Saturday, January 25, 2014

2013 Bean Report (Better Late Than Never)

For the last couple years, since I've been participating in the Rancho Gordo "Bean Buddies" program, which pairs home growers with heirloom beans to test in a variety of conditions, I've been writing up my dry bean harvest. I'm late for the 2013 report: a) It's clearly not 2013 anymore, and b) I've eaten a bunch of the harvest so I can't take pictures of complete quantities.

Before I begin, I'll explain that this year had its challenges in all parts of the vegetable garden. All beds were infested with root knot nematodes that greatly reduced the yields of most plants. (I've taken several steps to organically take care of the nematode problem, which appear, at least so far, to have some positive results. But, more on that in another post.) So, my yields may be low, but it also may be of interest to see which varieties succeeded even when challenged.

I'll start with the beans I received through the program.

Negro Delgado de Arbol:
Negro Delgado de Arbol did not grow like a tree but like a weed. It grew to about five feet tall, no taller, but was lush with small leaves and loaded with flowers. I grew one tower of these beans, but in future seasons I will grow more. This variety was unique among those I grew this year in that most the pods set and ripened in a short window of time, so harvesting was a breeze. The whole plant loaded up with pods and promptly ripened to dry. And though the beans themselves are small, there are so many of them. I harvested over a pound of dry beans from one ten-plant tower.

As a cooking bean, it's wonderful. The beans are small so they need just a short soak, not an overnight bath, and they cook up sweet and quickly. They aren't a creamy bean, but instead, fudgy. They're delicious. There's a pot on the stove right now, bubbling away with half an onion, a clove of garlic, and a piece of pork belly skin from our recently smoked batch of bacon.

Cacahuatle Putla:
Cacahuatle Putla vines grew to be short runners with huge leaves in my garden, and they produced long, fat pods that were full of beans. Unfortunately, the plants seemed to suffer from the nematodes, so they didn't produce many pods. The ten vines produced a quarter pound of large, gorgeous peach, fuchsia, and maroon beans. Though I haven't tasted this variety yet, I sure enjoy looking at them.

Frijol China de Putla:
This was my mystery bean of the summer. Though nearly ever seedling was attacked by sowbugs and eaten to nubs, I was left with one very healthy plant. Early, this plant was clearly not a common bean, P. vulgaris, but appeared to me to be a cowpea, Vigna unguiculata. At first I thought it would run like its Asian long bean relatives, but the plant sent out only a few short runners and stayed low and bushy like the field pea it is. It had butterfly-like lavender and pale green flowers and sported long pods that dried to silver and contained pretty, tan and puce speckled small beans. The one plant gave me several ounces of dried beans that I haven't tried eating yet. If I like them, I'll try growing them out again, even though I have such a limited gene pool. Cowpeas and long beans deal so well with the heat, it's worth finding varieties that I like to grow out in the deep summer.

The rest of the beans are either keepers that grow every year in my garden, or varieties that I received from other heirloom vegetable gardeners.

Here's a mix of beans, mostly Blue Cocos (which I grow primarily as a fresh bean but make a very nice, creamy dried bean), that came in a few spurts after the main harvest so I just tossed all together. I'll use them in some kind of soup.

Blue Shackamaxon:
I've written about this bean before. It's a great bean for lots of reasons, its productivity first and foremost. Though I bagged the blossoms of the pods I saved in 2012, I must not have bagged well enough, because this year's grow-out showed a little more genetic diversity than I expected to see. Usually the beans are shiny blue black, but this year, there were a few multicolored blue and jade green beans and a few rust colored ones as well. I bagged very well this year and saved only seeds that were true to type, so we'll see how next year's grow-out does. The ten plant tower gave me a pound and a half of dry beans, half of which we've already eaten.

Tarahumara Dark Purple:
I love this bean that comes to my garden every year. It feels like it was meant to grow in my soil, sun, and alkaline water. It produces loads of pods that dry blonde but hold vibrantly colored beans inside. This year, I pushed the harvest too early and shelled lots of not quite dried beans, which led to lighter colored dry beans. Next year, I'll be more patient. The ten plant tower produced just over a pound of dried beans.

Mt. Pima Burro and Caballito:
Some of these beans are two colors, others three. They're all beautiful in shades of fawn and cream. The vines weren't happy with the nematodes and produced about a third of a pound of beans. I haven't tasted them yet.

Lynch Collection Lima:
I learned this year that nematodes and limas do not play well together at all. My lima vines were sparse and ratty all summer. They still gave me beans, but not a bounty, only a quarter pound from a ten plant tower. This is my second year growing this variety of lima, and I really like it. The diversity of color is stunning, the petite size pleasing, and the taste sweet and slightly herbaceous. I hope by this summer I will have won at least part of the nematode battle so I can have a bigger crop of these lovely beanies.

Beans, you never bore me.


Michelle said...

I love love love growing beans and it's so much fun to read your bean report! You grow such colorful varieties. I wonder if RG is going to do bean buddies again? I am hoping to find a few more varieties to squeeze into my garden this year, preferably something colorful. My two favorite beans both happen to be white, just at opposite ends of the size spectrum.

Philadelphia Gardener said...

What a Beautiful Bounty of Beans! Gorgeous colors and patterns!

With the nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots, how do you recognize root nematode problems in beans (maybe just poor growth)? Any hope of a biological control?

Christina said...

Hi Michelle: I'm pretty sure that Rancho Gordo will do this again, and if so, I'll hook you up with the contact person. If there are any beans I wrote about that you'd like to try, let me know, and I'll send you some seed. :)

Philadelphia Gardener: The nitrogen-fixing nodules and the root knots look very different. The nodules are firm, and the roots look healthy; the root knots are often mushy and sometimes even have holes in them where other pests have begun eating the decomposing roots, which are rope-y and off colored. Yes, I'm using a variety of controls--crab meal (to attract chitin eaters), a winter seeding of mustard in the fallow beds (which when turned under during the spring "gasses" the nematodes in the decomposition process), and mycorrhizal inoculants to support plants through what attacks occur. In the two beds I planted with winter crops, I added the inoculants and the crab meal, and the winter crop roots appear to be very healthy. I hope these strategies are working. Welcome to A Thinking Stomach! I hope to see you around here.

Anonymous said...

Beans as art!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

what is a ten plant tower? Did you plant ten plants of one type on a single tower?

and to achieve a pound of long does it take to pluck then shell? I'd think it would be exhausting.

btw: love the lima beans. beautiful

Christina said...

PA: You answered your own question! Yes, a ten plant tower is a tower with ten plants of one variety growing up it. Yes, shelling beans takes time, but it is a nice thing to do in the evening with a beer or glass of wine while chatting with my husband or watching television. I don't mind it.