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August 08, 2015

Saturday Gardening Thread: It's "Bean" a Long Week [Y-not and KT]

Greetings, Gardening morons and moronettes! Welcome to your Saturday Gardening Thread.

Today's thread is brought to you by Politicians That Look Like Peppers:

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OK, I don't know who these dudes are. How about 16 Things That Look Like Donald Trump?

Here's one in keeping with the Gardening Thread:


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(As the Almighty is my witness, I had this in the Gardening Thread before seeing it in the sidebar. Honest!)

A brief "farm report" from Casa Y-not before we get to KT's contribution, which is YUGE!

The veggie garden this year has been weird. We had a very wet and cool Spring, which seems to have led to some disappointing results. My snap peas were OK, but not stellar in terms of the number of peas produced. Radishes bolted. Carrots look like they won't amount to much. And my tomatoes... meh.

I planted three varieties this year. Early in the Spring I put in "starts" of a yellow tomato called "Dr. Wyches" and of a small red tomato called "Sub Arctic Maxi." Somewhat later in the Spring I planted a couple of "Cherokee Chocolate" plants, a variety I'd had some success with last year.

The Dr. Wyches plants are large, but not very happy. They've suffered from brown leaves since pretty much right after I planted them. If I recall correctly, KT mentioned they don't like wet leaves --- and they sure had wet leaves for most of the Spring! They've made flowers and started a few fruits. Time will tell if I get to enjoy any of them.

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The Sub Arctic Maxi plants have never amounted to much. They're short and stumpy, but they have produced some tomatoes. Sadly, I'm not particularly impressed by the cherry tomatoes I've gotten from these plants. I like a salty tomato with a "meaty" consistency. These are just sort of juicy and tangy, but nothing special. Oh well! Live and learn.

The Cherokee Chocolates are the happiest of the three varieties. The plants have grown quite a lot and seem healthy. They are just now starting to produce fruit.

Also at Casa Y-not we've tried growing cucumbers for the first time. The variety I chose was "Sultan," which seems to like to climb on the trellises that are part of my raised beds.

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The cucumbers these plants produced are pretty tasty -- a little more aromatic than a typical grocery store cucumber and no bitterness. There are seeds, but not too many or too large. All in all, I deem them a success.

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BTW, if you wonder why I chose this variety, it's simply because they were the healthiest plants at the garden center when I happened to go looking for veggie starts. Here's a link describing a few varieties you might try.

Finally, my peppers have underproduced. I planted a lot of "Padron" peppers, but haven't had more than a few dozen to harvest thus far. I think it's just too wet and too cool for them to thrive. I did also do a few bell peppers, "California Wonder," and they've provided some peppers for salads, but just not in abundance.

I've asked around, both locally and friends/family across the country, and my impression is that this has not been a great year for many of us small scale, home gardeners.

I blame Global Warming. And Boosh.

How are things in your neck of the woods?


And now... take it away, KT:

Runner Beans to grow for flowers and sweet snaps

In the comments on the Saturday Gardening Thread two weeks ago, Ronster wrote that his wife's pole bean was doing well, with lots of red blossoms attracting hummingbirds, but no beans. This is very typical of Scarlet Runner Beans in much of the USA. They are growing an heirloom variety, Scarlet Emperor. It was bred for improved bean pod quality compared to generic Scarlet Runners. There is now a version of Scarlet Emperor that produces stringless pods called "Scarlet Empire". All of these cultivars have striking flowers.

Ronster and his wife may get some beans as the weather cools off. Some people mist their plants after hot days to reduce night temperatures. In the meantime, they can enjoy the hummingbirds.

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Scarlet Runner Blossoms with Hummingbird, in Canada

Most of the snap or green beans we eat in the United States are "common beans", Phaseolus vulgaris. "Runner Beans" are P. coccineus. *FIXED* This species originated in the highlands of Central America and similar regions in Mexico and northern South America. It generally prefers cool rather than cold or hot growing conditions. The plants often fail to set beans in warm weather, though the plants still blossom. It is too hot to even grow the plants where I live now.

