15 December 2008

Dual-purpose Provider Beans

Beans are generally an easy crop to grow. They need a moderate amount of compost, not near as much as tomatoes and other heavy-feeders, because as a legume, they fix nitrogen, but they do like more compost than peas. In our garden, we don't have any pests that attack the bean plants or leaves, but they are vulnerable before they emerge to cutworm damage. As we improve our garden soil, we will see fewer and fewer cutworms. In the meantime, our best preventative is to get the plants up and going as quickly as possible. This means planting when the soil conditions are warm and moist, and choosing a vigorous variety, which is a characteristic we have selected from our own previous crops. It can help to soak the beans overnight, this way the seed will not dry out in the ground, slowing germination. The seedpods are vulnerable to damage from the Corn earworm and the Cowpea curculio, both of which bore holes into the pods and feed on the seeds. But neither did much damage to our crop, the Corn earworm seems to prefer corn, and the Cowpea curculio kept mostly to the peapods. Beans can also succumb to mildew in wet seasons like 2008, but a healthy crop will be able to resist these vulnerabilities.

This year we grew two varieties of beans, Provider for green beans, and Jacob's Cattle for dried baking beans. Canned green beans, being our favorite green vegetable for the winter, are a staple. We planted 200 row feet in 2008. We enjoy baked beans occasionally, but not as a staple, I would be happy with 10 lbs, so we planted 100 row feet. The two varieties are side by side, and we do save seeds from them, beans generally self-pollinate, so even heavy insect traffic in the prolific flowers do not seem to cross-pollinate the two varieties. They have not crossed in three years. I choose my plants for seed saving at the flowering and early fruiting stage. That's when I can pick out the early and heavy producers that look healthy and dark green. I tie red wool yarn around the bush, so that it is obvious to see when harvesting, not to pick any pods from these plants. All of the pods that these plants produce are allowed to go to seed, 6-12 plants will give you a pound of seed.
Well, with so much rain early in the season, we had a bumper crop of green beans. I had never seen so many pods on the Provider plants, by mid-season they were heavy with green beans. The more I picked, the more they flowered. The Jacob's Cattle beans have never impressed me with their yield, they only put out about 15-20 seedpods and quit flowering. The Provider plants, under identical conditions produce 25-50% more pods.

Maturing Jacob's Cattle pods
Our 200 row feet of green beans proved to be too prolific for our needs, we were eating a huge mess of buttered green beans, and I was canning them as quickly as they could grow. Once I had enough canned, and we couldn't give any more away, I could easily see that we would not be able to keep up with them. I hate to let food go to waste, especially when we have worked the ground, used precious compost, planted the seeds, and weeded the crop. I tried feeding the pods to the chickens, but not much interest there. I even tried giving some to the cow, but that was just a waste when she had lush clover pastures. So I thought I would simply let part of the crop go to seed. The dried bean seeds would either be good for eating, or at the very least, we could chop the dried beans in the meat grinder and feed them to the chickens as a high-protein supplement over the winter. One third of the crop was enough to keep us in fresh green beans for the rest of the season. The other two-thirds of late maturing bean pods did not fully dry on the plants, I had to pick them before frost, and let them finish curing indoors.

The baking beans dried well on the plants, the pods were brittle and the beans hard. I prefer letting them dry on the plant because I can pick the pods off the plants on a dry day, and put them aside to shell on a rainy day or when the season slows down.

100 row feet of Jacob's Cattle baking beans yielded one pound of seed, and 6.5 lbs of beans. It was a poor crop, but even still, six good pots of chili or baked beans.

After shelling the Provider beans, I let them dry out until they were hard and cured. This late and unexpected crop yielded 4 lbs of beans. All told 200 row feet of Provider beans produced 103 lbs green beans, 2 lbs seed, and 4 lbs beans. The dried beans look like a kidney bean, so I thought I would try them out in a chili, and see how they taste.

I soaked equal parts of Jacob's Cattle beans, Provider beans and Chickpeas overnight, and made a chili the following day. It turned out to be a cold snowy day, perfect for chili. And it tasted great.

Seeing how prolific the Provider variety is, and the added benefit that the early green pods can be eaten, and the late pods allowed to dry for baking beans, this one variety may become my single dual-purpose variety of bean. I enjoy the colorful markings on the Jacob's Cattle variety, but once cooked I could not tell them apart. In the end, I got my 10 lbs of dried baking beans for the winter. As we begin to make garden plans for 2009 we will have to decide whether to try another variety of baking bean, or to plant Provider beans for both our needs.


Anonymous said...

Beans! Oh, I so miss them. My children are allergic to peanuts (Aden is anaphylactic) so I have been advised to avoid legumes, in the kitchen and garden. I miss growing them more than eating them, isn't that wierd? Although I have to admit, that chili looks divine!! :) Great post, my friend.

el said...

Freija, how can you grow only 2 types of beans??? Okay I am simply letting my huge veggie bias be known, but...I usually grow about 15-20 varieties. Almost all of them I allow to dry as most dried beans are fantastic. We're also big fans of "shell beans," which are the midway point between green beans and dried beans. I have two crops that are specifically "shelly" but they're fine as dried crops too. Favas, limas, edamame, yard-longs, cowpeas, all types of pole and bush...I grow the Jacob's Cattle and have likewise had iffy crops of them, and Provider are also great. We favor flat Italian green beans for freezing, and the tiny Maxibel haricot vert for fresh green eating. We even dried whole green beans for "leather breeches beans" stabbed through the middle with a string (okay, but not the best).

