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A Beanstalk Teepee for Tiny Jacks and Jills
by Janet Davis
by Janet Davis


Janet Davis is a freelance garden writer and horticultural photographer whose stories and images have been featured in numerous publications. Magazines featuring her work include Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardening Life, President’s Choice Magazine, Chatelaine Gardens and, in the United States, Fine Gardening and Country Living Gardener.


June 5, 2005

jdBeanpoleteepee.jpg (34404 bytes)That first gardening experience can be a make-or-break experience for little ones. Make it too complicated and they’ll lose interest, too chore-bound and it won’t seem like fun, too grown-up and they’ll make a mad dash for the sandbox. The ideal first project is one that’s simple to do and guaranteed to produce successful results quickly.

Growing plants from seed is mysterious, exciting and educational -- the perfect introduction to gardening for small children. But it can be a disappointing experience if the seeds fail to germinate or are slow to sprout. Easy-to-grow flowers (that are also fun for little hands to pick later to place in a vase on the kitchen table) include marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and nasturtiums. Giant sunflowers are a snap to raise from seed planted directly in the garden, thrilling to watch as they soar skyward, and a good first lesson in wildlife gardening as their seed-laden flower heads attract hungry birds.

Vegetable gardening, on the other hand, gives children an understanding of just how, exactly, the earth goes about producing food -- a fundamental piece of information now lost to generations of youngsters whose only connection with food is a trip to the supermarket. Good candidates for a first adventure in vegetable-growing include tomatoes (especially cherry types), miniature carrots, pumpkins and peas.

But nothing is more fun for a small child than growing a patch of vegetables that doubles as a hideout -- just like our little fellow relaxing in the shade of his own pint-sized beanstalk while browsing through a favorite book.

Here’s how you and your little one can grow an easy bean teepee:

  1. Make sure the teepee site is in full sun with good drainage. A week or so before planting, help your child to measure off a circular area roughly 4 feet (1.3 m) in diameter. Now assemble your bean poles, which should be 6-9 feet (2-2.7 m) in length and can be fashioned from bamboo garden stakes, tree branches, unpeeled saplings or lengths of milled ¾ inch wood-lathe.
  2. Insert the poles about 1 foot (30 cm) deep into the soil around the perimeter of the circle, slanting them towards the centre. You can use as few as 3 poles or as many as ten, but remember to leave an opening for the “entrance” to the teepee. Fasten the poles at the top with strong twine, or with a plastic pot whose bottom has been cut out.

  3. Several days before planting, cultivate the soil around the poles to a width and depth of about 1 foot (30 cm). Beans like soil with good organic content and lots of earthworms, so if yours needs enriching, work in several shovel loads of compost. (Leaf mould or dampened peat moss also add organic content, but are not as nutrient-rich as compost.) Beans are legumes, therefore nodules on their roots “fix” nitrogen in the soil, but this can’t happen until the plants have started to grow. So if your soil is poor -- particularly if you are unable to add compost -- it’s also beneficial to work in several inches of composted cattle or sheep manure, which contains nitrogen.

  4. Select the seed. The best bean for a teepee is a fast-growing runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) such as ‘Scarlet Runner’, with showy red flowers that often attract hummingbirds. Other good runner beans include ‘Painted Ladies’ with orange and white flowers, ‘Emperor Scarlet’ and ‘Red Knight’.

  5. Beans are very frost-tender, so wait to sow seed until 2-3 weeks after the last frost date, when the soil is well-warmed. If the weather is dry, water the soil a few days before planting. Around each pole, sow 4 bean seeds at a depth of 1 inch (2.5 cm). Seeds will take 6-10 days to germinate. When seedlings emerge and start to grow, thin them to 1-2 plants per pole and gently twine them around the poles to get them started climbing.

  6. Keep the soil at the base of the beans regularly watered, but avoid sprinkling overhead. In very hot, sticky summer weather, runner beans are often slow to produce pods, but will resume as the weather cools. Little ones using the bean teepee as a hideout should be gently cautioned about bumping against the vines and damaging them.

  7. Runner beans are ready to harvest in 60-70 days, depending on the variety. Pods can be up to 8 inches long (20 cm) long when mature. They should be picked for eating when they are young and tender, since they toughen and become stringy when left on the vine. They can be steamed or eaten raw. Provided the beans are picked continuously, the plants will continue to produce new pods until frost.


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