The Martinsville Bulletin

Time and tide wait it for no man.

Neither do green beans, which is why James and Betty Curry’s church family was out in the couple’s garden recently.

While James Curry is laid up from hip surgery, the vegetables in his large garden keep on growing and growing. Folks from Mount Vernon Baptist Church aren’t letting them go to waste: They are picking the beans and canning them for the couple.

They were out there on a recent evening, and they will be back again this week.

“I’ve snapped them, just never picked them” before, said Shelby Jordan, wife of Mount Vernon Pastor Michael Jordan. Their daughter Brandy and son Andrew were among the helpers.

However, she discovered that picking was easy, she said: Pick the larger green beans, and leave the smaller ones to keep growing.

The bean vines grow in several rows trellised as high as an adult is tall. “Take the low” ones, she advised Andrew, who’s only 6.

“Is this a good one?” he asked, holding up a bean for inspection.

“Yes. That’s a good one,” she replied, and Andrew trotted over to a bucket, where he dropped it.

Beyond the tall green beans were two rows of knee-high butterbean plants. “Those things are loaded down,” said James McGuire. He was the one who had showed the first-timers how to pick beans. “They’ll be ready before long.”

In recuperation

Meanwhile, James and Betty Curry were in the living room on the sofa, watching game shows on TV. He was leaning back in the reclining part of the sofa with his feet up.

“It’s been a great season, but I was caught up short due to surgery,” he said.

He had had hip replacement surgery, with a long stint put in his hip.

“It’s a lot better now than it was,” he said. “I don’t have that pain like I did,” adding that he figures he will have recuperated in three or four weeks.

By then he should be able to plant his mustard greens, he said.

“I always try to look after my garden. A garden is just like children. You’ve got to nurse them along. I enjoy it,” he said.

How is garden grows

He has been planting in the same spot, behind his house in a neighborhood off Liberty Street, for 42 years. A few years ago he put a fence around it to keep deer out, and it has worked.

At the start of each season, he uses the tiller to “work my land up as deep as I can,” he said.

Then he marks straight rows with string. Using the string as a guide he cuts a line through the soil and fills that line with an inch or two of rich garden soil he purchases, then scatters fertilizer over it. A 50-pound bag of garden soil will last for four rows, he said.

There he plants the seeds, about an inch deep.

When it comes to planting, “I always go by my own seasons,” he said. “A lot of people go by the Almanac, but I don’t do that. I only plant by the Farmer’s Almanac the tomato seeds, or all you’ll get is blooms.”

He plants potatoes in March and squash and cantaloupe before April 15. Cucumbers and beans are planted after the last chance of frost. The corn has its own special time of planting: “When the locust is in full bloom,” he said. That’s one of “the signs we go by, the people farming.”

The locust tree has spikes on its branches. Its leaves are pinnately compound (thin, narrow leaflets come out on opposite sides from long stems), sort of like a larger version of mimosa. It blooms in spring and forms seed pods in fall.

Curry doesn’t plant watermelon anymore, he said, because its vines take up too much space for the amount of food they produce – and watermelon can’t be preserved. Cantaloupe can’t be preserved, either, but its vines take up less room, and it’s good to eat nearly every day for the month it’s in season. Curry’s wife nodded in agreement.

Everything else he grows is for both fresh-eating and to save for throughout the year.

And it provides

His garden normally yields 135 quarts of green beans, six cases of canned tomatoes, 12 dozen jars of pickles (“we don’t put too many of them up,” he said), and 15 to 20 quart-sized containers of frozen butterbeans (lima beans).

The Jackson variety butter bean is his favorite, he said. It’s a striped bean which comes ripe in August; you can tell when the hull starts turning. To preserve butterbeans, the couple blanch them (boil them for a few minutes, then plunge them into cold water), then lay them on a towel to dry before packing them.

Two rows of butterbeans “usually turn out a lot of beans, they really do,” he said.

Learning how

His plants are large, green and healthy. He only sprays about twice a year, with the pesticide Sevin, and only when he sees signs of pests, he said.

“I wish young people could learn more about raising gardens and stuff, so they will learn when they get older,” he said. “At some point they may have to go back and raise food themselves.”

His grandchildren were raised up on gardening, he said, and they like to do it.

“It’s been a lot of fun planting a garden over the years,” he said. “I enjoy watching stuff grow.”

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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