Then I started to meet other bean users (you know who you are, Stephen C-), Bean pushers, if you know what I mean. Passing each other little Ziploc™ bags containing a few seeds. Wow, man, the colours! and the psychedelic patterns, fascinating names, sometimes tragic history. Kew Blue, Bulgarian Purple, Yin yang. Lingua di Fuoco (Firetongue), Ireland Creek Annie, Hutterite Soup, Nombril de Bonne Soeur. The Cherokee Trail of Tears.
A dish of multicoloured dried beans found its way onto the kitchen table. I found a friend absently running her fingers through the beans, appreciating their silky texture and subtle colours.
|Country Bean Mix|
That's when I realised something had to be done.
I had to get more.
And France is an excellent place to find French beans (one of many different types of cultivated bean belonging to the species phaseolus vulgaris). We particularly like haricots à écosser (beans for podding), which are available in the form of seeds for sowing, semi-dry ripe beans in their pods, dry beans in sacks for cooking, and canned haricots in brine. Soissons, Mogette (though this is only worthy of the name when grown in the Vendée), Triomphe de Farcy... You can buy ripe Coco beans in their pods at a vegetable stall in your local market from August onwards and save some of the seeds. For diversity, you can go to not-for-profit organisations like Kokopelli in France or the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library in Britain. The US, of course, is an excellent source of traditional varieties.
There are two forms of French bean: haricot à rames (climbing) and haricot nain (dwarf). This year we have two bean frames and we are growing more climbing beans. The British traditional style of frame is a bunch of canes stuck in the ground in a circle that cross at the top. Tim made one of these out of extremely rustic poles (elder branches) for this year's planting. Our older frame has the canes crossing at the bottom, a style we first saw in Majorca used for tomatoes.
|Bulgarian Purple Bean, on a traditional frame. It has purple beans. But scarlet flowers!|
|Worth growing for the flowers alone.|
|Cherokee Trail of Tears - just starting to flower|
|One from the HSL - Kew Blue - on the Majorcan frame. It's the pods that are blue, this time.|
Being Brits, we love Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) too. In France, haricot d'Espagne are grown principally as a decorative annual climbing plant with abundant handsome leaves and flowers, oh and by the way the pods are edible. Only Bakker, founded in Holland, proposes a haricot d'Espagne (Lady Di) as a vegetable. In the US, too, "Scarlet Runner" beans are mainly grown for decoration.
Here, runner beans tend not to set - produce pods - mainly because the climate is dry and hot in summer. Runners need a lot more moisture around the roots than French beans and are often planted over a trench filled during the winter months with bulky organic matter that will retain moisture (crumpled newspaper will do). Misting the whole plant with water morning and evening helps a set. Needless to say we haven't done any of that, and they are doing just fine.
|Runner bean "Moonlight" on the Majorcan frame, doing particularly well this year|
|Good enought to enter the "Six runner beans" class - not good enough to win though|
Runners are unable to self-pollinate unless an insect "trips" the flower by alighting on the keel, causing the stamens to come in contact with the pistil. French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are self-fertile, and don't need any help, so they set much more readily. That also means that French beans breed true, and you can save the seed from one year to the next and expect the same results. That is not the case in Runner Beans, since the pollinating insect is likely to bring in pollen from elsewhere.
Moonlight is a hybrid (oh horrors!), bred as a self-fertile runner bean: this was tried several times before and usually resulted in something that looked vaguely like a runner bean (often a subtly different colour) and tasted nothing like it, or possibly that should be "tasted like nothing". All praise to the developers of Moonlight: it works. "Firestorm" is a new red-flowered hybrid of the same type which we haven't tried - we'll stick with Moonlight, thanks.