You plant your bush bean seeds and wait patiently until little green sprouts emerge from the ground. Your plants grow, leaves unfurl, and flowers appear. One morning you spy tiny beans hanging from the plants. The beans grow longer. You finally begin to harvest them for dinner.
The next morning you find a few holes in the leaves. Small yellow larvae show up on the plants. They multiply. Now many of the beans have holes in them. Your harvest seems ruined. But it depends what you think you are growing, now doesn’t it? So when are bean beetle larvae a good thing? When you are growing your own chicken food!
For years we fought against bean beetles. We handpicked them, we used organic sprays, and we rotated the plants. Nothing worked well. If you pick before they reach full maturity, a good bush bean harvest should continue for many weeks. New flowers continue to form when you pick frequently. Yet we kept losing our crop to the bean beetles after only a few harvests.
Wait a minute! We also raise chickens. Chickens eat bugs and larvae. We were getting good at growing bugs. Why were we fighting them so hard? Sometimes you just need to look at your problems from another angle. So now we grow beans, and we grow bugs. Here’s how it works.
Starting at the beginning of the growing season, we plant a small patch of bush beans every three weeks in a different location. The plants grow, we harvest beans, and the bugs come. We do nothing. As soon as the bugs move from the leaves to the beans themselves, we stop harvesting. We pull the plants and drop them off in the chicken yard compost pile. The chickens go wild eating their home-delivered dinner of bugs and larvae. They eat some of the leaves and vines. They compost the rest. We later move the compost back into the garden.
By now, we’re picking beans from the next planting. Plant, pick, pull, and deliver dinner to the chickens. Repeat. How easy is that?!
Growing beans, and bugs, this way takes planning. Our annual garden plan incorporates small planting areas that come available for beans every three weeks throughout the season. We start a few weeks before the last frost planting Royal Purple Pod Bush Beans which tolerant cold weather more reliably. We move on to Dragon Tongue and Cantare Bush Beans for our main summer crops. Then back to the purple bush beans for fall harvests. Most years we harvest beans and bugs from mid-May through early November. That’s almost six months of free chicken food coming out of our zone 6b garden.
We’re happy because it means less work. The chickens are happy because it means more food. So what about you? Are you ready to grow bugs in your garden? Next time you find yourself fighting nature in your vegetable garden, shift your perspective and see if a solution doesn’t present itself.