Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is For Beans- #AtoZChallenge

A Golden Haricot bean pod, just developing.
You've all heard that school yard chant:
"Beans, beans, the magic fruit; the more you eat, the more you toot! Pfffth!"

*snorts* Yeah, sorry. I have the sense of humor of an eight year old sometimes. I could regale you all with truly juvenile tales about beans and their effects (most of them I blame my father and brother for... you know how it goes), but I'll save you that experience and just jump straight to the point: Day 2 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge is all about beans.

A flat, smooth green pod protects its developing seeds on this
Golden Haricot bean vine.
What can I say about beans, apart from the fact that they're used in cooking and give you gas (and bad jokes)?

I know they're an acquired taste (I love green beans! My husband? ... Not so much). Dry beans make my favorite foods, such as spicy beef chili and refried beans (Taco Tuesday just isn't the same without the refried beans, you know what I'm saying?) Dried bean seeds come in an amazing array of colors, sizes, shapes and patterns, so much so that half the time, you just want to display them in glass jars, because they're so pretty.

The first Roger's White Runner seed.
There are many varieties of beans, but all beans are legumes, and belong to a larger family of plants that include alfalfa, clover, peas, lupins, lentils, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts and tamarind. If you want the scientific jargon, check it out at Wikipedia, but I'm trying to keep it simple. 

Of the legumes, beans are very useful plants to us as gardeners and farmers. Most notably, they provide food in the form of young green pods, which can be prepared in numerous ways to make them tasty. The also provide the bean seeds which, when dried thoroughly, store for a long time, making them a perfect bulk food storage option. Both dried beans and pods are components in countless recipes in cultures around the world, and have been for generations.

The flowers are the typical red and white of a scarlet runner
variety- you don't know there's anything special until you
collect the seeds.
Beans are also nitrogen fixers. This means that colonies of special bacteria live on their roots, called nodules, and these take nitrogen from the air and, through a complicated series of chemical reactions, convert it into a form that can be fixed into the soil, which in turn benefits crops that are planted after the beans (or other legume variety). As a result, they're used as a rotational crop, to restore soil nutrients, before the land is sowed again with another type of plant. 

Broad beans, a type of legume that have thick, free standing stalks, and long fleshy pods with large seeds, are commonly used as a green manure crop, allowed to grow tall before they're chopped, dropped and tilled in, to break down and add organic matter to the soil. (A related legume, peas, are grown until they dry out, before they are baled up as straw, for much the same purpose- mulch and compost. Seeing as they're so closely related, I cannot see why beans couldn't be used as straw as well).

One of Roger's White Runners, when it was still in it's pod.
When growing beans, you can choose from several varieties that have three basic growing habits.

Bush beans are squat but productive little plants, requiring no trellis for support, great for kids or very short people who don't have far to bend for the harvest, or for growing in tall raised beds, where bending has been factored out. They grow maybe to knee height- because of this, they are probably my least favorite type to grow in ground. I had several rows of bush beans a couple years ago, and I got real tired of paying homage to those plants, I can tell you. So, personally, I've been phasing my bush bean varieties out in favor of the climbing beans.

Clockwise From Top left: Trail of Tears, Golden Haricot,
Lazy Housewife, and Black Runner
Climbing beans are exactly what they say they are on the packet: they climb. They need a strong string or sturdy trellis to climb up, and given enough water and sunlight, will grow as tall as they can get, which is pretty tall (I reckon some would happily grow 20 feet if you didn't keep them in check).

Broad beans have the third growing habit: free standing. They have thick, rigid stalks which allow them to grow up without need for support. However, this doesn't mean they are indestructable- a strong wind can severely damage your broad beans, tearing them at their joints and knocking them down. Even though they can be grown free standing, I always think it's better to give them something to lean up against for extra support.

I trained my special runner beans up on a trellis,
and yes I am growing them in pots!
My personal garden project this year was to grow a few rare varieties in order to save the seeds for the seed bank project. I planted two types of scarlet runner seeds: a white seed with brown speckling, which I'm calling "Roger's White Runner" (got it from some guy named Roger, obviously); and a pure black seed, which I'm calling the "Black Runner", for the sake of simplicity. I also have a variety that I'm calling a "Golden Haricot": a stunning brown and caramel colored bean.

Unfortunately, we had a heat wave this year that kept them outside of their prime fruit setting temperature for several months (the prime temperature for them to set fruit at is 10C). As a result, my beans were not that successful. Currently, the scarlet runners are putting on a few pods (I have literally harvested one Roger's White Runner seed so far), and the Golden Haricots are just starting to dry out a couple of pods, so I haven't even started collecting them yet.

I do look forward to seeing how many I can grow this autumn though, so there will likely be a follow up post when that time comes. Until then, I'll wrap up this post, and hope you all learned a little something from this blog. :)

C you! (Get it? "See" you? Because the next blog starts with "C"-- yeah, never mind...)


  1. Wow. You are the bean expert! I had no idea there was so much to learn about beans! It will be interesting to see how your beans progress.

    1. Well, hardly an expert! But I have been growing them for a few years, so I've got a lot of observations to make. :) I didn't even get into how many different varieties there were, or how many I have, lol.


Please feel free to share your comments, questions and experiences.