growing fancy: purple pole beans

Decorate your garden, tout your heirloom pride, and nurture your inner gourmet: grow purple beans.

When purple beans blossom, their flowers are a lovely shade of lilac. The stems are purple; the green leaves are edged in purple, too.

And boy, do these babies grow. They handily out-grew our Blue Lake Beans (a classic, tender green variety), and beat the Blue Lakes to the top of the fencing — and then, just to be sure that their victory would remain uncontested, they out-grew the fencing, too, waving several feet of vine in the air and in some cases growing back down the fence.

In terms of pests, the cucumber beetles did attack them and make lace out of their first two leaves. But they recovered quickly and put out leaf after leaf until the cucumber beetles couldn’t possibly eat them fast enough. Although our clay soil holds moisture, especially since it’s on a drip system, these guys had no problem with ‘wet feet’ — they grew splendidly. (By contrast, we found that Blue Lake was more likely not to recover from the cucumber beetle attacks, and more likely to stunt in over-wet conditions.)

The variety we grow is an Illinoian heirloom variety from Seeds of Change: Dow Purple Podded Snap. (We’ve also had success with purple bush beans, but that’s another post.)

Points for purple beans:

  • Amazingly fast grower; quicker to mature than some green beans.
  • Hardy: tolerant of clay soil; not finicky about water; and grows too quickly for the bugs to take over!
  • Beautiful at all stages of growing: tinged purple leaves and stems, lilac flowers, deep purple beans.
  • I’ve mentioned this before, but you know when these beans are done cooking: as soon as they turn green in the pan or pot, they’re good to eat. (The green they turn, incidentally, is different from a traditional green bean: these turn a slightly more blue-grey green, like a moody sea.)
  • Some people don’t even realize beans come in purple. Surprise your friends with a gift of your home-grown purple beans — they’ll be delighted. (And if you plant even a short row of these beans and harvest them regularly, you should have plenty to share. NB: You’ve gotta keep picking beans for them to keep producing. If they get too big, the plant will figure that it has done its job for the year and stop trying to make seeds.)

Fast-growing, hardy, beautiful, and somehow gourmet because they’re purple, these beans are tough to beat! I give Dow Purple Podded Snap two thumbs way, way up.

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