Tough Beans Perplex Gardeners

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Each summer I get a few calls from area gardeners with complaints about tough green beans. Most folks around Burke County grow one of the half-runner type green beans. These beans have been grown for generations and until the advancement of commercial seed saving techniques, the seeds were saved from each year’s harvest by the individual grower. But, as the superior flavor and tenderness of these beans was discovered by more and more people, commercial seed companies began growing the seed for mass harvest. In turn, commercial vegetable growers began to grow the half-runner bean to sell at fresh markets.

Here is where the problem probably first started. Because of beans’ tenderness, shelf life was not as good as other green bean varieties. Farmers wanted a more durable bean and as a consequence seed companies bred a certain amount of toughness into the bean. As more and more farmers bought commercial seed, this mass produced product got mixed up with seeds that had been saved for years by our ancestors. I remember that my grandmother was always very careful of her seed beans. When she came upon a tough plant, she immediately pulled it up so it would not get mixed with the good beans. Modern seed harvesting is mechanized and everything gets harvested without ever being touched by human hands

There are still good heirloom beans available thanks to those gardeners who have taken the time to make sure our old family varieties get saved and kept apart from the commercial varieties. In essence, white half-runner seeds bought at the hardware store are not really the same half-runner that our great grand parents planted. Heirloom seeds are available and can be found online. There are many heirloom seed saving and seed sharing websites. Once you get hold of some of the good beans, start saving the seed for yourself. Try to keep them planted well away from commercial beans so that mix-ups won’t occur.

In defense of bean seeds that are sold commercially, weather can play a part in the tough bean problem. Extremely hot temperatures while the bean is forming on the vine can cause a certain amount of toughness. High temperatures can also interfere with pollination which can also result in tough beans. Also, remember that the half-runner type bean has natural tendencies for genetic variations such as flat or tough beans.