Heirloom Bean Trial – Part 1.

heirloom shell out beans blue shackamaxon

We’re back from our winter blog-cation with a fresh new site and some great new articles. If you’re like us you’ll be scruffing in your seed tin around now thinking about what to grow this season. Why not try growing some dried beans? I know dried beans have a bit of an image problem, well at least for me they do. Memories of student days, flexing aspiring culinary muscles with the help of the “Bean Booklet” from Real Foods in Andersons Bay. Each of the dozen recipes ended up tasting like wet cardboard and making the whole flat windy. I should have known from the squirrel on the front.

But it turns out that dried beans are by no means restricted to poor students and health food, fiber addicts.  A good chunk of the world relies on beans for their primary protein source and what’s more, they know how to make them taste different. So twenty years on I decided to put the trauma of “Black Eye Bean Bake” and “Lazy Lentils” behind me and give beans a chance.

dried beans after soaking

I’m surprised I haven’t grown dried beans before but without a huge demand for them in my kitchen, I could never justify the space in the garden to grow them. Since those early efforts, my bean cuisine has been sadly limited to a handful of recipes that I can make taste good: hummus, chili con Carne, red lentil curry, mums bean salad and a Cannellini bean dip. I’ll even admit to buying canned beans in dubious brines for some of these.

Once I resolved to grow dried beans, they seemed to pop up everywhere. The United Nations declared 2016 “The Year of the Pulse” to celebrate and promote the consumption of pulses around the globe (http://pulses.org/). I have to say it – I have my finger on the pulse. It turns out beans are good for us and the planet. They are low in fat and high in fiber and protein. Half a cup of lentils will give you the same protein as 2 cups of rice. Pulses make you feel full for longer, releasing energy slowly as your body breaks down the complex carbs rather than the quick energy hit you get from simple carbs in sugars.

Beans also take less energy and water to grow and improve soil health. Because they fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, they require less artificial fertiliser, and they grow well in dry conditions, using half the amount of water required to produce animal proteins. But whether a chickpea pattie tastes as good as one of my lamburgers is a matter of opinion, or perhaps skill.

heirloom bean varieties

Before I got carried away with recipes I had to grow the beans. I set aside two garden beds and with the help of Mark Christensen, Research Director at the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, I selected 13 dried or “shell out” bean varieties to grow. Mark sent me some of the climbing bean varieties that the Research Trust imported from North America. I added a selection of “good beans” given to me by different folks and a few common bush varieties used for dried beans to round out the trial.

RT, Research Trust, HC, Heathers Collection, EG, Egmont Seeds.

Climbing Beans

  • Persian Climbing Lima (RT)
  • Good Mother Stallard (RT)
  • Indian Hannah (RT)
  • Blue Shackamaxon (RT)
  • Ian’s French Tarbais (HC)
  • Ron’s Factory Bean (HC)
  • Rex & Margie’s Bean (HC)

Bush Beans

  • Red Kidney (EG)
  • Dwarf Haricot (RT)
  • Dwarf Cannelini (RT)
  • Soy Bean (Kiwi #8) (EG)
  • Mexican Pinto (HC)
  • Borlotti Red Rooster (EG)


Beans like a warm soil. Here in Nelson, I sowed them directly into the garden in early November. Don’t be tempted to plant beans too early. If the soil is too cold, they will sit there and rot, or germinate and decide against climbing anywhere then by the time the soil is warm, they’ve exhausted all their energy just surviving, and they give up.

sowing dried beans

Climbing beans need a good frame to run up, and we could devote a whole article to discussing the many and varied bean fence designs. I opted for reinforcing mesh secured with 2m high stakes. Spacing for beans varies but as a guide sow climbing beans around 25 cm apart and bush bean 15 cm apart.

Beans are relatively free of pests and diseases and don’t need a lot of spraying. Just keep an eye out for the usual suspects – aphids, vege bugs and caterpillars. I’ve had years of trouble free bean growing but just because I was doing a trial I got a mystery affliction in my beans. Not long after germination, the leaves of several varieties started yellowing and crinkling and the tips were dying off and refusing to run or bush anywhere. With no obvious knawing or sucking pests, I was at a loss to know the problem. It looked like bean mosaic virus but I never got to the bottom of it. It reduced the yield of the affected varieties, but I still got a harvest. I gave them a spray with an organic seaweed-based formula being trialed to combat the PSA virus and they seemed to pick their toes up.

