species – as a separator and for the nice pretty dry beans they make, and Oregon Giant beans that are great big beans. Probably for dry beans as well. Beans are inbreeders, so I’m hoping if I take my seed beans from the very ends of the row, there won’t be too much crossing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s