Notes from the Beanfield
They are back. Not the Fab Fourâ€”though, likewise, they can make (some) girls screamâ€”and not the eponymous German automobile, but the Japanese beetles have landed at the Beanfield. A few weeks ago when planting, I noticed them already swarming, but then there were as yet no beans to protect. Yesterday, using my bare fingers I squashed about 20. The sound of their crackling exoskeletons made we squeamish. So, this morning I went into the field armed with a shallow pail of soapy water.
When compared to the Cucumber or Mexican beetle (the insect scourge one year ago), the Japanese beetle is large, easy to spot and slow. But they can wreak swift havoc in a garden. I am on the alert. This morning I easily drowned 30-40 in my bucket. Then I did some light weeding, replanted seed around two poles and swept the sidewalk.
Over the next week or so I will make daily morning and evening beetle sweeps. Yesterday I also noticed and killed a few Cucumber beetles. Their peak season is about to begin.
The Bean plants are climbing, already reaching between 4 to 5 feet up the poles. Last year we planted late, beginning on 4 July. This year we prepared the field in early June. I planted it on 13 June. It was a hot day. Late that afternoon, while standing on a stone platform adjacent to the Beanfield to finish watering, I collapsed suddenly from the heat and fell onto the concrete sidewalk about 4 feet below. I broke my wrist (for the second time in a year) and smashed up my face. My bruised face was stitched and two days later a metal plate was put in my wrist. My teeth are still numb.
Today's temperature is climbing like the beans and by afternoon will reach the mid-90's. I worked the field in the morning shade and will return to pick off more beetles and to water in the evening.
I now bring with me to the field plenty of water with me to drink and wear a very broad-brimmed hat. I bought my hat at a clothing store in the cattle town of Wilcox in far southeastern corner of Arizona, closely bordering Mexico and New Mexico. The hat is a tight straw weave. Any self-respecting cowboy would likely roll the brim up toward the crown while slightly pointing the front, but I keep the brim relatively flat.
The store is almost unchanged since the 1940'sâ€”the high ceiling is painted white with walls painted a dull cream and sun-faded turquoise blue. The whole back wall is lined with boots. Low round chrome racks filled with patterned shirts, blue jeans, and overalls spread out across the linoleum-tiled floors. For $1.50 I bought a 1954 edition of the National 4-H Songbook. There are no cowboy songs in the book. But the hat is a perfect fit for summer fieldwork in Ohio.
Already fewer Japanese beetlesâ€”picking off a dozen or so each morning/evening. A curious passerby asked what I was doing and said he had not seen a Japanese beetle since WWII. I wondered where he had been looking, but perhaps I should have asked if at that time he was serving as a U.S. soldier in Japan.
This spring we planted 41 sets of beanpolesâ€”eight sets fewer than last year. Yet the layout of the field appears just as full, if slightly less uniform, than earlier. Late last summer, during an afternoon storm, several sets of poles collapsed. In October several more fell after a night of Buckeye football reverie. The damage was not serious, but this year, for greater stability, we pitched the sticks further apart and then counter-staked each leg into the ground. As before, the poles are coded by type using colored plastic dots: red = Kentucky Wonder brown; yellow = Rattlesnake; white = White half-runner; green = Blue Lake stringless.
I spoke too early. At the field during mid-afternoon I watch Japanese beetles copter in and touch down for a happy-meal. It's as if the beanpoles were the air control towers choreographing each approach onto leafy green landing pads. Over the last few days I downed hundreds of beetles, but watchfully ignored a solo ladybug landing.
First bean blossoms opening: white half-runners showing small white and yellow flowers, the rattlesnake beans blossom pink. Others not yet open. All sweet bees are welcome. – Michael Mercil
Photos by Jo McCulty