Enchanted beans get a bad rap in fairytales, but the fact is you can take these lovely legumes (plus some sticks) and make yourself a magical tepee. With the alchemy of soil, sunshine and water, they can become edible garden, vertical garden, green space and homegrown hide-out all in one.
- 6–10 poles (2.5–3m is ideal). You can use bamboo poles, scrap lumber, dowel, trellis poles from a garden centre or suitable branches foraged from nature. They need to be strong enough to support the grown bean plant, but not too heavy.
- twine or string
- bean seeds (make sure you choose a climbing variety)
- shovel or trowel
- potting mix, or organic compost if your soil needs some love
Beans like full sun and well-drained soil, so pick a spot that fits the bill. Mark out a circle on the ground: this will be the base of your tepee. You want it to be wide enough and tall enough for a couple of kids to fit in. It’s a good idea to position the poles without lashing them first, just to see how it looks and if you’ve got the size right.
Once you’ve marked out the circumference, dig out a shallow recess. Your soil should be crumbly; if it needs improving, add some organic potting mix or compost to retain moisture.
Assemble your poles in a tepee shape, making sure two of the poles are further apart than the others, to create a doorway. Push the ends of the poles into the ground and then lash the tops together. If your knot-tying skills need work, use zip ties or wire to secure the top of the tepee.
Next, weave and wrap string or twine between the tepee poles, starting at the top and working your way down. Keep the string taught and wrap it around one pole before moving onto the next. When you get to the doorway, reverse the direction and keep going until the entire structure is covered in a lattice of string. Make sure the lowest ‘rung’ is close enough to the ground that the new seedlings will be able to reach it.
Planting and Harvesting
Good news for the horticulturally challenged! Beans are some of the easiest vegetables to grow. Part of the legume family, they are a good source of vitamin B and C and fibre. Bean varieties include green beans, runner beans and shelling beans (which are more often used dried than fresh, but you can still grow your own). Beans grow year-round in warmer climates, from September to January in cooler areas of the southern hemisphere, and from April to September in the northern hemisphere. Runner beans are hardier than French and better suited to cool areas. They feature coloured blooms before fruiting and will look beautiful on your tepee. (Some varieties of beans—bush or dwarf—won’t work for a tepee. You need beans that are climbers.)
Plant your seeds following the directions on the packet. Push them about 1–2cm into the ground, spacing them evenly around the base of the tepee. Water immediately after sowing, leave the beans until they germinate, and then water them regularly, from flowering through to harvest. If the leaves start turning yellow, ease up on the watering.
It should take about a week for the seeds to sprout. Progress may seem slow at first, but once the beans get going they’ll shoot up rapidly and you should be enjoying the fruits (or vegetables, in this case) of your labour in 12–14 weeks.
Once your beans start producing, harvest them regularly (two or three times a week) to encourage new flowers and more tasty pods. Teach your kids to pick the beans gently by holding the stem with one hand and pulling pods with the other so they don’t break the vines or injure the plant—or use scissors to snip the pods off.
Don’t grow beans in the same spot for two years running. They’re one of the few plants that enrich the soil by adding their own nitrogen. Other vegetables, like tomatoes, kale and cabbage, will grow gangbusters wherever beans used to be.
Bean teepee created by Kirsten Rickhert.
This story is from Issue 9. Does your Lunch Lady collection need completing? You can order back issues from our Shop here.