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Saturday, May 15, 2021

How to build a Bean Tipi/Teepee

...and grow beans for winter-storage.

Here are instructions for building a simple tipi, perfect for growing pole-beans. Tipis are a great way to support these vigorous climbers and a fun and shady hideout for your smaller garden helpers! 
 
Tipis are an efficient way to grow lots of beans if you wish to dry them and save them for a seed-crop or winter storage.
 
Note: tipis are not a good choice for peas as peas' tendrils are too small to grasp the poles. Beans spiral around the trellis with their whole vine so the pole's diameter is less crucial.
A large tipi covered in Scarlet Runner beans. See the red blossoms amongst the green leaves?
 
--You'll need: 12-20 bamboo poles approximately 1" in diameter and up to 12 feet long. The taller the tipi, the more poles you'll need to fill in the gaps between your initial tripod poles. If you don't have access to bamboo, other long, straight poles will work. Try vine-maple or willow. Most of the bamboo poles we've used have been donated by friends who have large patches of bamboo that benefits from thinning. Here in the United States, we've also found them offered for free on Craig's list.
 
--You'll also need something to secure the initial three tripod-poles together. Strips of inner-tubes work well though you can use heavy cord or electrician's tape. (LINK: How to tie tipi poles).
 
-- Grass-clippings, dried leaves, straw or other mulch for the floor of the tipi.
 
-- Three 18" stakes to secure initial tripod to the ground, and wire to attach. 
 
-- Bean seeds: Our favorite is Scarlet Runner beans though we've also grown Giant Greek White beans which are in the same family of beans. They're very tasty, and larger than the Scarlet Runners, but not quite as productive per vine. Morning glory flowers are beautiful but of course you can't eat them! See: Grow your own protein; Scarlet Runner beans LINK

To begin, we prep the soil, fluffing it up with a spade-fork or roto-tiller and digging in enough compost so the soil isn't too heavy. Many times we have moved our large compost bins at the end of the winter (once we've emptied them out) and built our tipi right where the compost bin has been! Beans don't need a lot of fertilization as they are able to "fix" nitrogen from the air. The soil needn't be heavily groomed as big bean seeds can find their way around dirt clumps but don't make their job too hard by planting them into soil that is weedy or too course.

This tipi is covered in Giant Greek White beans.

We use wood-ash (trace minerals) and coffee grounds (attracts worms) as soil amendments (you can learn about that here - LINK: Coffee and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility) Use just a light sprinkling of ashes; they're very concentrated! Work the wood ash and coffee grounds into the soil before putting up your poles so it's evenly mixed.
Lightly sprinkle wood-ash to give your plants a boost of trace-minerals - LINK
 
Next, we lay down a heavy bed of straw, leaves or dried grass-clippings in the middle (6" thick). This helps keep the soil's moisture-content consistent and also attracts composting worms to live in the soil. Mulch makes it more pleasant for kids to hang out in the tipi for play and for harvesters to pick the beans later as the ripe beans will hang down inside the tipi.

Laying on your back and looking up through the top of the tipi can be very relaxing.

Next we choose three stout, straight poles and tie a knot around them six to eight feet from the ground. You want to place your knot lower than the height of your shortest other poles as they need to be able to lay in the crotches formed by this tripod. If the knot is too high, they'll just slip through. Tie the knot tight enough to hold the three poles together but not so tight that you can't twist the poles into the tripod shape. Spread the three tied poles into a tripod with the legs equal distance apart. LINK: How to tie poles for a tipi.
 
Important: Stake the tripod firmly to the ground so your tipi won't blow over before the vines actually anchor it. We use 18" wooden stakes driven deep into the ground and wire the tripod poles to them securely.  
Start with a tripod...

...and fill in with other poles, leaving space for a door. Mulch the floor with straw or other soft material.

Lay the other poles in the spaces between these main poles. Place the first pole 10-12 inches to right of the bottom of the first leg of the tripod. The second pole, the same distance to the right of the second tripod pole and the third pole 10-12 inches from the third tripod pole. 
 
On the second round, continue to place one pole in each tri-pod section till you have them all placed. This spiral pattern will lock the poles together and make a stronger tipi.
 
Be sure to leave space for a door on one of the sides!

Poles are placed 10-12 inches apart.

Here's the tipi's top after all the poles have been placed:

Plant the beans about 4-5 inches apart, in between the tipi poles. Beans are a large seed so you don't have to groom the soil as much as for small seeds.

These bean plants are about 8-weeks old.


Beans hang down inside the tipi for easy harvesting.

Harvesting and drying beans:
 
Some beans are best eaten green in which case, simply harvest them every three to four days when they are the size you prefer. 
 
If you are growing beans for winter storage or to save seed for future plantings they should be left on the vines to ripen as long as possible. Don't pick the pods until they are evenly tan and dry. If picked too green, beans won't be viable as seeds and they won't store well.  They won't ripen more after  you pick them and so pick only the ripest, fullest bean-pods. Bean pods should be brown and mostly dry to the touch.  
 
Once the frost hits, beans won't ripen any more. If there are any ripe pods left, we pull them off the vines and continue to dry them in baskets above our wood-stove till the shells are crisply dry. This prevents them from molding while in storage and, the drier the pod, the easier it is to shell. If there are any beans that you're not sure if they are fully ripe, use them first as they won't store as well as fully cured beans. Discard any beans that are obviously unripe.
 
Here, Adri and Grandpa Jim shell scarlet runner beans. If you are saving dry beans (for winter storage or seed) leave them on the vine till their shells turn tan and dry. This assures the beans are fully ripe and will make shelling easier.
 
Here's another way to use tipis. We grew a bush-variety of Delicata squash in their centers, nasturtium flowers at their doors and sunflowers behind.  It made for a beautiful edge along the north side of our garden.
Setting up the tipis
 
Early in the season.

Plants fully mature.

Scarlet runner beans:
Here's a link to another post we did which includes info on other kinds of bean-trellising:
Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

Thanks for following along on our garden adventure! We love to read your comments. Please consider leaving one below so others can share.

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