Dragon's Underwear or the late green beans trial - a Gardening Column by Green Thumb

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By now, I think you readers have concluded that I am somewhat of a gardening over-enthusiast. (Somewhat?!) And you may be somewhat confused by the title of this article, but, there is an explanation!

In January, as usual, I began looking at the many seed catalogues in earnest. I was determined to have a truly outstanding garden, and knew what I wanted in the way of tomatoes and peppers and carrots and onions, although there were a few varieties that I waffled on. But when it came to green beans, I was really confused. Not only did my regular garden catalogues offer many varieties, but then THE CATALOGUE arrived! The Vermont Bean and Seed Company has more varieties than I’ve ever seen assembled in one area before. I really never knew one could devote a whole catalogue to hundreds of different bean varieties.

Of course, there are different kinds of beans. Green or snap beans come in both bush and pole types. And there are wax beans, too, in bush and pole. There are the beans grown just for dry beans, such as pinto and cannellini. Some of these are bush, some pole, and some “half-high” in between.

What is the difference anyway? What makes one bean become known as a bean grown for shell beans, such as a kidney bean, and another, such as Kentucky Wonder, as a green bean? Yet many beans have a little sideline in the catalogue noting something such as “also good dried” or “good for eating as a green bean if picked early.”

In my readings (not in the catalogue) I finally found a really good answer to this question. The beans touted as good for dried beans simply seed up faster. They don’t linger on the vine as a green vegetable for two or three or four days. One day they are looking like a green vegetable and the next they look pregnant.

But on to Dragons. How do you choose between a bush bean advertising outstanding taste and one touted as the best tasting? So I did what comes easy to me. I didn’t make a decision. I just bought a lot of different kinds, and planted them all.

For dry beans, I planted several varieties, one developed here in Montana, but the jury is still out on these, as I have not harvested yet.

For pole beans, I planted Kentucky Wonder, Rattlesnake and Romano Pole. Best yield (this year) went to the Romanos. Even outdid the Rattlesnakes, which for the last three years have been my best producer. The Rattlesnake flavor is, as always, superb - great raw in the garden and in dilly beans. But the Romano flavor is incredible when cooked with bacon or tomato sauce so I always grow both. And I think I plant the Kentucky Wonder just because they make such nice plants and I’ve planted them for forty years...

Bush beans are another story. I love pole beans and I hate to bend down to pick the bush beans. But I have found it very useful to plant a row of bush beans to the south side of my tomato plants, as the added nitrogen the beans produce is good for the tomatoes. And I have much less weeding to do that way, as the beans choke out the weeds. But which kind is the best? For my garden, for our climate here in Plains? So I decided to try several kinds, and see which won. I planted Shumway 2013 Experimental (which turned out to be a mix of six different kinds), Tendergreen Improved, Provider, Blue Lake, Contender, and Dragon Langerie, a French variety. The last variety also known by my non-gardening friends as “that Dragon underwear bean.” And the winner is (drum roll...) well, not Blue Lake. I know many of you revere Blue Lake, but it was last on production and the taste was just not as good as Tendergreen, Provider, and Contender, all great tasting, straight and productive. My favorite, was Contender, although Tendergreen was really equally good and productive. But the Dragon Langerie, after a slow start, is still producing great big flat beans, pale yellow with purple stripes, that are extremely tender and melt in your mouth with the very best flavor. So the Dragon’s underwear, a French heirloom, is the real winner!

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