Join Janet on her adventures as a designer, writer, maker, and farmer in montana. no two days are ever the same. you might even see a bear or two.

The 2019 Bean Report

The 2019 Bean Report

One of the questions I’ve had to deal with as a gardener is, “What crops are worth my time and energy to grow?” The answer involves a number of factors:

  1. Do I like to eat this vegetable? Radishes are easy to grow and come up quickly, but no one here eats them. 

  2. Does it require a lot of TLC or handholding to get established? I feel this way about carrots. The seeds are tiny. The row has to be kept weeded, and when the seedlings reach a certain size, it’s necessary (yes, it is) to go through and thin them. I find them fairly labor intensive. There was also the year that the husband and I were out digging up carrots in an early-season snowstorm…

  3. Can this item be sourced locally? When I discovered that Costco sold 10-pound bags of organic carrots, we stopped growing them. I will spend one afternoon canning a couple of bags of Costco carrots and that is plenty for soups and stews for the winter. 

  4. Does this crop require special processing, especially at the end of the season? I never could seem to get onions out of the ground and hung up somewhere suitable to dry and cure. They are inexpensive and easy to find locally, so I don’t bother growing any. 

  5. Is this crop just plain obnoxious and annoying? After several years of missing the five-minute window for harvesting spinach, I switched to collard greens. They don’t bolt and when blanched and frozen, they work perfectly in many dishes that call for spinach. 

Keeping those criteria in mind, we almost always put in peas, tomatoes, potatoes, corn (except this year), zucchini, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and an ongoing supply of lettuce. Some years I might add in green beans, cabbage, acorn squash, or broccoli or cauliflower. The dry bush beans were an experiment from a couple of years ago. I eat a lot of bean and rice dishes but up until now, I’ve bought organic beans in bulk and canned them. I decided this year to see how far I could push growing my own. It has been a stellar season and I am thrilled with the results. The pods are starting to turn yellow, so I pulled off a few of each variety to see how they look.

First up are the Vermont Cranberry beans.


These are small beans—about half the size of the other beans. As the name implies, they have a mottled cranberry appearance.

The Jacob’s Cattle Beans are similar but twice as large:


The color deepens after they dry; I noticed that these looked much more vibrant a few hours later.

On the website, these Kebarika beans are a dark purple color, not the magenta that they are in this picture. They may also darken with drying:


Victory Seeds gives this background information about the Kebarika beans:

Introduced to us in 2004 by an early benefactor of the Victory Seed Company and is part of a special project in his memory. At the onset of his end-of-life failing health, bean variety conservationist and horticultural bibliophile, the late Mark Futterman, had the foresight to find homes for his life's work.

The documented history of this variety is incomplete. What we know at this point is that first began circulating among gardeners with its introduction in the 1985 edition of the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook but has only been offered commercially on a very limited basis. It reportedly originated in Kenya, Africa but we have not yet discovered how and when it arrived on this continent.

I am curious to see how they taste.

I planted some Verde Valle beans from the bag of beans that I bought at Wal-Mart in Spokane. I canned most of them but held back a handful to plant. I also planted an unknown and un-named light brown variety from last year’s crop as well as these Great Northern beans:


I did put each bean variety in its own row, so to speed sorting, I will make sure that the rows are separated in drying trays in the greenhouse. (That didn’t happen last year.) Nor am I in a huge hurry to harvest these; the beans can stay out in the garden for a few weeks yet and dry on the vines unless we get an extended period of rain.

We don’t eat as many black beans as we do of the other varieties, but I am so excited about how well these did that I’ll expand the inventory next year to include black beans, too.

This year’s cowpea crop was a bust, although a few of the plants blossomed (aren’t they a pretty yellow?):


I just didn’t get them in soon enough. I am not ready to give up yet; I’ll try again next year with the same varieties (I got two) and either start them in the greenhouse or get them in the ground earlier. (Cathy has promised to make me an authentic Southern dish with them if I am successful.) We could also try putting a hoop cover over these to try to keep them going into the fall. I would like to do that with my lettuce this year. In the past when we’ve protected the plants, we have had lettuce well into November.


Sewing won’t happen until I get my studio space back. DD#2 brought me some mending projects. One was a button that needs to be sewn back onto a pair of pants. When I pointed out that she knows how to sew on a button, she said, “But I want it done by someone who will make sure that it is done right and stays on.” (This is a variation of the husband insisting that I should do something because, “You do it so much better than I do”—otherwise known as delegation by flattery.) The other project was a leopard print dress with an invisible zipper. The zipper tape is starting to fray in places and the whole zipper probably needs to be replaced. I told her that invisible zippers were above my pay grade. I’ve never done one and while I am not opposed to learning, I don’t want to practice on one of her dresses. She bought it at Nordstrom, which has an entire alterations department, so I suggested she take it to them. She works there, after all. (I am still lobbying for a tour of the alterations department, but she says only employees are allowed back there. I can hope.)

What to Make Next?

What to Make Next?

A Day in Missoula

A Day in Missoula