Why Grow Old Fashioned String Beans?

old fashioned string bean, stringed beans

For most of my life I’ve seen seed catalogs praise stringless beans. Then, as a young adult, I discovered old fashioned string beans and fell in love with them. At first we didn’t understand what we had, and processed them just like stringless beans, picking them very young so as to avoid strings. Even growing them like that, we were favorably impressed. Eventually we learned how to maximize our use of this type of bean and… the fun began! You might ask…

What is an Old Fashioned String Bean?

These are beans which develop fibrous strings on the edges (technically called sutures) of their pods. The best of these varieties concentrate their fiber into the strings, and thus have tender pods for much longer than do stringless varieties. Some of these varieties will have tender pods right up until they start to dry seed, so a person can pick them, string them and cook green beans with actual tender bean seeds mixed in. This makes for a heartier dish than many stringless varieties, which have almost no seed in the pods while still tender and cooked as a vegetable. I’d like to give you four reasons why you might want to grow an old fashioned variety of “string bean.” We already mentioned the first reason:

ReadDigest article on nutritional value of Green Beans

These old fashioned beans remain usable longer than the modern type.


These beans have flavor.

There are stringless varieties with good flavor. My parents used to grow Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans which had good flavor, but had to be picked before sizing up too much. In general, however, the stringed varieties are the really flavorful ones. Mom’s absolute favorite vegetable was the green bean. In her later years she and Dad were in an assisted living home with wonderful food, but the family noticed that Mom stopped eating green beans, even when served to her. I bet I know why. The commercially available, fresh green beans, these days, have neither the flavor nor texture of a good old fashioned green bean!

Tennessee Cutshort Pole Bean Pods
These Tennessee Cutshorts are tender until they start to dry down, and the seed tastes great in the pods. (The dry pods are for seed.)

They Also Have Character.

Compared to more modern, commercial varieties, the older types come in a dazzling array of size, shapes and even textures. Some have really small pods while others have huge pods. Some are fat and some are thin. The seeds can be white, brown, black or almost any other color or combination known to “bean-dom.” and the vines can be anything from short stocky bushes to 20′ towers. And the history that goes with some. It’s amazing to read the stories about some of these varieties! Finally…

Related Article: To Make An Heirloom

They’re the beans One is Likely to Keep Growing Over the Years.

It’s really easy to save seed. Here’s an article on how to save bean seed. So many of these varieties are not only delicious and productive, but also kind of hard to find. Still, they’re perfect for seed saving. Not only can one save a little money on seed, but also have fun sharing with others! Once a person finds “the perfect bean” for their taste, others just seem to be lacking, so seed saving is a logical choice.

dried bean pods, saving bean seed, gleaning bean seed, to
Many times when bean plants dry up, at the end of the season, one will find dried pods containing viable seed.

The Hamby Bean is a good example of how a family became attached to a particular old fashioned variety.

Sustainable Mountain Agriculture is probably the world authority on old time Appalachian beans. Here’s a link to the page on which they discuss bean terminology.

Barksdale is an old yellow podded string bean, one of our family heirlooms.

Homesteading Edu has an entire course dedicated to Growing Beans, if you’d like to learn more.

Do you maintain an old variety of bean? We’d love to hear about it in the comment area!


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