Five New Beans

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Dried BeansMy mother-in-law can’t seem to stop herself from growing enough green beans for a small army, so I do the drying beans at my house. Mostly ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ black beans, California Black-Eyed peas and a few colorful soup beans like ‘Jacob’s Gold’ and ‘Speckled Cranberry’. This year I’m also experimenting with some types of beans I’ve never grown before; ‘Scarlet Emperor’ beans, Four-Angled beans, also called Winged beans, Yard-Long beans which are also known as Snake beans or bora, both white and yellow Lima beans and tan Garbanzo beans.

Bush Beans growingWe’re using a number of different kinds of vertical supports for the beans, many of them homemade with bamboo. In Vertical Gardening Derek Fell reports that he’s able to harvest ten times more pods from his pole beans than their bush counterparts. Still, I couldn’t resist planting a bed of bush ‘Cannellini’ beans. We love ‘Cannellini’ beans but there just wasn’t a pole variety of them I wanted to try. I can substitute ‘White Emergo’ beans instead of the smaller ‘Cannellini’ in recipes, and they grow on big sturdy vines, so they will have to do for the pole variety this year.

Akahana Mame FlowersThe ‘Scarlet Emperor’ Runner beans have an 8′ arbor to climb, which I hear they will need. They were the first beans to germinate in the Dirt to Dinner garden this year. I planted a few of them on March 9th just to see how the ground temperature was doing and up they came! I guess there’s a reason they are so popular in England. I was attracted to the idea of growing a perennial bean plant but I’m also looking forward to their reportedly “showy” flowers, though we haven’t seen any yet. These gorgeous blossoms are from an ‘Akahana Mame’ growing on a teepee with ‘Louisiana Purple Pod’ and ‘French Climbing’ beans for effect.

'King of the Garden' Lima BeanThe Winged beans and the Yard-Long beans are planted on either side of an 8′ trellis with sesame plants growing through the center. Imagine an A-frame with garden netting hanging down on either side. One side of the netting gets ‘Four-Angle’ beans planted along half of it. The other side of the netting gets ‘Red Noodle’ planted on the opposite half. That way the sesame growing in between gets sun from both sides where the beans aren’t.  The last beans to go in are the Limas. They like warm soil, which is in short supply again this year. It takes several days for them to emerge from the soil and spread their wing-like seed leaves. I’m nervous a bird or bug or varmint will devour them before photosynthesis even begins but keep your fingers crossed for me. We’re trying ‘King of the Garden’ lima seed from both Baker Creek and Bountiful Gardens and ‘Golden’ Lima beans from Seed Savers Exchange. If you’re experimenting with new bean varieties in your garden this year, let us know what’s working well for you and how you’re growing them.

Up the Bean Pole

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White Emergo Pole Beans

White Emergo Pole Beans

Remember that crazy thing we did this winter with a dozen or more varieties of peas? Well, I think it’s happening again, this time with beans. White beans, black beans, heirlooms, perennials and beans with packaging in languages I can barely understand. Ever wonder what the opposite of monocropping would be? Stop by and I’ll show you.

We like green beans, especially if Chinese sauces are involved. But most of these beans are intended for drying. This winter they will turn into chili and baked beans and hearty soups.

Tarahumara Black Bean Trellis

Sprouting Tarahumara Black Beans

Some of the beans are heirloom black beans traditionally grown by the Tarahumara. We are trying both the bush variety and the pole beans. They are used to a very dry climate and I initially over-watered the bush beans giving them “chlorosis” which is a yellowing of the young leaves that occurs when you give them so much water that you actually wash away some of the nutrients they need for photosynthesis. Oops! I mulched them with some Happy Frog and cut back on the water and they seem much happier now. It helps that it’s not over 90 degrees any more.

Druzba Tomato and Hutterite Soup Beans

Eastern European Cousins

Another interesting variety we have in the garden right now is the Hutterite Soup Bean. Seeds of Change says these beans immigrated to the U.S. in the 1760’s with a religious group from Austria. Which sounds nice and is about all you can fit on the back of a seed pack, but the Hutterite’s have a rich and interesting history. And let’s hope they have some good soup recipes too, because these beans sound delicious so far. In homage to their Eastern European connections the Hutterite Soup beans are interplanted with a Druzba tomato, an heirloom from Bulgaria. They may actually be planted a whole lot too close for comfort. In my research about the Hutterite beans, I came across one site that recommended planting them 18″ apart. I’m lucky if mine are 3″!

Contender Bean Pods

Our First Contender

The first beans planted in the garden this year, Contenders planted on March 30th, no less, were the first ones to give us pods. I’m surprised they didn’t curl up and die from the cold. I know I nearly did! I planted a tiny patch of them, maybe a dozen plants, just to see if it was warm enough to sprout beans yet. I have been cautiously adding different varieties to the garden since mid-April when these came up looking no worse for wear. So far the list includes:

Contender
Calypso

Soldier
White Emergo
Christmas‘ Limas
Fagiolo di Spagna ‘Spagna Bianco
Bush Black Beans ‘Tarahumara Ejotero Negro
Hutterite Soup Bean
Swedish Brown
Pole Black Beans ‘Tarahumara Chokame
California Blackeye Pea
Cannelino
And I have some Fin de Bagnol seeds around here ready to slip into a spot where nothing else is growing yet.
Why didn’t I get more pole bean seeds? They are so much easier to find room for. Though I think the real question will be, how many beans of a given variety do I need to plant in order to save enough dry beans to cook something from them? I guess we’ll find out.


Dispersing Seeds

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Ready to Thresh

Ready to Thresh

This week during Open Garden, we collected the bean seeds that have been drying on the plants for several weeks and examined the soy bean seeds that had been left to undergo their natural dispersal process. At the final stage of drying the bean pods will twist until they burst, allowing the beans inside to pop out of the shells and spread out in the surrounding around.

Ready to Store

Ready to Store

The trick to collecting your soup beans is getting to them just before they hit this stage. You want the pods to be dry and brittle, but not at the point of starting to twist. I usually have to find one that has already twisted and flung out its seeds before I realize it’s time to pick the rest of them. Once the dried seed pods are collected, you can put them into a paperbag and shake the closed bag to break open the pods and free the beans. Then lift out the dried shells to toss into the compost bin and what’s left in the bag is your beans.

Ready for Soup

Ready for Soup

Just to be sure that they are really dry, I sometimes add a commercial desiccant packet to the bottom of the container I keep them in, but a little dried milk in a folded piece of paper towel will also do the trick.

To use the beans, I soak them overnight with a good size piece of kombu (seaweed) to make them easier to digest. Then I throw out that soaking water but save the kombu to cook with the beans. In the Spring I definitely plan to try more varieties of drying beans for soup all Winter long.