Sunday, February 17, 2019

For the Love of Beans

Every year I like to grow new types of vegetables in my garden.  While it's fun to try out new varieties, I get very excited when a variety tastes so good that it makes the prized list of 'Veggies I Will Grow Every Year'.  Already on the list were Purple Podded Pole Beans, Hakurei Turnips, Ground Cherries, Black Krim Tomatoes, and salad green Claytonia.  This winter, after finally shelling the bean pods I harvested in fall, I am pleased to announce a new addition: Good Mother Stallard Beans.

Good Mother Stallard Bean pod
The maroon and white beans are beautiful, but they taste even better.  They are a nice meaty bean, and they make an amazing bean broth that adds incredible flavor to soup.  

I started these heirloom pole beans rather late in the season, planting them after I harvested my garlic, and I only planted a couple rows.  Despite this, I ended up with a decent amount of beans, almost a quart.  From now on they will be getting more time and real estate in the garden!

This summer I also planted Jacob's Cattle Bean, an heirloom bush bean that is thought to have been grown by the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine.  Legend has it that they gifted this bean to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.  Sadly my crop was a failure.  I also planted these beans later in the season, and I think they were shaded too much by neighboring plants.  I ended up with only a few dry beans before frost hit.  These beans were also very tasty, though I preferred the creamier texture and shape of the Good Mother Stallards.

Jacob's Cattle Beans
It is very likely that we owe the preservation and distribution of both of these heirloom beans to bean collector John Withee.  Born in Maine in 1910, John Earl Withee, Jr. was one of six children, and beans were a staple for the family, as times were tough.  Every Friday afternoon John would be in charge of cleaning out and starting a fire in the bean hole, a hole in the ground lined with bricks that worked as an oven.  A Dutch oven full of beans - often Jacob's Cattle Beans - would be lowered onto the hot coals and then covered with dirt.  The beans would bake for an entire day, ready for Saturday night's supper. 

cooked Jacob's Cattle Beans
After marrying and working as a medical photographer in New Hampshire, John Withee eventually took a job as the head of the Photographic Laboratory at what is now Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in 1960.  He and his wife finally bought land of their own, settling in Lynnfield, Massachusetts.  John built a garden and wanted to build a bean hole to revive the fondly-remembered tradition of his childhood.  However, when he went looking for Jacob's Cattle Beans or any of the other varieties he remembered, he couldn't find them.

Jacob's Cattle Bean flower
He began writing to friends and family looking for the beans he grew up with.  He found those and more.  After hearing stories of nearly losing some of these unique bean varieties, he realized that collecting them could be an important project.  He started visiting food stores throughout New England and putting notices in publications, looking for different beans.  By 1975, John had collected over 200 varieties of beans.  After retirement, he founded a non-profit named Wanigan Associates, made up of members that could grow and share these varieties and keep them alive.  By 1981, he had collected 1,186 varieties of heirloom beans.

As John got older, he started looking for someone to look after this living collection of seeds.  He found a promising seed saving group named Seed Savers Exchange, founded by Kent and Diane Whealy in 1975.  He asked them to take over his organization and bean collection.  Due to this, Seed Savers started growing as a central repository to preserve heirloom seeds, eventually becoming the largest seed bank in the United States outside of the government.

Good Mother Stallard was one of the 1,186 bean varieties that John Withee donated to Seed Savers, given to him by Carrie Belle Stallard in Virginia.  I am very glad that this tasty heirloom was not lost to us.  John Withee passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on.

available on Amazon
Happy gardening,
and happy cooking!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Hill of Very Long Beans

My new gazebo garden gave me more fenced-in space this summer, so I just had to try growing a few new veggies, one of which was the Chinese Red Noodle Bean.

Chinese Red Noodle Bean (banana for scale)
This impressively-sized bean is also commonly known as the Yard Long Bean, Chinese Long Bean, Snake Bean, Asparagus Bean, and Pea Bean.  The botanical name is Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, and this legume is not actually a bean at all.  It is a variety of cowpea and in the same family as black-eyed peas.

