Growing, Saving, and Enjoying Heirloom Beans

May 22, 2009

There really is something magical and enduring about beans; from their rich diversity and nutritional value, to the vigorous production in the garden, and viability outside of it.

Today’s article about growing and saving Heirloom Beans was written by Stephen Scott from Terroir Seeds, home of Underwood Gardens and Grandma’s Garden Catalog.

A Little History on the Cultivation and Use of Legumes

purple-heirloom-beansBeans are one of the primal sources of food, having sustained us for thousands of years. It appears that there were several different varieties of beans that were domesticated around the world independently of each other.

Beans are hardy, grow well in most conditions, produce prolifically, have one of the longest lifespan and are easy to transport.

They are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and have nourished many families during everything from travel to hard times. Many vegetarians and vegans turn to beans for the protein that is needed in their diets.

Getting Started with Beans in the Home Garden

There are many short season varieties that produce well. Succession planting will give longer and more production. It is best to plant every 2-3 weeks, either between existing plants, or additional rows. If planning to seed between older plants, leave room when doing the initial planting.

Pole or vining beans grow vertically and take up less space in a garden, while a bush bean will need more space lower down, usually a foot between plants. Pole beans are traditionally grown with sunflowers or corn for climbing on; with the added benefits of fixing nutrients such as nitrogen in the soil and specific fungi on the roots of the corn plant that give it more resistance to corn diseases.

Beans do well started as seedlings then transplanted once they are a foot or more tall, but can be direct sown as well. Beans like a warm soil, so don’t rush it.

Preserving and Saving Heirloom Bean Seeds

As they are open pollinated, you can save the seeds for next year’s planting if you choose. It’s easy to save seed; just let the pods dry on the vine and shell the beans for storage until next year.

Keep them labeled with the date harvested and the name and store them in a cool, dry place. Heirlooms have been saved for several generations for their flavor, production and hardiness.

Beans are self-pollinating, and will have lost their pollen by the time the flowers open, but bees can cross pollinate if they force their way into the unopened flower. Cross pollination can occur between beans, but is somewhat random, as there are a lot of factors in pollination.

Great Tips for Improving Bean Plant’s Growth and Production

lima-beansAn old method of reducing cross pollination is to plant bee attracting flowers close to beans, as the bees will go to the flowers first. Plant different bean varieties at least 20 feet apart if saving seeds.

Companion plantings of carrots and cauliflower will help the beans grow. Planting summer savory with green beans helps not only the growth of both, but the flavor of the beans. Savory is wonderful in cooking the dried beans as well.

Onions and garlic will slow the growth and production of beans, as will gladiolus. Marigolds help to repel Mexican bean beetles, as do potatoes. The beans in return repel the Colorado potato beetle! Plant the beans and potatoes in alternating rows for best effect.

Tomorrow we will wrap things up as Stephen introduces you to three of his favorite heirloom beans and shares a bit of their interesting histories for your enjoyment.

Stephen Scott has a business background and is an acknowledged chili-head who loves the hotter side of things and loves to cook. The appeal of the garden and growing is to supply the freshest ingredients for the meals! He has a large interest in self sustainability- being able to do and produce most of what one needs. They have built a greenhouse from recycled materials that provides year round produce and plants for the garden.

Cindy Scott has a degree in greenhouse management, and is the resident grower in the family. She has been collecting articles on soils, seed saving, and general growing for over 10 years. She developed a Grow Native! Plant Sale and Educational Festival that educates gardeners in the Central Arizona Highlands, that is now in its fourth year.

Visit Stephen and Cindy at Underwood Gardens for rare, hard to find, open pollinated and heirloom seeds for herbs, flowers, vegetables, and more.

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