For anyone with an interest in food and gardening the increased reliance of world wide food crops to a few varieties is a concern. Local “landrace” varieties are vanishing, along with their genetic diversity and suitability to local ecosystems in favour of a handful of varieties which can be wiped out if a pathogen mutates and learns how to invade these homogenous crops. In just the last few years we are in a race to save bananas, which are mainly one variety the Cavendish, from the Panama disease and Xyllela is wiping out olives and other similar trees and shrubs in Europe.
The antithesis of this the the Arc of Taste an organisation dedicating to documenting and promoting foods and crops in danger of extinction and helping producers to keep them alive. It’s worthwhile having a look at the varieties in your country and see what you can do to help. In many countries as well you have seed banks, dedicated to preserving non commercial seeds. These seed banks may provide seed to commercial growers, researchers or to the public.
In the UK we have a number of seed banks, some of which are entirely research focused and the seeds are not available to the general public but others like The Heritage Seed Library are not a genetic store as such but instead help to preserve old and commercially non viable seeds by making them available to the general public through a membership scheme.
I have been a HSL member for a number of years and for the last two years I have chosen of the six varieties you are allowed, the French/Pole bean Emperor of Russia. There isn’t an awful lot of information about this bean, like when it was first bred or who by at all other than what is provided by the library, who received the donation from Harlow Carr. The bean may also be known as Longfellow.
I was really impressed by its flavour, which is one of the best that I have grown, its texture is tender and the beans ability to stand for a while without filling out or getting stringy. I had no issues with this bean at all. it is a dwarf bean, although plants are quite tall compared to more modern varieties but this does mean beans are held well off the ground.
In the Kitchen
Emperor of Russia are stringless for all but the oldest of beans. Top and tail and steam whole for a few minutes until tender.
Yield and Plant Health
You will get about 100g of bean per plant spread over a month or so, once the first flush is over do not pull the plants out and they may re-flower later. Emperor of Russia are quite flat pods, attractive to look at and stand for a long time.
Beans are held high off the ground which makes them easy to spot in the foliage and slightly better for those of us with dodgy backs!.
French beans are not hardy so in the UK they cannot be planted out until the last frosts which is usually around the end of May or early July. They will sulk if planted out too soon and subject to cold and wet weather.
In mid to late May, using root trainers or 3 inch pots, sow two beans per module, 5cm deep. Water, cover and leave to germinate in a warm sunny spot. The beans will start to show themselves after a few days. When all the beans have germinated you can start to harden off by taking outside and putting in a sheltered spot during the day and returning indoors overnight for a week, finally leaving outside for a couple of days until ready to plant out. Repeat every three weeks for dwarf beans to get successional crops. You may only need two sowings for climbing beans.
Beans need to be planted in a sheltered, sunny spot in rich but well drained soil. Adding plenty of rotted manure or compost before planting and mulching after planting will benefit them enormously. Climbing beans will need wigwams, trellis or canes to grow up. Plant 10 cm apart, water well. Continue to water until they are established but then only during dry spells. Once the beans arrive (late June or July) you will need to pick at least every other day to keep them flowering for as long as possible. Beans should be shiny and the beans not showing in the pod for optimum tenderness. Dwarf beans will often give you a second crop later in the season.