Bean of the Year. It's not a heritage variety as far as I know, but it's the hands down winner of best bean of 2007 in my garden. Spagna Bianco is sold as a "butter bean" but actually seems to be a type of runner bean. A tall and vigorous climber, it gave me a large yield of huge white beans which really do look and taste like butter beans, and superior ones at that. Flowers are beautiful too. Takes its time to mature but it's a real belter. Available from Seeds of Italy.
Last year after I harvested my crop of Mrs Fortune's I found I had four or five beans which were different from the rest. Their usual colour is a light tan (darkening with age) marked with flecks and whorls of maroon-purple. But these few odd ones were almost completely purple, with just a few flecks of tan. If you've grown a few heritage vegetables you'll probably have come across this. Many older varieties show natural variability, which is one reason they've become rare heirlooms, having failed to meet the criteria of a commercial market which demands uniformity. Variations can show up in any vegetable, but with beans it's often very obvious. Brighstone is another one which naturally produces a few darker beans among its numbers. This diversity is actually very healthy and should be considered part of the variety's character, so the odd-coloured seeds should be replanted along with all the others and not "rogued out".
However ... I do like to experiment, so I picked out the purple seeds and grew them separately this year. Just to see if they looked different.
Well they did. Mrs Fortune's is essentially a green-podded variety, and the pods develop blue-purple streaks as they mature, which can become quite dark if they're exposed to the sun. My 'dark' beans produced plants which looked much the same as normal but with noticeably darker pods ... they started to turn purple very early in their development, and (on one plant in particular) matured to a deep indigo with just a few remaining flecks of green (see photo). The flower buds had more of a purple flush than usual too.
And the beans? Absolutely normal. They looked just like any other crop of Mrs Fortune's, mostly tan but with a couple of unusually purple ones.
Unusually dark blue mottling on Mrs Fortune's (climbing) bean grown from unusually purple seeds.
The other experiment I tried this year was to give dwarf French beans (bush beans) another go, having not grown them for years. I've always had a preference for the climbing types, which seem to offer far more generous yields for the space they take up. And I must say, there's been nothing in my experience this year to make me change that view. Dwarf beans do have the advantage that they come in a very exciting range of shapes, patterns and colours, but their yields are miniscule compared to a climber. Part of that is due to my garden being exceptionally badly plagued by snails, which causes problems for any vegetable grown so near the ground. Most of the dwarf varieties I grew were lovely and I will grow them again, but I had so many losses of plants and pods the overall yields were not great, and I didn't even get to taste some of them due to the necessity of saving them for seed. But anyway, here are some pictures of the dwarf beans I grew this year.
One of the most readily available of the heritage beans, Purple Queen grows from very small brown mottled seeds which don't look very glamorous but produce attractive plants with darkest purple buds opening into lilac flowers. These are followed by shiny, elegant dark purple pods which taste lovely.
Another variety with some natural variability, these pods all came from Purple Prince. They have dark purple beans inside.
Newly harvested Canadian Wonder, a 19th century variety with green pods and pale rose pink flowers. The beans turn bright red as they dry and are good as homegrown red kidney beans. This variety is still available in some catalogues.
The most prolific of the dwarf beans I grew, Vermont Cranberry starts off the colour of strawberry milkshake before darkening to a deep red with pinkish mottling.
Normally white with a dark red-brown marking around the hilum, Nun's Belly Button is green with a pink belly when it's first harvested. Not the highest yielding bean I've grown but probably the oddest named.