I placed an order for seeds from the Seed Saver's Yearbook. Usually I buy one variety of something. At $4-$5 a pop I try to control myself. But this year is my trial year for beans. I want to find more dried pole beans and in regular seed catalogs there is such a limited supply of pole beans. But in the seed saving community there is an amazing collection. The Yearbooks has 15 rows of of different dried pole bean seeds. The first row had 14 selections; the second 18. I'm not counting the rest for you, but you can probably guess there are around 200+ different varieties to choose from. And this is only dried pole beans.
If you have never seen the Seed Saver's Yearbook, I'll describe it for you. It is a book over 500 pages long printed on cheap paper. There are no photos. Just variety after variety of seed that individual seed savers have grown out. This year there were 13,876 varieties. All of them are open pollinated so you can save seed. These are seeds that don't make the typical seed catalog. People save them because they want to keep our crops' genetic diversity. Or they save seed that is good for their area and have been growing them for years. These people tend not to be commercial operations (though there are a few with small seed businesses), but are people like you and me that want something interesting that the catalogs don't sell. The hard part about this catalog, is picking something. There are just so many choices and the descriptions range from a couple of sentences to just the name and where the seed came from. Sometimes you get the date to maturity, sometimes not.
I wanted to limit myself to just five varieties. Each bean selection would cost me $5 so $25 total. That is a lot of money for a few beans that I don't even know I would like. Picking just five proved very hard. I was looking for kidney like beans for chili and pinto beans for refried beans. I also was looking for any good tasting prolific beans that does well in cool summers. The beans couldn't be long season beans or they wouldn't mature in time.
For the kidney types I had picked out two. Apache Red and Montezuma Red. Montezuma Red had very little description, "delicious chile type, more flavorful than kidney, from Chiapas." It didn't say how long they would take to mature, but the seller was from Colorado. The sellers are listed by codes and the first two letters of the code are their state. I used to live in Colorado and they have a very short growing season. So I can be pretty sure they will mature fast enough. I don't know that they can handle the rain we get as Colorado is a dry state, but I was willing to take that chance. I looked up the seller in the front (which gives info and the address to send the money to), and found out he required that you buy a lot of seed from him to make a purchase. $15 minimum. Well that just won't do. The sellers don't have a listing of all they are selling. Yes he says he has 14 amaranth and 15 barley etc (over 400 in all), but finding them the catalog would take forever. Plus all I wanted were dried beans. Dang. I crossed that one off the list.
The next one was Apache Red. This was from a Massachusetts grower. My own home state. So of course it ought to grow. I just hope he has been growing it for more than one year as this last year was abnormally hot and dry. Part of the description, "high yield of red seed, similar to kidney beans, for soups or chili". The funny thing is that I mailed out the orders on Tuesday. On Friday I had a package in the mail. I wasn't expecting anything. They always take three days to get the order mailed in and three days to get back. So a week is usually the quickest they could get here and I've had them take a month. But since we all live in eastern Mass it was just a one day turn around and this seed saver was on the ball and fast. My first seeds are here. So exciting!
I didn't see any more kidney substitutes, but there were a few pintos on the list. I ordered Mexican Pinto (73-114 days) and Ga Ga Hut Pinto (95 days). I'm hoping the Mexican pinto can actually produce here, but I'm not too sure at 114 days. Probably not well. I'm guessing the 73 days is as a snap bean as many dried beans can substitute as snap beans. The Mexican bean is from Heritage Farm at the Seed Saver Exchange. They grow things out constantly too keep the seed fresh. Rotating what they grow each year. They hope that anyone getting the seeds from them will offer it up next year or at least share the seed around to keep it alive. I may not list in the catalog, but if I can get enough seed from it, you can bet it will be on my list of seed to give away this fall. I'll try to follow their request.
The other two beans are just fun beans. One is an old time Maine heirloom, Norridgewock. At 85-90 days it will produce here. Heck any bean from Maine will produce here. The description reads, "white seed with purple patch over hilum covering about half of the seedcoat, attractive, deserves preservation, collected from the late Elizabeth Miller of Norridgewock, ME, who said the variety went back to pre-Civil War times, deep roots in the area, indeed she believed it might have originated in the original Abnaki village of Norridgewock, which was destroyed by the English settlers in the 1700s." Another description said it was very productive in the wet summer of 2009 in Maine. Now this bean out to produce for me in any year.
The last bean is Tarbais Alaric 95 days. This is the traditional bean to use for cassoulet. I've never made cassoulet, but it is a nice thin skinned, creamy textured bean. Which seems like a good one to grow as it is very different from my other beans. I'll see how it does here.
At some point I'm going to have to count how many different varieties of bean I'm growing this year. I've received a lot from all of you earlier in the year and now with these five I have so many more. Many of the trials will be very small. Some beans I only have five seeds of which is quite enough to trial the bean. Then I need to pick the ones I will keep for future years. Its going to be a fun beany year. I just hope we have a dry late August and early September.