An­cient beans our fu­ture

Kapi-Mana News - - GARDENING/NEWS -

A re­search group is tri­alling nu­tri­ent- dense ‘‘ heir­loom’’ beans from Mex­ico and North Amer­ica in New Zealand that it says are im­por­tant for our fu­ture health and well-be­ing.

The Cen­tral Tree Crops Re­search Trust is half­way through the two-year trial grow­ing nearly 30 dif­fer­ent types of rare and un­usual beans, some that have been grown for thou­sands of years by Na­tive Amer­i­cans, Mex­i­cans or early North Amer­i­can Euro­pean set­tlers.

Orig­i­nally climb­ing beans, th­ese va­ri­eties have re­tained their ge­netic her­itage, and un­like mod­ern va­ri­eties, many of which have been dwarfed for eas­ier com­mer­cial har­vest, they grow tall.

Blue shacka­maxon for ex­am­ple, which was pre­served by the Quak­ers, can grow to more than 2 me­tres high, much like the reg­u­lar scar­let run­ner so pop­u­lar in New Zealand.

In North Amer­ica, beans have tra­di­tion­ally been grown along with corn, the vines grow­ing up the stalks of the corn and in re­turn pro­vid­ing ni­tro­gen, which en­riches the soil. The Chero­kee corn­field bean does es­pe­cially well this way, pro­duc­ing more beans when grown with corn.

As might be ex­pected with such old beans, there are tales to tell of the ori­gins of some of their names. The turkey craw, a brown­ish climb­ing bean, is said to be named af­ter a hunter who shot a turkey found seeds of the bean in its craw (crop). The Mayflower bean is sup­posed to have ar­rived in the United States with pil­grims aboard the Mayflower ship in 1620.

Many of th­ese beau­ti­fully coloured and pat­terned beans have been grown and eaten by gen­er­a­tions of North Amer­i­can In­di­ans. It was the Hi­datsa shield fig­ure climb- ing bean that first in­spired the trust’s project and was orig­i­nally grown by the Hi­datsa In­di­ans of the Mis­souri River Val­ley of North Dakota. It is half speck­led brown, with the lower half look­ing as if it has been dipped in milk or cream. Said to taste good, it is one of the most pro­duc­tive as a dried bean.

The scar­let run­ner bean many peo­ple here grow orig­i­nates from Cen­tral Amer­ica where it is known as ‘‘ ay­ocote’’ and the starchy roots are eaten. Oth­ers grow the plant for its at­trac­tive flow­ers alone.

Beans, whether heir­loom, mod­ern, climb­ing or dwarf, are planted in spring or sum­mer. They re­quire wa­ter­ing through­out dry times but re­ward well in re­turn. The beans can be green, yel­low, pur­ple, stringy or string­less. They can be grown for green beans or for use as dried beans, ac­cord­ing to their va­ri­ety.

As a peren­nial plant, the scar­let run­ner dif­fers from oth­ers in that once fin­ished at the end of the sea­son, it will re­grow the next year, although many peo­ple sow it as an an­nual. It is also good to help pre­vent disease by grow­ing beans in a dif­fer­ent plot ev­ery two years.

Dwarf beans re­quire lit­tle sup­port but climb­ing va­ri­eties do need a strong frame to climb up and along. A wire mesh sup­port at­tached to a frame or build­ing wall is good, as is a tri­pod or tepee made from bam­boo.

The Cen­tral Tree Crops Re­search Trust has some schools grow­ing heir­loom beans as part of the trial and they sent 30 kilo­grams of beans to Christchurch to as­sist gar­den­ers there.

Visit the trust’s web­site treecrop­sre­search. org for more in­for­ma­tion on beans.


His­tory-mak­ing: A colour­ful se­lec­tion of heir­loom beans from the United States, be­ing tri­alled in New Zealand.

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