Full of Beans

I spend some time in the winter researching garden topics that capture my interest or that I don’t fully understand.

One such topic I’m looking into now is varieties of snap, shell, and dry beans.  I do know that snap (or string) beans are those eaten as pods, and that with fresh shell beans the full-sized seeds are lightly cooked and eaten, and dried beans are full matured, dried-in-the-shell seeds of bean plants. What I’m interested in is what kinds of bean varieties are best for more than one of these uses.

Apparently, many of the snap bean varieties are not highly regarded as shell or dry beans.  So far, only one variety I’ve found (Dragon Tongue or Tongues of Fire) is recommended for all three uses.  It would seem like a good thing to have one variety of bean you could grow in bulk–picking young for snap beans and then when you get really sick of picking, leaving the crop on the vine to ripen for fresh shells and then dried beans.

It’s not that I have a problem with growing more than one variety of bean, but if it was possible to have all three types of beans from one variety, it might be nice for space-saving (though growing enough beans to shell and/or dry does tend to take a lot of space) or simplifying one’s seed order.

My snap bean of choice for the last couple of years is the Romano-type (flat) yellow heirloom pole bean called “Marvel of Venice.”  Mine is the white-seeded strain originally purchased from Johnny’s–I have heard the black-seeded variety is even better, but I’m really happy with this variety, and I’ve got a good amount of seed saved for the coming year.

I’m also really partial to pole rather than bush beans–I’ve had some good years with bush beans, but I’ve had worse insect and disease problems with bush beans, and I hate picking them.  After having spent weeks one summer sitting on a crate picking bush beans for hours at a time for a big CSA farm I worked on, I’ve decided my own farm plan will include only pole beans from now on, and I’m content to pass over what I’m sure are some fabulous low-growing varieties in favor of picking ease.  Besides, the common wisdom is that, on the whole, pole bean varieties taste better.

But do they taste better just as snap beans, or are the sources talking about all uses?  I’ve noticed a lot of the classic dried bean heirloom varieties are bush beans, so I’m guessing they mean pole beans make better-tasting snap or string beans.

I do have a small amount of fava bean seed as well, and that needs to be grown out this coming year.  I originally purchased that seed from Seeds of Change, and grew it out about three years ago.  The variety is Chak Rusga, and it produces large, rusty-brown colored seed on three foot tall plants.

That seems like a good Community Garden test plot project, though I’ll have to run some rabbit fencing around the plot while the plants are young.  Fava beans can take (and enjoy) much cooler temperatures than other garden beans for germination and growth and are not in the Phaseolus (garden bean) genus, but the Vicia genus–like vetch–a common nitrogen-fixing green manure crop.

They’re a really “meaty” bean, and are at the center of Egypt’s national dish: ful mesdames.  In this country, they’re often thought of in in reference to Hannibal Lecter’s cannibalistic tendencies.

I’m interested to know if any of my readers have tried different varieties of beans for fresh shell or dry beans and what they thought of the results.  I did try to grow a bush variety of Tongues of Fire one year, intending to use them for fresh shell beans, but they were flooded out.  Mostly I’m intrigued by the pole varieties, to see what I might try in addition to my Marvels of Venice to shell and dry for winter use.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Hello-

    I also grew some of the chak rusga beans from SOC a number of years back- they did well but after moving my household, I lost track of my seed and when I found it some years later, it was not viable – since then I have been looking for a source but unable to find one – if you might be willing to part with a few seeds I can either pay you via cash or paypal or trade one of my garden products – thank you


  2. Posted by flyingtomato on September 28, 2012 at 6:15 am

    Mike, I’m sorry, but I lost all my old seed stock in a fire last year. I would look through Seed Savers Exchange (not just their catalog, but becoming a member gives you access to thousands upon thousands of varieties).

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