I associate runner beans with the UK, and they are well-suited to places in the USA with similar summer weather. In the San Francisco Bay area, runner beans are perennial, but not reliably perennial. The tuberous roots can be eaten by rodents, or they can deteriorate over winter if soil conditions are not right for them. If you have a plant you particularly like, you may be able to store the roots over winter like one would with a prized dahlia.

Runner beans came to the UK via Spain and were first grown there as ornamentals. The scarlet-flowered varieties were the first to be developed in the UK. This is a disadvantage in terms of birds in the UK, because some birds eat the blossoms and there are no hummingbirds to be attracted by the color. White-flowered forms are less attractive to birds and sometimes produce pods with better eating quality. Over the years, cultivars with pink and bicolor flowers have also been developed. There are also some dwarf types. Typically, runner snap beans are bigger and sweeter than common snap beans, with a coarser texture and less "beany" flavor.

Recently, cultivars with genes from common beans have been introduced. These do not require pollination by insects (or hummingbirds) like regular runner beans, and they may have a little more tolerance to heat. They may also have improved texture. Note that, in the UK, common beans grown for snaps are called "French beans" whether or not they are from France.

The new "part French" runner beans include Firestorm, Snowstorm, Moonlight, Tenderstar (bicolor), Stardust (white) and Red Rum (called a hybrid by Thompson and Morgan).

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Tenderstar -- "15 years of British breeding"

People seem to have a lot of fun naming runner beans. Check out a few of the recommended cultivars for flowers and snaps if you are interested in specific characteristics. There are links to additional information, including recipes, at the bottom of the page.

Seedaholic has some interesting information about development of runner beans into a food crop. Their history includes the transformation of the plants from daylength-sensitive to daylength-neutral. I'm KT, and I'm a seedaholic, too. I like this kind of information.

Runner beans are an especially important part of the gardening culture in the UK. Breeders vie for recognition by the Royal Horticultural Society. There are competitive runner bean exhibitions every year, sort of like the sweet pea exhibitions for which the UK is so famous. The National Pub Challenge for the longest runner bean is somewhat less structured than the typical runner bean exhibition.

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Benchmaster, ready to arrange for exhibition

In the USA, there is a vigorous Scarlet Runner Bean making news among dedicated gardeners in warmer climates, Insuk's Wang Kong. It is from South Korea, where this type is known as the King Bean. It can reportedly even be grown in the low deserts of Arizona by starting it in November. There is quite a bit of variability in the seed color, so some people consider it to be a "landrace" rather than a stabilized cultivar. Pod quality is not up to the standards of the new English cultivars, so pick it younger for snaps, or wait and harvest it as a dried soup bean. Let me know in the comments if you are interested in trying it.

Runners to grow for luxurious shellies and upscale dried beans

I have grown four species of beans in order to harvest the mature, but not dried, seeds for cooking: common beans, cowpeas such as black eyed peas, edamame soybeans and Fordhook limas. Garbanzo beans are sold fresh in their pods in supermarkets here in spring. But until I started researching for this post, it had never occurred to me to try runner bean seeds as shelly beans. It just didnít seem like the right thing to do.

A Gardenweb reader from the UK requested recipes for using runner beans as shellies. The consensus among the bean enthusiasts who responded was that the cultivar makes more of a difference than does any specific recipe. One correspondent wrote,

The flavor and texture of Bianco di Spagna were much better than most runner seeds. . . So far, I have found four white runners with seeds with good eating qualities: "Bond's Orcas Lima" is a very early white runner with smaller thin-skinned good flavored seeds. We also liked "Cannellini Gigante" and "Delucci Cannellini" both of which are long season white seeded runners.

If you scroll through the thread, you will see a photo of one specimen of Bianco di Spagna that was 1 3/4 inches long. It wasn't the largest.

Runner beans at the shelly stage are not likely to be found in markets in the USA because the plants do not lend themselves to mass harvest of shelly beans. You have to grow your own, pretty much. If you have let your garden go feral and you have some big white-seeded runner beans (or other beans) at the right stage, take advantage of the bounty:

Beans are not a food we associate with urgency. Beans are stored wealth. They are an assurance that come winter cold, we will have something good to eat. But those of us who grow beans know otherwise. When they are picked at the proper time, as I was lucky enough to do, they are as full and as in their prime as an athlete, yet as supple as a dancer. This is fleeting moment to be celebrated.

