Fondling the Beans

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Whenever I get a new pack of bean seeds I am always immediately compelled to open up the packet and inspect the beans. I used to play out this ritual with all seeds but years of seed purchasing and collecting has garnered a familiarity with certain seeds. It’s not that I’ve lost my love for seeds, but that it gets a bit repetitive. After all, while every tomato is different, the seeds are virtually identical. Yes, of course there are variations in size, shape, fuzziness, etc but those differences aren’t exactly interesting. At least to me they’re not.

Beans on the other hand are like beautiful jewels, each is unique in size, shape, color, pattern, and texture. Some are naturally shiny, others dull. There is even variation between seeds of the same variety. I’m a little embarrassed to guess at how much time I have clocked fondling a pack of 20 seeds, turning each one over in my hand. Actually, no I’m not. I think a lot of gardeners will confess to this same ritual. Beans are pretty.

And that is why I was able to spend an inordinate amount of time yesterday afternoon stewing in my own sweat inside a gigantic winter jacket and chatting with Colette of Urban Harvest about beans. She had some new varieties for sale this year, some of which she brought back from Slow Food’s Terra Madre Conference in Turin, Italy this past fall. And even though I already have more packs of beans than I can get into the ground within the next few seasons, I couldn’t help buying more.

Here’s what I got:

  • ‘Christmas’ lima bean – You know, I’ve never grown lima beans. I’m kind of on the fence about them. I like them well enough, just never enough to bother growing them. Colette also confessed to a leave it attitude towards lima beans so when even she could speak so enthusiastically about this variety, I knew I had to try them. ‘Christmas’ is described as having a “nutty, chestnut-like taste and the texture of baked potatoes.” SOLD! They are also drought tolerant, which is handy since I will probably try growing them in a large bin on the roof. I probably would have hesitated and waited until Seedy Saturday in a few weeks to get them had Colette not mentioned that she only had two packs left and was probably going to save the last pack for herself. And once I had one pack of seeds in my hand the ball was rolled. And I rolled with it like the sucker I am.
  • ‘Blue Jay’ bush bean – I’m not yet sure about the pods but was sold on this variety by the blue and white seed description. That and a general fondness for blue jays. Remember The Green Forest? That’s basically it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: tell me a good story and I’ll buy your seeds. Although, this wasn’t even much of a story, but more about a personal sentiment that hit my weepy heart in the right place.
  • ‘Tiger’s Eye’ bush bean – Another bean described as having a creamy, mashed potato texture. And… sold. I rarely worry about adding to my bush bean collection since I can usually find a container to grow them in.


Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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17 thoughts on “Fondling the Beans

  1. I LOVE beans!!!!!!!!!
    Especially dry ones. I leave them on the vine and check them nearly every day until the pods are dry. Then, my favorite part, opening the pods to reaveal the BEANS!
    So much fun.

  2. You could say that you like to spill the beans. Me too. I was just playing with some fava beans. Man, they are biggies. This will be my first year groming them. I was sold on the “buttery” description.

  3. Going to put EDAMAME (SOYBEANS IN PODS)in the Garden. bought them frozen at the chinese supermarket boiled them for 5min then a spash of Tamara soy sauce. I Should be able to finds seeds. Any one else tried these.

  4. I’ve never grown beans before. I’ve always thought they’d be too much work for the effort of trying to contain their vines on my very small patio. But creamy baked-potato textured beans sounds intriguing. Intriguing enough to seriously consider growing some of my own.

  5. I love running my nails over the fuzz of tomato seeds, and the funny looking curves of birdhouse gourd seeds. They have such a funny shape you have to wonder at the functionality of such a strange seed coat. Understandably it protects the tender young innards, but why the funny looking horns? I think Momma Nature let those seeds get trampled on when she was designing them.

  6. I’m going to be growing Christmas lima beans this year as well! I just couldn’t resist how beautiful they are (have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? they are on the front page). Beauty aside, I think they’ll be a great addition to vegetable soups. Plus, my Dad loves lima beans, and he lives so far away from me, that this will be my tribute plant to him :)

    I’m also going to be trying this purple pole bean that is stringless, and stays purple when its cooked.

  7. Gayla thanks for the link, Linda what they say about the purlple beans staying purple is a bit misleading if you boil them for 1 min they will stay purple but if you boil them untill cooked they will turn back green.

  8. Have you ever grown calypso beans? They are absolutely stunning-they look like yin-yangs! I can’t wait until they grow.

  9. You’ve given me another reason to swing by Collete’s booth at the Dufferin Grove market next week…not that I really needed one *LOL*

  10. I love, love, love looking at the pages of dried beans in the seed catalogs. My fav that I’ve grown successfully are the Jacobs Cattle Beans. Easy to grow and very flavorful. I haven’t decided what new ones I’ll try this year.
    We’ve grown Christmas limas before. They are a wonderful bean! Homegrown, fresh lima beans are incredible. Nothing like the store bought dried ones.

  11. I have often commented on the voyeuristic nature of gardeners. We like to see other people’s gardens as much as our own and we love to read about what other gardeners are doing and now, reading this post, I’m going to go home and open my bean seed packets and play with them. Ah, the porn industry has nothing on us!

  12. Dried beans are just so tactile and with their markings like bird’s eggs they appear to be like small objects of desire. This year, I am growing to dry (I usual grow to eat immediately). An Italian lady on the next allotment has given me some little gems from her village in Italy, that are un-named and un-identified. In October, when she harvested them, I cooked a few of this precious treasure. Creamer and earthier that pinto, the nearest I’ve come to matching them is a bean called ‘wren’s nest’. Just heavenly!

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