We’re working toward growing and producing more and more of our own food. We’ve planted fruit trees, berry patches, herbs, and perennial and annual vegetables. Even so, we also like to plant certain species simply because they are the favorites of butterflies and hummingbirds, and we like to have these creatures flitting through our garden. Yes, these animals do provide a service by pollinating, and that is a benefit to us, but we just like to share our garden with them. We simply enjoy their presence.
We exercise organic gardening principles by building up the soil and rotating plants rather than applying fertilizers or pesticides. Insects are welcome to our garden. We do lose some of our harvest to the more pesky insects, but the damage is minimal because these pests are kept in check by the predaceous insects that also inhabit the gardens. We attempt to work with nature rather than fight against it and imposing our own design.
The fact that wildlife chooses to visit our garden is evidence that it is a living ecosystem. Our garden is alive. It is a place where nature can play out its story of life and death. While canaries portend doom in a coal mine when they cease to sing, the zipping flight of a hummingbird or the dainty flutter of a butterfly are likewise signs of an atmosphere’s quality, though in this instance, they indicate a healthy, functioning system.
>One of our favorite wildlife plants is scarlet runner beans. The beans sport bright, red blossoms that are magnets for hummingbirds. A bean in bloom boasts the same colors as the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird - green and red. And when one is visiting the bean’s blossoms, it can be so well camouflaged that the only evidence that it is present is the whirring sound of its wings. Among the butterflies that visit the bean’s red flowers are Tiger Swallowtails, Giant Swallowtails and Monarchs.
Scarlet runner beans are relatively easy to grow. Give them a sunny spot with something to climb upon and they should do well. If the soil is rich with compost, they will do even better. Being an annual, the beans have no tolerance for frost. The seeds should be placed directly into the soil after all chance of frost is past. These beans grow as climbers and like to twine themselves around something for support. We grow them on trellises at the end of our raised beds. But they can be grown along a fence, on a teepee structure in a garden, or even up a sunflower or corn stalk. In our garden, the scarlet runners are in full flower about 2 months after the first sprouts appear. The red blossoms will persist until the first frost.
Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees all find the scarlet runner bean irresistible. But so do hungry rabbits. If growing the beans from the ground, some bunny proofing will be necessary if you share your property with rabbits.
I must confess that we do not eat the beans from our scarlet runners. We grow them to enhance our garden ecosystem. Our children also enjoy the pink and purple hued beans and have used them dried in myriad crafts and mosaics. The bean pods are in fact edible. When still young and tender, they can be eaten like green beans. As they mature they become very stringy and should be eaten as shelling beans. If left to dry on the plant, they can be stored and used as dried beans.
Whether you choose to eat them or simply enjoy their beauty, scarlet runner beans are a nice addition to the garden. The local wildlife will thank you.
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