Ruth Bible Pole Bean is living history. It was cultivated by the Bouy family, in Kentucky, from at least 1832. I remember reading about this bean in the very first Seed Savers Exchange yearbook I received, as a new member, in 1985 (1984 Fall Yearbook). At the time, I was in my early 20s. There were so many great varieties listed by The Seed Savers Exchange, I couldn’t grow them all, So… I didn’t. I didn’t request this one.
Instead, I grew Tennessee Cutshort, a similar bean, which we inherited from my wife’s great aunt and uncle Doy and Clara Henny, of Salem, IL.
Read more about Tennessee Cutshort here.
Starting around 2007, I decided to try and grow out a number of Appalachian heirloom beans, all with larger size seed and that “Kentucky Wonder brown color.” I grew Ruth Bible that year, and probably again, in 2010. It struck me as a very good bean but I got overwhelmed with all the varieties I was maintaining. This combined with some personal crises in 2009/2010 caused me to neglect this project and some of the seeds I had acquired to do it. This year, however, I decided to start renewing these seeds and getting more familiar with these varieties. Now, in its 3rd season with me, I’ve been delighted to get better acquainted with this new/old friend.
Related post: Five Lessons Learned from an Heirloom Bean
Ruth Bible Pole Bean’s claim to fame is productivity!
Indeed, I’ve tried at least five varieties of brown seeded, Appalachian heirloom beans, all somewhat similar. Every one has been extremely vigorous, resilient and productive. They have been what one might call “pioneer beans.” One can depend on them to produce food. By growing these out, I sense that those who kept them for so long were truly serious about stocking the pantry, and that, regardless of the vicissitudes of weather and pests.
For additional reading: Notes On Ruth Bible Pole Bean
Ruth Bible germinates vigorously and grows quickly. In 2019 the plants were absolutely covered in blossoms by 59 days and the first picking of snaps was at 60 days (pretty quick). First dry seed was at 73 days (August 21), though there is still much to come. The plants continue to flower. In 2007, I observed that Ruth Bible continued to set pods when others quit.
Ruth Bible Pole Bean is vigorous!
I noticed that this bean has a growth habit not found in all pole (climbing) varieties. When it’s really climbing, it likes to “throw out its arms,” meaning, it throws off runners, up to 3′ laterally, in search of more support. This means, that if planted in a cornfield, Ruth Bible could actually “jump” from one plant to another, and conceivably, … to another, etc., not only moving up, but also covering some distance to the side. In no time, this bean covered all the support I’d given it.
Though this bean has strings when the pods are getting large, it also has the trait of being tender podded. When the strings are removed, the pods are still tender for eating. This combined with their large size (they are 3 1/2 – 5″ long and fat) makes this an attractive bean for the person who wants to pick a mess for supper, and that, in a hurry. The pods’ large size also means, that though they need stringing, one can prepare “a mess” fairly quickly.
Beans like this highlight the danger of gardening fads.
I wish I could think of a better word than “fad.” What I’ve observed, even among those who express great appreciation for genetic diversity and preservation of heritage varieties, is that people all tend to go for the same relatively few varieties. They neglect others, sometimes to the point of extinction. Someone finally asks about a variety, “Hey, where can I get such-and-such variety,” but by then, it’s no longer available, perhaps even having gone extinct. Ruth Bible is probably one of those varieties. In spite of being such a good bean, it is not in demand and there are few sources for obtaining seed.
Many gardeners neglect great varieties because they aren’t flashy.
These brown seeded Appalachian heirlooms are all very good. They’ll feed you well and dependably, but looking at their seed, no one will “ooh” or “ah.” Their pods are not extraordinary in appearance, yet for cooking and eating, they are quite practical. Until one tries them, they probably wouldn’t guess that this is so.
Not many gardeners take the time to get to know a variety.
In this day and age too many gardeners jump from variety to variety, or collect so many, they can’t really get to know them. Don’t get me wrong. There’s definitely a place for the maintaining of large collections of seed and some do this extremely well. Yet, most gardeners would probably benefit by focusing on a few good ones and really coming to know them really well.
Why not get into a variety few others grow?
Ruth Bible Pole Bean is one of those unsung garden heros. It served the same family for more than 100 years. There’s no reason it couldn’t serve others the same way. Indeed, there are probably hundreds of old varieties waiting for their champion.