"Supple as a dancer"? I had never thought of shelled beans that way before. Must be a guy thing. Well, never mind. Check out his book if you like (hunter, angler, gardener, cook). Shellies ARE different from dried beans. Anyway, let's eat.

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Giant Greek Runner Beans with Roasted Peppers

Traditional cultivars of dried runner beans are becoming more popular with foodies. Really big runner beans seem to be especially popular. One example is the Giant Greek type.

Giant Greek runner beans do not come from the Greek islands. They come from the cooler, wetter mountainous region of Greece. But they are sold on the Greek islands, and if you are nostalgic for Greece during better days, you might want to buy some and prepare them in one of the Greek styles. They come in two size categories. "Gigantes and elephantes from the Kastoria, Florina, and Drama regions of Greece are recognized by the European Union as products of Protected Geographic Location". Sort of like French wines. I wonder if that designation would continue if Greece left the EU?

You might like to try the Greek tavern appetizer Gigantes Plaki. Some variations on this recipe are flavored with cinnamon or mint. If you would rather go Italian, the NYT has a recipe for Minestrone with Giant White Beans and Winter Squash.

Another runner bean with a "protected geographic location" is the Tarbais from France, traditionally planted with corn and picked as shellies (from a cornfield? That would be a miserable job) before the end-of-season harvest of dried beans. Thirty bucks a pound when out of season? I have a suspicion that the high price would be for high-labor shellies rather than for dried beans. That could be "out of season" from the point of view of people who market dried beans to foodies, even if the shellies taste better. Grow your own shellies, cook and mash with a hint of truffle for a real high-roller dip.

Runner beans are easier for novices to harvest as shelly or dried beans than most common beans because the seeds are generally pretty big. You can dry regular old Scarlet Runner Beans, cook them, mash them and serve them with tortillas.

Smittenkitchen has a recipe for fast white bean stew using Runner Cannellini beans from the ultra-trendy source for dried beans, Rancho Gordo in Napa Valley. Runner Cannellini has now been replaced by Royal Corona at Rancho Gordo. Their cassoulet (Tarbais) bean is also a runner bean. So are their Ayochote beans: Amarillo, Morado, Blanco y Negro.

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Fast White Bean Stew

Gardeners sometimes buy high-end dried beans (intended for a foodie's table) in order to grow them in the garden. This is not a bad idea, but the beans will not have been tested for germination, so ordering them to grow is a bit of a gamble. If you grow some, we would like to hear about it in the comments on a Saturday Gardening Thread. If you cook them instead, you could report your results on CBD's Food Thread the following Sunday.

Growing runner beans

I like the idea of starting runner beans indoors, to keep mice (and in the USA, corn seed maggots) from eating the seeds, and to keep birds from destroying the newly-sprouted plants. There are some other good tips at the link. I would probably set the plants outdoors during the day once they sprouted, near the house, when weather permitted. I would also inoculate the seeds with the same organism used to inoculate common beans, to allow the plants to fix nitrogen from the air.

One guy sprouted some Greek Giant Beans to confirm that they are runner beans. The seed leaves (cotyledons) stay in the soil, unlike common beans. Nice photos. Check out the rest of his site, too.

Thompson and Morgan has a nice video on growing runner beans.

If you want to save seeds to grow the same type from year to year, you will need to grow only one cultivar of runner bean, and make sure that your neighbors are growing the same cultivar. Give them some seeds, if necessary.

Hope you have a great gardening week.


Y-not: Thanks KT!

To close things up, apparently there was a TV show called "Pushing Daisies."

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I suspect it might be of interest to morons, even those with the blackest of thumbs, because of one of the show's actresses, Anna Friel. Ms. Friel was featured in xbradtc's "Loaded Heat" post this week. You should make a habit of visiting xbradtc's blog.

See? Gardening can be quite exciting!

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posted by Open Blogger at 03:20 PM

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