Growing magic beans

heirloom bean varieties New ZealandTo me, seeds are mini miracles. When I hold them in my hand I get terribly excited by all that potential inside them. And eating something that grew from a little seed I planted and nurtured is simply incredible.

Some seeds themselves taste delicious and some just look beautiful – some are both. I have twenty varieties of different beans at home and no two look the same – spotted, speckled, stripey and squiggly in a range of colours, shapes and sizes.

If you’ve never dabbled in the wonders of seeds, beans are a great place to start. They’re keen beans, they grow fast. Satisfyingly so. They’re easy – soak them overnight in some warm water, then direct sow them into your garden keeping them moist. In seven days you should see them coming up. Be vigilant for slugs though!

Magic beans

Our modern beans are derived from plants that once grew wild in Central and South America. But we’ve been cultivating beans for ages and archaeologists have found traces of domesticated types that date back more than 7000 years. Heirloom gardeners have hundreds of varieties of bean to choose from. So I’m just going to focus on a few of my favourite shelled beans, all available in New Zealand, some of which have been available through Seedy Sunday.

Heirloom bean - Borlotto fire tongue

Borlotto fire tongue —  My first main crop of beans this year will be these little Italian wonders. They’re bushy so don’t need to be staked. The pods look stunning when they’re growing and they taste delicious. I didn’t manage to dry any last year for winter reserves because we ate them all. This year, I’ve planted more, a lot more. You can buy them through Kings Seeds.

Heirloom bean - Selugia

Selugia — These gorgeous little beans are almost black in colour with lots of brown speckles. They are said to have been brought to NZ by a serviceman returning from WW2. Really tasty, they can be eaten fresh or dried. They’re a tall variety with very heavy cropping. These beans are available through the Koanga Institute.

Heirloom bean - Bob's bean

Bob’s bean — Another Koanga bean said to have returned in the socks of another returned soldier who had been hiding in the hills in Italy after having escaped from a POW camp. He couldn’t return home without these beans that had become a much loved part of his diet. You can eat them green when young or they can be dried. A tall variety with heavy crops.

Heirloom bean  - Holy bean

Holy beans —  This heavy cropping, tall bean has been in NZ for a long time, with a wonderful story to go with it. According to legend, a French pastor hid his church treasures underground during WW1. In order to protect the treasures even better, he planted beans on top of them. When the beans were ripe for picking and being shelled the pastor discovered a monstrance on the beans. They are white and very round with the marking that looks to me like a little painted angel.

How much should I sow?

Lots. If you’re not going to eat them – give them away. Save some for seed and grow more next year or bring them to Seedy Sunday. If you are going to save beans for seed only grow one variety at once or stagger them so that only one type is flowering at once. You don’t want your beautiful heirloom varieties cross-pollinating. If you want advice or help with your heirloom beans, you can contact me at loveplantlife(at)gmail(dot)com

The Great Bean Hunt

The Central Tree Crops Research Trust has undertaken a project to find all the different varieties of heirloom beans growing in New Zealand. These old and quite often rare seeds will have superior nutritional properties when compared to modern hybrid varieties. These seeds are important for the medicinal health of current and future generations and need to be preserved. CTCRT want to find these varieties and save them and distribute them to the community.

If anyone in New Zealand has an old variety of bean that they would like to share (whether it be a climbing bean, a Runner, a dwarf or a Broad bean), please contact: Central Tree Crops Research Trust, PO Box 4088, Wanganui 4541 beanlovers(at)xtra(dot)co(dot)nz

So what’s this Seedy Sunday?

Seedy Sundays are getting local gardeners together to form a community of experienced and successful food growers. By building the capability of local gardeners, sharing resources and swapping seeds, we hope to become more self-reliant and better caretakers of our place on ‘Nature Coast’.

As well as guest speakers, Seedy Sunday facilitates the exchange of fruit, vegetables, grains, native plants and generally all useful plants. Seedy Sunday meetings happen on the third Sunday of each month at the Paraparaumu Memorial Hall, Tutanekai St. For more information please contact Anna at loveplantlife(at)gmail(dot)com

Article by Anna Butterfield. This article appears in the November issue of the Kapiti Coast District Council’s sustainability e-zine Ontoit.


4 Responses to “Growing magic beans”

  1. 1 DH
    November 7, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Great article. I used to grow this delicious stringless bean that was given to me by an old mate. Will see if he still has any. I ate all the ones I had
    Keep up the good work

  2. November 7, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    An heirloom, stringless bean is a complete winner – a marketer’s dream, apparently. Everyone wants stringless beans and modern plant specialists are working on them. Go find that mate, and please report back when you do.

  3. June 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    hi my name is Mary and i am doing a project on fire beans at uni!!!

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