The heat-loving vines did wonderfully in my sunny front yard.  I planted the seeds in June, and two months later they started producing beautiful, fragrant flowers followed quickly by the beans.

The vines are vigorous and indeterminate (which means they keep growing and growing), ending up around 9 to 12 feet tall by the end of summer.  Once they started producing, they didn't stop.  I think I planted 8 seeds, and I ended up with crazy amounts of beans.  I gave away piles of beans, as there were far more than we could eat along with the other veggies from our garden.

one harvest of Chinese Noodle Beans
The beans were definitely better picked before they got too long and overly mature, before about a foot and a half.  I enjoyed the mild flavor.  Many think they taste more like asparagus, which is probably why a nickname is Asparagus Bean.  This is a great bean for a stir-fry.  It is highly nutritious, a good source of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folates, and other nutrients.

So were these plants incredibly productive?  Yes
Were the beans delicious? Yes
Would I grow these again?  NO, because of...


Yard Long Beans have extrafloral nectaries right below the flowers.  These nectaries secrete a sweet, carbohydrate-rich food that attracts ants.  In return, the ants protect the plant from predators that want to eat it.  Like me. 

several ants on this one
I don't know if it was just my ants or what, but they were very good at their job.  Every time I tried to pick a bean, the ants went crazy, racing up and down the bean.  Imagine me, a vertically challenged woman who has to harvest these beans while standing on a step stool, trying to pick beans in this jungle of vines while constantly swatting ants off of me.  I only got bit once, but still. 

my hard-fought pile of beans
Online others have said that they would just shake the bean and the ants would run away or fall off, but that didn't work with mine.  I must have the extra-special guard ants.  It is too bad, as these were great, productive beans.  If anyone has a solution to fight off the ants, let me know.

Until then I will be sticking to my more regular pole beans.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Wendy's Wish

I have long drooled over 'Wendy's Wish' Salvia whenever I've seen it offered in catalogues.  It's been on my list for awhile now due to the gorgeous fuchsia color of its blooms, but I never could bring myself to pay shipping costs for a plant that is an annual up here.  

Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'
So when I found them at a local nursery this summer for a bargain, I quickly snatched up three!  They were perfect for my new gazebo garden in the front yard.  It was a great spot for this salvia - full sun, good drainage, good soil.

the gazebo garden in early June
I think they liked the spot.

the gazebo garden in September
It would help if I read the description of how big plants get before I plant them.  These salvia grow to around 3' - 4' wide and high.  I planted them about a foot and a half apart. They rebelled and spent the summer trying to escape the garden.

As beautiful and vigorous as these plants were, I think the best thing about them was how much the hummingbirds loved them.

One small female claimed this garden as hers and stood guard over it all summer, chasing away any other hummingbird that dared to sneak in.

Almost every time I looked, there was a hummingbird.

'Wendy's Wish' Salvia has an interesting and inspiring story behind it.  It was found as a chance seedling in 2005 by Wendy Smith, a salvia enthusiast, in her garden in Victoria, Australia.  When patenting her plant, she stipulated that a portion of each sale be given to Make-a-Wish Australia, a foundation that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

bee robbing nectar from a salvia flower
This generous action has inspired others to do the same.  'Ember's Wish' and 'Love and Wishes' are two salvias derived from 'Wendy's Wish' that also earmark a portion of their proceeds to Make-a-Wish Australia.

'Ember's Wish' Salvia and 'Love and Wishes' Salvia
photos from Almost Eden Plants
These salvias are hardy to zone 9.  They like full sun, but can take part shade in hot climates.  They are deer resistant and drought tolerant.  They do have a spreading habit, which might look untidy for some.  If you want to attract hummingbirds to your garden, though, this is your plant.

Until next summer...
happy gardening!

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