Laundry Line Bean Gardens

Laundry Line Bean Gardens

In my ‘Vermi-Mulch Bean Garden‘ post I mentioned the fact that there was still yet another vermigardening project I wanted to write about here. So, here ya go!

Looking back now, it’s hard to say for sure how I settled on the idea of creating a set of laundry-line ‘hanging gardens’. I suppose I was in the process of planning out the gardens for the season – feeling inspired by my new ‘gardening bible‘ – and I saw the unused laundry line as potential climbing plant real estate. Initially I thought I would simply dig beds at the base of each support pole, but I eventually decided it would be really cool to actually have a pair of planter boxes instead. Not only would the plants benefit from the raised bed approach, but it would also afford me the opportunity to try out yet another red worm gardening experiment.

As per usual, I enlisted the help of my dad and we focused on getting the boxes built as quickly as possible – the growing season was already well under way by this point, and the seedlings I wanted to plant in the boxes had become quite gangly and unhealthy.

Unlike the ‘Worm Composting Potato Towers‘ I ended up taking a somewhat more conventional gardening approach, but basically by accident (which I’ll explain in a minute)! Rather than solely adding Red Worm ecosystem material and aged manure, I also added a lot of peat moss. Looking back now, I am really glad that I did!

Thankfully, the planting day just happened to really, really wet (it was literally raining ‘cats and dogs’ as I put the plants in), so that helped to get things off on the right foot (especially since peat moss can be a royal pain to fully moisten). Essentially the layering of ‘soil’ materials was as follows – at the very bottom there was a nice thick layer of aged manure; next (and filling up the majority of the box) there was the peat moss; lastly, there was a thick layer of worm compost ecosystem material (same stuff used for bean vermi-mulch gardens).

The large quantity of peat moss turned out to be important because it helped to ensure that the overall level of material in the boxes didn’t shrink down too much – in fact, initially (as it soaked up water) it helped to boost the volume of material. As I’ve written before, I am usually not a big fan of using peat moss all that much (since harvested in an unsustainable manner), and my original plan had been to simply fill the boxes with the composting ecosystem and horse manure. I quickly realized however, that I was going to need a LOT more material than I had on hand. Luckily I happened to have the bag of peat moss, so I decided to use it as a filler.

Initially the growth of the beans was pretty dismal – not too surprising, given the serious neglect they had suffered as seedlings. Gradually they did however seem to take hold and start making some progress. The real turning point seemed to be when I decided to add a considerable amount of ‘Black Medic’ (Medicago lupulina) which I’d uprooted from my lawn. I thought perhaps that the rhizobial bacteria that help this weedy legume grown (by ‘fixing’ nitrogen in the roots) might also be beneficial for the beans I was trying to grow. Interestingly enough, shortly after adding this material, the bean foliage became a darker green, and growth of the plants in general was much more vigorous.

I have three different types of beans growing in these boxes: 1) Yellow pole beans, 2) Chinese Long Beans and 3) Scarlet Runner Beans. I also added a few marigolds to help fend off pests.

As you can see in the first photo, the plants have grown really well! In my head I had envisioned a complete overhead canopy of bean foliage (and hanging beans of course), but beggars can’t be choosers, right? I am shocked that the plants have done as well as they have! I have quite a few tentrils creeping out along the laundry lines (and strings I tied up), and LOTS of beans ready to harvest.

Scarlet Runner Beans

Another positive is the fact that the scarlet runners have been producing an abundance of beautiful red blossoms for quite some time now, adding a bit of extra aesthetic appeal to my otherwise deteriorating backyard show.

As for the worms…

Periodically, I added more aged manure on the surface of the beds to help sustain my wigglers, but in all honesty I haven’t really spent too much time investigating their current status. I’m sure there are still plenty of them in there, but I suspect that (unlike the case with the potato gardens) the plants are the ones really reaping most of the benefits in this partnership. Once the bean plants are finished producing their crop I will certainly dig around a lot more and will report back on what I find. My prediction? Loads of teeny tiny worms living in a less-then-ideal composting worm environment!

Anyway, I’d definitely say that the experiment as a whole has been a huge success. Next year I will undoubtedly do this again, but I’ll make sure to take better care of the plants and get them in earlier so I can produce a much more impressive overhanging show!

In the meantime, I’m going to try and figure out what to do with all these yummy beans!

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  1. Bentley, Your laundry line bean garden is a great idea! I will be setting this up before next spring, you can count on it!(among other great ideas that I have culled from your brain without your knowledge, Haha!)

    Thanks, Sara aka ForestGardenGirl.

    ps. (unrelated, but something I have been wondering about for a while, sorry) I am still using a rubbermaid type system (2 active and fully mature bins that I am harvesting today, hehe!) and I was thinking of splitting them to begin a new (third) system soon, for which I was considering building a wooden stacking worm bin similar to the one you bought. I have the skills and the tools, but was wondering- how is that bin working? You used it for the four worm repro experiment, and then an update on the system in December- Is the system still sitting empty?