For what it is worth, I have seed-saved beans for 12 years now and have yet to have any crossing.

redclay said...

I also had a bumper crop of green beans this year...just down in South Carolina. I didn't think I planted that much but when I saw my wife roll her eyes when I walked in the door with yet another meal of green beans, I knew it was time to just let them go to seed. The seeds took a long time to dry out on the bush. Right or wrong, I stripped the pods (dry or not) off the plants right before our first frost and set them out to dry in a covered area. They seemed to do OK.

I'm sure it would simplify matters to only have one kind of bean but that could leave you exposed to crop failure (besides being a bit monochromatic). Maybe Jacob's Cattle just isn't your ideal pick!

I love your blog. Thanks for taking the time to keep us up to date!

Maureen said...

I'm a seed saving moron so this post was EXTREMELY helpful....thanks so much!!!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Well gosh, between farmmom who has NO beans and el who has MANY beans, I feel like goldilox, right in the middle. *smile*

Since I wrote this post I have been looking into trying some pole beans next year, so it wont be just one lonely Provider out there. Any suggestions for a pole bean that can be eaten as green beans or dry beans?

Good point redclay about crop failure, but I have noticed that what affects one variety affects the other as well, so in case of true crop failure we would probably have to rely another crop for our greens, like peas or cabbage.

Maureen, I'm glad this post was so helpful, you are very welcome!

el said...

Many people claim that the taste of pole beans is superior to bush beans, but I am agnostic about that. Maybe you should aim for a fat-podded bean like a Romano? That would fill in a gap for you. My favorite for taste no matter when you pick it is Rattlesnake, as they're tasty even when the beans are filling out, and the shell and dry beans are quite tasty too.

You could also experiment with creasy beans which traditionally were planted with your corn, using them as trellises.

A tip: I succession plant my pole beans in the same spot, doing one to three additional seedings. The pole beans tend to max out even if you keep up with picking. Many also fade out in hot weather, picking up again when it cools down a bit. Succession planting means you have to have good eyes to find the beans, though!

redclay said...

Your reply comment made me go do some more digging into types of beans. I found that Fava beans are of a different genus (Vicia faba, actually a vetch) compared to your Provider beans which is probably a Phaseolus vulgaris (I'm not a botanist so this is my guess).

I have not personally grown favas but they are supposedly cold hardy and tolerant of cold damp soil. Since they are from a different genus, I would expect them to be different enough to give you some diversification in your legumes. They are on my list of crops to try here...probably next winter.

Best wishes to you this holiday season. The solstice has passed so enjoy each (slightly) longer day.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

redclay, I have tried both Fava beans and Broad beans, neither of which have done well in my garden. The Favas were much heavier feeders and only gave a minimal amount of food in return. The broad beans did not do well this year with the moist summer, and succumbed to a fungal disease, and again, did not yield much in our short summer.

I am not much worried about having a diversity of varieties in my garden. I keep the genetic material of each strain that I grow as strong as possible, that is what I consider to be genetic diversity. Heirloom varieties were originally from the one or two strains of seed that a region grew, year after year. Go back a few hundred years and you will likely only see one or two varities of each crop in house gardens. Each region had their specific varities because they did well for their locale.

What does worry me is growing varieties that do not do well in my garden/climate. These varities are more likely to bring in disease and pests that could spread to my stronger crops if left unchecked. I would not mind having 2 or possibly 3 varieties of beans in my garden, if each of these varieties fulfill a purpose, just as I have 3 vatieties of tomato, one for early slicing, one for canning and a cherry for drying. But each variety I grow must be vigirous and appropriate to our specific growing conditions.

Each gardener has to find the varieties that perform well for them, and then keep the strongest genetic material going within that particular variety by careful selection and seed saving techniques. And do not be gentle when it comes to culling a variety or crop that consistently succumbs to disease. This is how we can garden with climate change in mind, growing locally appropriate food crops with strong resistance to the kinds of freak weather events, and pests and diseases we are going to be seeing more often.

Mike (planbe) said...

My recommendation for a great dual-purpose pole bean would unhesitatingly be Rattlesnake. I have seeds to swap if you like...

I'm interested in your comment that "as your soild improves the cutworm problem should diminish". My experience has been the opposite, and I've always assumed (wrongly? maybe!) that it was because there is more organic matter for them to eat. Tres interesting...

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Mike, interesting topic. Yes, more organic matter does give them more food to eat. I suppose I mean something more complex by improved soil.

Our garden was turned from old pastures three years ago. We had lots of problems with cutworm and wireworm the first season because they thrive in the decomposing twitch grass and clover, etc. Each season since we have added only well composted organic matter, and have seen a decrease in the cutworm problem.

If you turn green manure crops into your garden as soil amendment (except rye), you may see more cutworm problems. Or if you use compost that has not fully broken down. The cutworms feed on decomposing matter. So to counteract this, we pull all of the "trash" out of the garden before winter, not leaving it to break down in the soil. And we do all of the composting outside of the soil.

Green manure crops can be used as a soil amendment, but it is best to follow it with a cereal crop which will deter the cutworms and wireworms. The next season, dress with compost and plant vegetables.