Beans: A Nurse Crop for Perennials

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I compromised my all-organic city garden today. Herbicide felt like the only option to make up for past mistakes and make way for a new perennial bed.

I’m lucky to garden in the city and on a farm. Twenty years ago, my little city lot seemed big enough for some things that now have to go. So today, I dropped about ten pounds in 99% humidity trying to dig up the mistakes—oleander, mulberry, alangium and a rare Christmas tree bamboo that I once coveted.

Piles went to the street. All of last night’s beer went into the air. Jeans went all saggy. In the end, I knew, in order to win the fight, to convert this shrub bed to perennials, I’d have to treat stumps and roots with an herbicide.

So it’s done, those old shrubs I once loved are on the street and their roots are out there soaking up poison.

Planting Beans to Get Ready for Perennials

We raked off the bed as we could, mulched it with hay, and planted a ton of beans. Beans, because they are cheap, they fix nitrogen, shade the ground keeping other weeds at bay (I bought a big bag of mixed beans at the grocery store for seed) and because they have big root systems that will help get the soil ready for fall perennial planting.

The beans are my nurse crop.

In the fall, I’ll simply chop them up with a machete, leave all the vines and leaves in place to dry and rot, and plant perennials in that bed.

On the farm, we use buckwheat and Japanese millet as well as beans to do the same jobs. But beans are my favorite. This time of year, I simply push them into the ground and they jump. I even do this in perennial border, in the rows of flowers on our farm and just about anywhere I go.

So that is all getting ready for fall. It’s a hard, hot time to do it. And it feels like a compromise, I can’t say my little yard is all organic any more. I did the dirty work, the spraying, as my young helper’s health is most important; he wants a family and I don’t want to put him at any risk of losing that.

And for whatever reasons he has, he gardens in what looks like pajama pants and flip flops. Oh young hippy boy, we all have to compromise. Tomorrow, I’ll have a pair of boots for you.

Perennials flowering in the garden today:

Crinum ‘Bradley’ (see photo—this one makes a great green roof plant by the way)

Salvia ‘Henry Duelberg’

Hedychium ‘Elizabeth’

Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Mineret’

And a cute little groundcover mint that I bought as Pineapple Banana Mint!

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