Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Beans, Beans!

Somehow, we ended up with a lot of dry beans this year. It's interesting to compare  how productive they were, relative to each other. From left to right: Mennonite Purple Stripe, Arikara Yellow, Deseronto Potato Bean, Dolloff, and Blue Lake S7. Some seeds have been held back from all the varieties for replanting, but the above 2-litre jars give a good general idea of how productive each variety was, with the caveat that 2 out of the 5 varieties were planted in a 5' by 8' plot, and three were planted in a 5' by 4' plot.

First, the Mennonite Purple Stripe. We tried them this year as they are a relatively local heirloom pole variety, long grown by Mennonites from the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I believe they made their way into general circulation through Bob Wildfong of Doon Heritage Village (and Seeds of Diversity).  My impression is that they are likely a selected strain of Rattlesnake (aka Preacher), a relatively common heirloom American bean. It looks similar, although more brown than purple. The Mennonite Purple Stripe really are pretty, in unusual shades of purple and mauve. Even the green pods are streaked with purple.

They are supposed to be good both fresh and dry. Most people we gave them to thought they were really, really good fresh. Mr. Ferdzy and I thought they were only good, which doesn't quite cut it for us. So, after picking a few to eat fresh, we left the rest to dry. We haven't tasted them yet, but I can say that they were surprisingly slow to dry down, and only produced about 2/3 the amount of most of the other beans. They were one of the 5' by 4' plantings. The pods got enormous and puffy as they grew, but only contained an average of 5 to 7 beans. That's a high count, actually, but given how large the pods were, it seemed a bit unimpressive. And obviously, there were fewer pods, because in spite of the large size of the individual beans, they did not add up to much more than a litre once dried and shelled. These are a pole bean, Heritage Harvest says 70 days to fresh beans, and I'd think close to 120 for dry - not quick, really.

The ones next to them are Arikara Yellow. These are a traditional bean from the Mandan and Arikara tribes of the Missouri Valley. This is about on a latitude with southern Ontario, but it is in general a colder and drier place. Thus the beans are well adapted to short seasons and drought. We planted ours very late - in July! - in a 5' by 8' bed. They charged ahead, and when it became clear to them that the days were shortening, they started aborting new pods and too-small beans and concentrated on ripening what was far enough along to make it. We planted them earlier last year, and got a bit better crop then, I think. But not by much, so I'm really impressed by these. We got a bit more than it looks like; I saved a lot of seed out of them.

We planted Cherokee Trail of Tears at the same time this year (admittedly a pole bean, while Arikara Yellow is bush) and didn't get a single ripe seed. The plants seemed completely unaware of the approach of fall, and just kept noodling along putting out new beans but not shaking a tendril at getting the first ones ripe, presumably because they developed in an area of much longer seasons. In spite of the fact that Arikara Yellow went in late, they produced about as much as the best pole beans (in twice as much space, admittedly.) Bush beans are less work than pole beans though, and I find I don't mind picking dry bush beans in the same way that I mind picking fresh bush beans. That's because we yanked up the entire plants and brought them inside to finish drying, then shelled them at our leisure. The one thing to watch when growing dry bush beans is that the grass around them needs to be well trimmed, or they will run into it and rot.

Since we grew these last year we have tried eating these. They are a smallish kidney-like bean that dries to a yellowish buff and cooks up surprisingly brown with a nice mild beany flavour. These look like being a staple for us. Eighty to eighty-five days to dry maturity! Wow! Five to 6 beans per pod on average for us.

Next up, Deseronto Potato Bean. Heritage Harvest Seed describes them as "a vigorously twining bush but can be grown on a fence as a pole bean as well." We put them in with the pole beans, and boy, am I glad. Unlike most pole beans they didn't start back down once they got to the top, which means they "only" grew to seven or so feet, but I would hate to have to deal with them as a snarly mass on the ground. These were strongly determinate but took a while to dry down; 100 days sounds about right for the start, but they were quite spread out in the time it took them to finish.

I haven't eaten any of these yet but I am excited to try them. They are an even more genuine Ontario heirloom than the Mennonite Purple Stripe, originating with the Tyendinaga Mohawks of eastern Ontario. I expect they were originally grown up corn stalks, hence their slightly odd intermediate plant size. The beans themselves are lovely; big, fat and white, supposedly soft and potato-like in texture once cooked. I did not think they would produce as well as the Dolloff from the number of pods, and the fact that each pod had on average only 4 to 5 beans, but the beans are large enough individually that in the end they were actually very close in volume. This was another 5' x 4' section.

Dolloff was our other selection as a dried bean this year, and it takes the prize as the most productive, although by a nose. The beans are touted as a lima bean substitute, being rather similar in shape. They are smaller though, and prettily mottled in reddish tan and brown. These originate in Vermont, and as you might expect, they are quite early at 90 days to dry, and I would say they were all dried down within 2 weeks. Unlike the Desorontos, which died off once they were done the first batch, the plants then attempted to start producing a second batch, although only a few pods were able to mature before being cut short by frost. This is a beany, beany, bean-producing plant, for a dry bean. They are a shortish pole bean topping out at about 8' or 9' with 4 to 6 beans per pod.

Again, we haven't had a chance to try them yet, but if they are as tasty as they are productive they will be a real winner and a garden staple. We did try them as a fresh shelly bean, and they were delicious, although they turned a slightly unappetizing grey as they cooked. (That's them up above, from the middle of August.)

And finally we have a small quantity of Blue Lake S-7 beans. This is the other one that was planted in a 5' by 8' bed, which means that this is a very small quantity of dried beans for the space. That is misleading though; these were planted for fresh beans, and we only let them start drying down once we have filled our freezer and eaten as much as we can stand of them fresh. The fact that they still manage to produce any dried beans at all is impressive. They are not sold as a dried bean at all, but we seem to usually end up with about a litre of fine, delicate white beans that are really very good once cooked up - almost like the gourmet French haricot beans, although without the pale green tint of true haricots. Still, not bad at all for a complete bonus. There's always a lot of Blue Lake beans that don't get mature enough to dry down before frost,and that was the case this year as usual and it always makes me sad. Still, they at least get going on drying down the earlier pods soon enough that you should get a respectable quantity in the end. I can expect to pull out the Blue Lakes at the end of the season positive that they don't owe me a thing. Eight to 10 beans per pod, but small ones!

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