What a month it has been! I’ve been traveling all over Eastern Kentucky visiting the beautiful gardens of our Grow Appalachia participants. If there is one thing I’ve learned this month, it’s that the people of Eastern Kentucky are serious when it comes to their beans.
Growing up, I thought all green beans were the same. At the Knott County Farmers Market, customers not only ask what types of beans are being sold, but don’t buy any if it’s not their favorite type. White half-runners and greasy beans are two crowd favorites. White half-runners are white and crisp, whereas greasy beans are brown and have a fuller flavor. My new favorite is the rattlesnake bean: a long, purple-striped bean with a deep, meaty flavor.
Many of our gardeners preserve beans for the winter by drying them. To do this, they string and break the beans, spread them out into a single layer, and dry them in the sun for several days. After this, the beans are ready to be stored in sealed plastic bags in the pantry for months. Any beans prepared this way are called “shucky” beans. Shucky beans are a regional specialty beloved for their place on the winter table. A more common name for them is pinto beans, but you won’t hear that phrase around here.
One seasoned gardener is growing heirloom beans passed down in his family for several generations. These bean plants were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, except for one tiny detail. Not one of them had any flowers or beans. Both of us were puzzled over why such beautiful plants weren’t producing any seeds. I returned home to research what might have gone wrong. It turns out that the soil was too fertile for the bean plants to reproduce. Bean plants need to be slightly stressed in order to produce seeds, which is why many novice gardeners are adept at growing them. I recommended that he not fertilize the plot any more this year. As of now, the plants have sprouted a few flowers, so hopefully the heirloom beans will survive to be planted another year.