I recently built a bean teepee with one of my garden design clients and her triplet 4-year-old boys (yikes!). I’m not sure which part I enjoyed more—having them help me move soil with their tiny little dump trucks, watching them put the little beans carefully into the ground, or (I kid you not) turning around from tying up the teepee top to see them all sitting in a row in their kid-size lawn chairs, watching me and giggling hysterically as they inspected my work from front row seats. Here’s a taste of that day for you in a video clip created by my friend and colleague Rebecca P. Cohen of Rebecca Plants.
I thought the project would be fun for grandparents, too, and told my friend Mary Green. She and her grandson, Greyson, built their bean teepee on Earth Day last year. Her checklist for the project started with “Plant Beans” and ended with “Water Gran.” Yes, on the surface this post is about building a bean teepee, but it’s really all about Mary’s last item, “Water Gran.” Creating connection. Playtime. Spending time together. Making memories. Not caring about getting dirty or damp (or both!) for the sake of the grandkid. Giving you both an extra-refreshing time outside creating something together… and ongoing shared learning as you watch the miracle of bean vines growing up the teepee, topped off by the delight of “harvesting” and eating the beans you grew together.
How can you resist THAT, right?? Go on, give it a try. Enjoy your outdoor adventure. Oh, … and don’t forget to wear a raincoat!
Here’s what you’ll need to build your bean teepee:
- 1 garden space at least 3’ in diameter, located in full to part sun
- 7 wooden stakes, 2”x 8”
- 1 roll of garden twine (or jute)
- 1 packet of Pole Bean seeds
- 1 shovel
- 1 metal rake or hand cultivating tool
- 1 small garden ladder (optional – to be used if child is helping to tie the stakes together at top)
Note: Wait to plant seeds until after danger of spring frost is over.
- Clear the garden area of weeds and debris.
- Add a few shovels of compost material.
- Cultivate the soil with a rake or other cultivating tool.
- Mark a circle approx 3’ diameter.
- Place wooden stakes approx 6-8 inches apart around circle, pushing each one firmly into the ground (about 12 inches if possible), leaning in toward the center at top.
- Tie all tops together securely with garden twine.
- Push 5-6 seeds into the soil (about 1 inch deep) at inside of each wooden stake.
- Water seeds gently.
- If you have small children that might enjoy sitting inside the teepee, add mulch inside teepee for more comfortable (and slightly cleaner) sitting space.
- As bean plants start growing, pull out the weakest plants, leaving 1-2 healthy plants at each stake.
- Bean shoots may need a little guidance to start growing up the wooden stakes. As they grow, gently curl them around the base of the wooden stakes and they’ll quickly continue climbing on their own.
- When the first bean plant shoots reach the top of the wooden stakes, snip them off at the top to encourage more growth and beans lower on the plant.
- After plants are established (starting to grow up the supports), you can add a light layer of mulch around plants and base of teepee. This helps retain moisture.
- Watering: do a deep soaking watering once per week to ensure roots stay moist. This is better than lighter less frequent watering, since they don’t encourage as strong and deep a root structure.
- Harvesting: pick beans twice a week. Once the beans are visible, pods are ready to eat.
- Consider planting more seeds in mid-summer to prolong the growing season.
Best Tasks for Young Children:
- Weed and clean up garden area to be used for planting.
- Sit inside 3’ circle marking to “test” size.
- Hold each wooden stake up and help adult push it into the ground.
- Help loop twine around top of poles.
- Place and plant seeds.
- Water seeds.
- Ongoing care.