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Garden Seed Catalogs — They Sometimes Tell only Part of the Story

After having rain in due season from spring through July, the rain dried up and we experienced drought for two months.  Not good conditions for  beans like Henderson Butter Beans that were succession planted in my garden from June through mid July. (They’re a bush baby lima bean that I think are THE best!)

I had already harvested first and second pickings on a few of the plantings when it stopped raining.  Plants were heavy with pods that had not yet filled out. About three weeks into drought full pods were few and far between.

With the  week of rains that we’ve recently had — I’m still hoping for a good fall harvest although I lost a lot of pods that fell from the plants because of the dry conditions.

A Possible Back-up?

I was reading an article online the other day by a garden writer who has grown Worchester Indian Red Pole beans for two season..  She was particularly taken by the beauty of trellising the beans and then enjoying the shade in the paths under the trellis in the summer.  She mentioned nothing about how the beans tasted.  (To help your thought process it’s always good to note what is “not” said as well as what IS said.)

Then she mentioned that the description in the SESE (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) catalog said that this pole lima is the hardiest lima and it’s heat and drought resistant.  That appealed to me instantly and I made a note of the variety thinking I might like to grow that one next year.

I did a bit of research and discovered that Native Americans grew these beans. (In particular the Naticole Group living on the eastern shore of Maryland near Worcester.)  This concept really appealed to me,  even though the beans were not of Native American Origin. They were probably introduced to the Indians by the Spanish who — along with the Portuguese were largely responsible for disseminating limas to other parts of the world.

At this point these Red Pole beans were looking like a definite for next year’s garden.

The criteria that determines if this bean is worth the time and space in my garden: Does it taste good?

In a Mother Earth News article I read that the bean when shelled and cooked as a mature bean  (called a shelly bean) is “uninteresting and tough”.

How disappointing. (Especially when the Henderson Lima is out of this world delicious!) BUT, I’d rather be disappointed now than to spend the time and garden space to grow a new variety and then not like it.

The American Indians valued it for the flour they made from it.  Also it is said to be both handsome and excellent cooked with red corn.  Neither of those ways of using the bean have any interest to me.  It’s the taste that I want from a lima bean.

Why I didn’t continue the search for a back-up lima:

My next thought was to continue researching and find another lima that might be more drought resistant and grow it in addition to my favorite Henderson Limas.

Then I read that although limas are self-polllinating, they contain rich nectar that is very attractive to bees.  AND they cross pollinate readily. And they’re  likely do just that because of their bee-attracting nectar.

 Final Thoughts

I sure saved myself a lot of disappoint next growing season by taking a few minutes to search further.  I think I’ll stick to the Henderson Limas and take my chances with the weather.

Hope this story will save you a lot of time and disappoint as well.  It just shows that although the seed catalogs description may be accurate —and very enticing —  it may not tell the whole story.  After all — presenting each variety in its best light is what sells the variety.

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Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.

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14 comments to Garden Seed Catalogs — They Sometimes Tell only Part of the Story

  • Susan Klein

    Hi Theresa!
    I’m going to grow the Henderson Lima Beans next year. How do you cook them?
    Thanks,
    Susan

  • Jack

    You touch on some great points here Theresa! I’ve been there…done that myself. A few years ago, while reading one of those catalogs one mid winter day, I got excited enough to order a new pole bean variety, which seemed to fit my needs. Already completely satisfied, with plenty of saved seed in hand for our favorite (black seeded blue lake), I ordered the new seed anyway…looking for diversity. Long story short…lots of wasted space, time and energy for a bean that just didn’t come close.

    These days, although I have plenty of space here, everything chosen to be grown out is thoroughly researched all over the www before I pull the trigger on any order! I should add though…Those beans did grow pretty as a picture just as the seed company described, but looks and growing characteristics mean nothing when taste is the top priority!

    While popular opinion and research are a great way to narrow down personal favorites, it’s by actually growing them out in our own home gardens which give us the opportunity to really choose.

    My latest research has led me to a strawberry variety for zones 4-8, that I just gotta grow!! Hands down, the best tasting strawberry out there for home gardens, according to many top culinary experts…I’m definitely sold on these and looking forward to spring/summer already!

    Is it hype? I don’t think so…but I’ll find out! 🙂

  • Theresa

    Put in sauce pan with a little bit of water and simmer about 20 minutes until tender. (Try one to test.)
    If you want – melt a paddy of butter on the beans before serving. Even more delicious!
    In my opinion Susan — these Henderson baby limas are the royalty of lima beans!
    And by the way — saving seed for next year has been so easy. There always seems to be a few dried ones and I pick those along until I collect enough for planting next year.
    Theresa

  • Theresa

    Jack — you left me (and I’m sure many others) anxious to know what variety of strawberries you’re growing! Please share with us. 🙂

    And I agree — research can narrow the field — but as you said it is by actually growing out the variety in your own garden that gives the opportunity to REALLY know and choose the best ones for us.

    Thanks for the well written confirmation Jack. Great posting.
    Theresa

    P.S. Blue lake is a good bean. I’ve never grown the pole beans — but find the bush delicious.

  • Jack

    It’s your fault I went on the hunt for these Theresa! LOL! Just kidding of course, but you will get the credit if they panout! Some time back, you posted a recipe for a strawberry salad. It was a smash hit around here, especially since every ingredient was organic from the garden. We enjoyed it very often, but only while our Honeyoye’s were productive. In my quest to find the perfect berry, I came across the “Mara Des Bois”, aside from some of the berries being small, they sound perfect. In fact even the small size may be a plus while using in salad since they can be added whole.

