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There Should Be a Law Against Bean Plant Killers

By John | January 6, 2009

Coffee Beans
By Sande Wendt
January 3, 2009

It doesn’t happen often but every once and awhile someone entrusts me with a living thing they care about. As a semi-successful mom, you’d think someone would ask me to
watch their kids for a while, but it’s always more on the line of cats, dogs, bean plants. And they all flourished under my care.

Except the bean plants.

“Can you take William’s bean plant while we’re gone? He planted seeds for his class. It
sprouted and is doing quite well,” Vicki asked. I looked at the droopy sprout and agreed.
A little benign neglect is all it needed to thrive, just like my kids.

The plant in its industrial strength gray ceramic pot sat under a window and grew
stronger and greener daily. The tiny bean pods were a pleasant surprise. William had
showed them to me, but he was five–what did he know?–and I didn’t think plants that
small would pollinate. Hadn’t they overheard the abstinence-only sex-ed lessons?

I heard once that coffee grounds make great fertilizer for ferns so I figure cold coffee
must be a magic elixir for all houseplants. My kid’s first science fair project will be
studying the growth rate of plants nourished with water, coffee and decaf. My theorywait,
I mean, my kid’s hypothesis will be that the one grown with coffee will grow tall
and full and produce many buds but no real bean pods and that the decaf bean plant
would grow tall and thin and eventually tie itself into a knot and die leaving behind a note
reading, “What’s the point really?” I poured leftover cold coffee on the plant every day.

William’s bean plant was flourishing and, to my surprise, the bean pods continued to bulk
up. I often brewed an extra pot of coffee so we could share a moment. Its tiny stamen
perked up whenever I started the coffee grinder. I began imagining returning the plant to
young William, his eyes misting at the mighty bean plant with its tendrils’ firm grip on
the chopstick stake, the bulging bean pods hanging precariously from their stems, the soil
smelling of Italian roast. Imagine Manheim Streamroller playing in the background.

Then, the cats ate it.

The main stalk remained, but the leaves and pods were gone. I was devastated. William
would be so disillusioned; his mother had told him not to worry about his plant because I
was taking care of it and I had a green thumb. He would have trust issues after that. I’m
sure the bean plant did.

William would be gone another two weeks so I had time to nurse the plant back to health.
I found a warmer, sunnier home for it. I protected it from our cat. I made extra strong
coffee. The bean plant greened up and leafed out, but didn’t produce any more bean buds.

As their arrival date got closer, I panicked. I sent Danny to the nursery searching for
bean plants. Luckily it was spring and the nursery was full of tiny plants. Just not bean
plants. Danny returned with a bell pepper plant (its leaves were the right shape), a tomato
plant (it had tiny yellow flower buds, just like the bean plant) and a periwinkle (it was

We looked for suitable substitutions growing in our yard and the woods nearby. Nothing
came close, but it turns out that that was a good thing–growing in our yard is a poisonous
vine that only a week of taking steroids and soaking in a tub of oatmeal and calamine
lotion can soothe.

The bean plant became my coffee klatch of one. I would idly savor an afternoon cup
while the bean plant waited patiently for the remaining coffee to cool. I would make a
mental list of the remaining tasks of my daily grind and the plant, mutilated and bound in
its pot, would alternately dream of retribution and imagine playing the James Caan role in
the remake of “Misery.” Too much coffee will do that.

When the Williams returned home, I avoided them for as long as possible. Their calls
went to voice mail, I emailed my responses rather than taking the chance that Vicki or

William would ask about the plant. After a while, I was confident that they’d forgotten
about the plant and invited them over for a playdate.
William asked about the plant as soon as he had taken off his coat and his mother had
finished slathering him with Germ-X. By then the bean plant was full and leafy and I
figured the bean pods would not be missed. Vicki was impressed that the plant was still
alive. “Look, William, she did a great job with your plant! See how much it’s grown?”
William looked at the plant skeptically but reluctantly agreed that I had done a great job.
I sipped my coffee and nodded, basking in the glow of a job well done and disaster

As William and Vicki left, bean plant in hand, he whispered to her, “I think she stole the
beans. They’re gone.” Later, I explained what we had gone through and Vicki was
amused and heartened by my genuine concern for the plant and her son’s feelings. I think
she was about to ask me to babysit William when he walked in. And that’s when the
words came out.

“Oh, while you were gone, I had the most delicious three bean salad. Do you want the

Coffee will do that.

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