    I would love to hear any additional feedback about the system – do you think the size is ideal- any features you wish it had- any problems inherent with a wooden stacking system- you know, the things I should consider before building one so that I can improve on the basic design (if any improvements can be made). I would love to hear your feedback, or see a new post on your blog dealing with this system.

    Thanks again!
    Sara aka ForestGardenGirl.

    • Bentley
    • September 13, 2009

    Hi Sarah,
    Glad to hear that I’ve helped to inspire you a little here and there.
    As for my wooden system, it is indeed still sitting empty. I have a lot on the go at the moment so I certainly haven’t missed.
    My MAJOR recommendation is to make yours not only larger (ie greater surface area for each tray), but also substantially deeper (and maybe just go with three levels). My major issue with the one I have is how quickly it dries out and the minimal volume each tray holds.
    Just my 2 cents

    • Mary
    • September 13, 2009

    OMg! I have to ask you about your comment on “loads of teeny tiny worms, living in less than ideal conditions”!!! I had my son take my somewhat-close-to-done compost out of my compost trench. I was very interested to see how many worms I had, and also wanted to put as many as possible into my second trench that I had started. We had a wheel barrel (about 5 cu ft) filled with compost from the trench.
    To my HORROR I only found about 10 adult worms, but hundreds (possibly thousands) of teeny tiny worms. I feel terrible about this because I thought I was taking such good care of them. It was about 4 hours of going through the compost, about 4 cups at a time. I know I didn’t miss too many. It’s too late to do anything about it, but my question is, will little worms survive if I monitor their environment better, or should I just go ahead and order more worms? Looking back on it, I feel I did great until about a month ago when I wasn’t monitoring the moisture level as well as I should have been. We went through a pretty good dry spell.

  2. I have seven ammo boxes full of worms now (about four feet by 18″ wide by 6″ deep) and I neglect them horribly, only tending to them about weekly, maybe every ten days or so and I find that they have absolutely NO problem being left alone. I do dig up and mix the bedding material when I do check them, which aerates the bins and mixes everything up pretty well. Even though some boxes are getting “old” I make sure to add more bedding at one end and feed them in between, so they can choose to go to the new side. Most stay in the old side but about 1/5 of them migrate over. I figure if I feed them in the new end they would hang around there but it’s up to them. Nature does quite well by herself, and it seems to take alot to mess her up. I have cocoons and baby worms in each bin although each is a bit different. They REALLY like wetted chicken mash and watermelons. The mash is available in a big bag for little money and you mix it like oatmeal. I take leftover watermelon and cantaloupe rinds face down and there is nothing left but a thin skin once they get done.

    • Bentley
    • September 14, 2009

    MARY / AL – I can relate to both of your experiences, and key here is that these are definitely different scenarios being talked about.

    What I have discovered this summer Mary – primarily due to the fact that I am not constantly adding pounds and pounds of wet food waste (as I was last summer) – is that vermicomposting systems associated with growing plants, while hugely beneficial for the plants, are not all that great for the worms. Unless of course you have a very regular schedule of feeding and watering. The problem is that the plant roots grow right into the vermicomposting bed, quickly robbing these zones of moisture and nutrients. If you get any sort of heat spell this problem is magnified. When moisture content drops worms tend to shrink in size, thus in the really neglected zones of my trench systems I tend to find loads of really small worms. What cool though is that if I dumped a big heap of wet, aged manure on top, I would likely see huge numbers of nice sized worms in this material fairly quickly.
    SO, Mary – I definitely wouldn’t give up hope just yet. If your growing season is over, maybe think about consolidating as much of the material (containing tiny worms) as possible, and then focus on getting the worms back in good shape with lots of food and moisture.

    Al – your situation reminds me of what I’m seeing in my potato boxes. The worms in these systems have done extremely well! Far better than those in trenches and other vermigardens. I’ve done relatively little to take care of them, but I’m in the process of harvesting the bins and am blown away by the numbers of juicy worms in these relatively small wooden bins.

    Anyway – I definitely want to write more about all this (hopefully in upcoming blog posts). Very interesting stuff.

    • Mary
    • September 14, 2009

    Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. I feel much better now, and I am promising myself to take much better care of my little wormies from now on! Nothing but the best manure for them! 🙂
    This is the best site. I may not post much, but I check it daily, just like a good worm geek should. 🙂

    • Bentley
    • September 14, 2009

    No worries, Mary – always glad to help out! Like I always say, a fellow ‘worm geek’ in need is a friend indeed!
    (ok, I’ve never said that, but I think it’s going to be my new motto – haha)

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