Monday, 26 August 2013

Bean Trials - Findings start Coming In

Two years ago I grew as many different potato varieties as I could with the aim of settling on a few varieties which would serve me well.

This year it was the turn of the beans, runners, dwarfs, dried, French, inside, outside...

The beans broadly fall into two categories, those where the whole pod is eaten and those grown purely for the actual beans inside.

First, let's get the dwarf beans out of the way. They were a complete failure this year, with virtually no germination. I guess the late winter meant the soil was not warm enough. Everybody round here had the same problem. The climbing beans on the other hand did well. Don't ask me to explain that one!

I have abandoned heritage varieties this year and have prioritised stringlessness. This is because I detest finding a mouthful of stringy bean pod in my mouth. It's like eating bony fish.
I have grown a red variety, Armstrong, and it has done well. Even when I forget to harvest it for a while, the ones which have grown a bit too big still snap cleanly. Then there's a variety with white flowers and white beans - the name totally escapes me right now. This I am growing for the beans inside, which I hope to be able to use as dried butter beans. It's pretty much stringless as well, so would have been a good back up variety if needed. For some reason, white varieties always seem less vigorous than red ones and take longer to get going.

French (Green) Beans
I've grown a past favourite, Blue Lake, outside and it has again performed very well. It is a crisp, clean flavoured bean which is responsible for me discovering that there are some green foods I actually like! I've also grown Cobra this year, some in the polytunnel and some outside.Both have done well. Given how precious space is in the polytunnel, I may just grow enough in there next year to last until the outdoor crop comes good.

Yard Long beans
A bit of a novelty one this. It failed outside, even when started off in modules in the polytunnel, but the tropical conditions under cover have suited it much better. You don't need many beans to make a meal and it's cropped very well over quite a long period. Not quite as delicate a taste as the French Beans, but it has earned a place in next year's plan. I have lots of very long pods full of next year's seed just hanging until they fully dry.

So we're pretty much sorted for next year on the green bean front.

But I've also been trying a few varieties for drying, a great source of protein for winter stews. The plants in the polytunnel have gone over now and many of the pods are dry enough to pod out.
It's not that long ago that the luxurious profusion on the bean plants was threatening to overwhelm the whole polytunnel. However, I've a feeling that this may have been somewhat at the expense of the bean harvest. I've also got a feeling that the earlier beans to set weren't pollinated very well. The insects took a while to discover the tropical environment of the polytunnel earlier in the year and the older pods seem to have very few properly developed beans inside.

Today's exploratory harvest was, I have to admit, slightly disappointing, but on the whole I have a lot more beans than I started with and I have a much better idea of what I want to grow for next year, and more importantly where I want to grow it.

Pea Beans
An old favourite this one. It performs pretty well outside and I actually planted some late to replace a couple of failed crops. Inside the polytunnel it romped away, winning the race to the top and thriving under the warm conditions. It wasn't long before I was regularly having to pull leaves from the plants to allow some air ventilation.

But, now that most of the leaves have fallen, the final yield is sparse. I reckon I'll struggle to fill a jar. So although it'll be on next year's list of plants to definitely grow, it probably won't be getting a place in the polytunnel again. There is plenty of space outside to grow as much as I want, so half of this year's harvest may be saved for next year's seed.

Black-eye Beans
I absolutely love eating these beans, so when a few were included in a cheap pack of 'exotic' bean seeds, it gave me the idea to try growing the beans I had in store in the kitchen. Last year I just sowed them straight into the cold, wet ground and they happily rotted away!
Not one to give up, this year I took more care of them and raised them alongside other beans in modules under cover. Germination and initial growth was strong. I wasn't sure whether they would be dwarves or climbers, and they ended up somewhere in between, starting off slowly but then climbing up the sunflower stems in the polytunnel.
Again, though, the total yield looks like it will be fairly low. Each pod has done well, with up to 13 beans in each pod, but the number of pods is fairly low. However, I intend to try some black-eye beans fresh in tomorrow's dinner and if I like them they may just earn a little place under cover next year. I'm hoping, though, that they will thrive outside. As with the pea beans, it may be that less leaves equals more beans. Or are they too exotic?
Black-eye Beans growing next to Pea Beans
A pod full of black-eye beans

Fresh black-eye beans

Over in the corner of the polytunnel, the climbing Borlotti pods provided a vivid splash of colour through the summer. But now the pods are fading. These beans appear to have been the most prolific of the beans I have grown for drying, as well as looking very dapper.
I podded a few of them today to discover the most subtly beautiful beans inside.


So Borlottis haved earned themselves an increase in space next year, as long as they taste nice. There are some growing outside too, a less tall variety, so it will be interesting to assess how they do.

I've saved the very worst till last. Not beans, but peas, I decided to plant a batch of chick peas from the store cupboard to keep the black-eye beans company. They germinated very well and I was pleased with their initial growth. But after a while it became apparent that each plant seemed to have, on average, about one pod on it! Not only that, but each pod seemed to have one chickpea inside! This seems to be a crop which, at least in a British polytunnel, would require quite some acreage to fill a tin.
But it gets worse. For today I realised that most of those precious pods had either dried up and withered to nothing or else just totally disappeared.

 A rare chickpea pod 
I guess then that if we want to continue to enjoy eating chickpeas, hummus and tahini, then we'll just have to buy them from the supermarket. Some crops just weren't designed to grow in this country, which probably explains why you don't see fields full of chickpeas.
My total chickpea harvest!!!!
Sue and I will have half each.

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