    Anyone interested, I would suggest doing a google search, and read at least a half dozen writings on them to get the big picture on these berries 🙂

    We’re hoping to enjoy fresh strawberry salad ALL summer long next year!

  • Toni Brock

    Once again Theresa your article has given me great guidance. 🙂 I have circled many new seed varieties in my seed catalog for purchase. I am having much difficulty deciding which to purchase. Your input helps me find ways to research. Thank you 🙂

    And YES, I immediately wanted to ask Jack what strawberries he is growing. I have Hood, Honeye, and everbearing but am having great difficulty getting to eat many before the slugs and robins get them. When I am quick enough to get any – they are delicious.

  • Toni Brock

    Oh, PS. I started planting Scarlet Runner Beans because of their gorgeous deep orange almost red blossom that the Hummers love, just to discover they are perennial here! They are great producers, and taste pretty good, but best of all I don’t have to replant yippee 🙂

  • Theresa

    Thanks for the name of the berry Jack. I like the fact that they’re everbearing. Will give you a chance to extend the season on that salad. I’ll be anxious to hear how you like them.

    That was really good advice you gave folks when you advised reading at least a half dozen writings to get the big picture. Takes this many or more articles on almost anything to get a true picture.

    I know how you feel about the seed varieties in the seed catalog Toni. Everything sounds so wonderful — you’d never be able to choose wisely unless you researched more.

    Glad to hear the Scarlet Runner Beans are doing well for you and that they’re perennial for you! They’re such a gorgeous bean. I grew them one year because they’re considered such a classic, but they didn’t do well for me at all.

    One more note on Strawberries — Earliglow is the sweetest strawberry I grow. Really good.

    More than likely, Escargo will help with your slug problem Toni. Some years I need it. Some years I don’t.
    If you have a high infestation of slugs, you need to get the numbers down — so you’ll only have occasional damage.

    Theresa

    P.S. I’m just starting to read up on Jack’s discovery — and I really like what I read in these articles http://www.wickedwilds.com/products.htm.
    And this one: http://frugalgourmet.eu/?p=521

    I’ll read more of course, but these impressed me.

  • Sharon

    Hi Theresa,
    I’m not that much of a bean person but this year I grew Long Chinese Red Noodle Beans…grew them up sunflowers pretty much for the effect. They were not only gorgeous to look at, they were delicious and sweet when picked early. Even retained their color when cooked.

  • Theresa

    I’ll bet they were wonderful with the sunflowers Sharon. So glad you had such luck with them and that they were delicious and sweet when picked early.

  • Sandra

    I’ve had many the disappointment by ordering based on a pretty picture in a catalog. Now, I always check to see what other gardeners are growing. And I agree, taste is my first priority –

  • Theresa

    I’ll bet almost all of us have been in that same boat Sandra.

  • Grace

    Hello Theresa,

    Long time, no see, but SO GLAD to find some time to finally read at least one of your articles. I let them pile up in my email box and read one whenever I have the time. To my delight, this article chose a subject near and dear to my heart – beans. Though I have yet to grow Limas, I will eventually try the Henderson variety based on your recommendation.

    From my own experience both this year and last, I chose to grow Blue Lake bush beans and I’ve been pleased with their taste as well as their production rate each time. I prefer them young, but even those that escape my notice for a while are tasty. I also eat the flowers when I feel I can spare a few and they are cute when used as a garnish on top of salads. (Ahem…:D…not that they ever actually manage to make it that far, but maybe one day they’ll survive the trip to the kitchen without being eaten.)

    I also grew Scarlet Runner beans on a small (mainly decorative) scale this year and had limited but acceptable success, since I was growing them out for seed anyway. They did not do as well as I’d hoped due to the crazy wet weather early on and then the following drought-like conditions, but they gave me one meal, several small snacks (young beans and flowers), and enough seed to plant twice as many next year.

    On one trellis I paired them with cucumber vines and the red bean flowers were lovely against the yellow flowers of the cucumbers once they really got to putting out blooms. On another trellis, I paired them with Indian corn and the blooms were lovely against the purple & green stalks of corn, as well as yellow flowers of the squash planted at the base of the trellis.

    I also some crazy luck beans (variety unknown) that came up after I’d looked some beans for cooking from a bag bought at the store. I threw out the beans (culls) I chose not to cook and some just happened to land at the base of yet another trellis, where they subsequently grew mostly unnoticed by me until they set bloom. Only a few plants grew (as someone whom I shall not name, but whom I’m married to, managed to weed-eat about half of them…;), but anyway those few plants (a pole type) became quite prolific near the end of the season and I gathered four small batches for use in stir fries and other meals.

    Anyway, glad to be able to have something to say for a change!

    Grace

  • Theresa

    Enjoyed your post, Grace. Informative AND entertaining.

    Blue Lake bush is an excellent bean and I grew it for many years and still do from time to time.

    I like what you did on a small scale with Scarlet Runner beans. I think if I ever grow them again I will just plant a few and plant them with something else like cucumbers — as you did.

    I guess those beans that you-know-who managed to weed-eat half of —- figured they’d better produce or else. : )

    I think you’ll enjoy the Henderson limas. Not only are they delicious — they’re beautiful as well.

    Take care. Good hearing from you.
    Theresa

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