Heirloom Beans

The Varieties

  • Of the climbing beans, the Persian Lima was the most vigorous, disease resistant and prolific and was still flowering well into winter. The flat pods looked more like mangetout and I doubted whether they would make a good dried bean.
  • Good Mother Stallard came highly recommended by Mark and it proved as robust and abundant as its homely name suggested. The beans looked remarkably like Borlotti.
  • I grew the large white French bean, Tarbais a few years ago but the remaining seed I had didn’t germinate, and I’m annoyed at myself for losing this one.
  • Factory Beans were green, stringless beans grown for the canning factory in Motueka, but the fat white seeds suggested they might make a nice dried bean.
  • The same goes for the bean that Rex and Margie from Maerawhiti gave my Dad, the plump, stripey, coffee colored seeds looked delicious.
  • Blue Shackamaxon I wanted to grow just for the name, but it proved to be a good late harvest bean with pods full of black, glossy seeds.
  • The Indian Hannah climbing bean is an ancient mix of varieties traditionally grown together by the Lenape/Delaware Indian Nation.
  • Of the bush beans the Dwarf Haricot and Cannelini had a poor strike, and the Soy Beans produced a very small crop, but the Red Kidney, Borlotti Red Rooster, and Mexican Pinto all produced well.

In next week’s blog, I’ll share the results of the all-important taste test, together with how to harvest and store dried beans and some more bean cuisine – stay tuned.



  1. Waiting with great interest on your bean recipes/cooking tips!
    As a vegetarian and a diabetic I sure could use some good dried bean recipes – the more home garden produce I can grow thats good to eat the happier I’ll be. Not keen on hot spicy foods though…..

    1. Beans are a vegetarians friend for sure Sheryl. I’d better get busy on that next post for you 🙂 My red lentil curry, coconut curry has turned into a bit of a vege favourite in our house.

  2. Your website is GREAT, full of useful information nicely presented. Much apprecieated!

    1. Thanks Ann. Hope your garden goes well this season.

  3. Sandy Shortt-Smith

    THANKS for sharing this invaluable information with us……..I LOVE IT!!!! I’ve highlighted dates to sow my collected seed. Mmmmmmm the seed I have saved may also not germinate???I thought collected seed was variable for years??????
    It’s so lovely to share all/any information regarding gardening…I just ‘blossom’ myself when reading and growing myself! These old true and trusted varieties of ancient cultures and other nations are ‘true treasures’. My first blossoms on the Plum tree burst out yesterday here in Hamilton, grape buds are plump with potential and the raspberries are popping green leaf daily…the last Canasta lettuce growing so valiantly through Winter is almost ready for eating, leeks are fattening nicely, we are rationing the last dozen or so oranges, lemons are hanging, Stevia has survived the winter surprisingly, Italian Parsley has been a real gem all Winter for smoothies…..and now the flush of delicious Mint is also added……..the sheep poop is on, ………..the weeds?………(no weeds to be seen)……TRUE !!!!!………it truely is a time of ‘great expectation’….a season of preparation for deliciousness ahead……..LOVE IT !!!!!!.

    1. You’re welcome Sandy – yes its a lovely season when everything is on the verge of springing back to life. Italian Parsley is a great winter standby isn’t it. I grow it by the row in our winter garden. Hope you have a lovely summer in your garden.

  4. I have just purchased a dehydrator do you have any handy tips as your dried fruit looks amazing

    1. Hi Liz, get a mandolin slicer – I’ve got the Good Grips brand one. This gives you fast cutting of fruit and veg all at exactly the same size so they dry evenly. Don’t worry about peeling anything you can eat the peel from. I don’t core apples or pears either now – the cores dry away to nothing and you can always nibble around it. Use lemon juice to dip fruit into before you dry it if you want an extra tang or to preserve the colour – stops oxidation. Happy drying.

  5. Inspired! Am going to ‘give beans a chance’

    1. Excellent Heather, I’m giving them another grow this summer too – I’ve got two big fat white varieties from Mark at the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust. Excited to see how they go.

  6. Hello
    Loving your info on beans and lentils etc
    Looking forward to recipes and ways to grow them

    1. Thanks Glenda, posted part 2 of the blog with some of my favourite recipes today. Enjoy.

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