West Virginia

Revival in West Virginia: Heirloom Indeterminate Beans

Heirloom indefinite beans

Heirloom indefinite beans. (Photo: Lewis Jett, West Virginia University)

Heirloom indeterminate beans are on the comeback path in West Virginia, according to Lewis Jett, a commercial horticulture extension specialist at West Virginia University.

“In the Appalachia, beans are a staple for a lot of people,” says Jett. “However, there are many ‘new’ consumers of traditional beans. We look for plants that are high yielding, tasty, nutritious and have a story behind them. There is a competitive advantage as these bean varieties are very different in yield and flavor from commercial bush bean varieties.”

The crop is adapted to the West Virginia climate and has very high yields, Jett says.

“It has both a new market and value-add potential,” says Jett. “We studied year-round commercial freezing of Appalachian pea beans for sale to the food service industry and to individual consumers.”

Luck and wisdom go hand in hand for this player in the fruit and vegetable industry

Jett’s team at WVU recently completed a three-year project to improve trellis design for greater harvesting efficiency of old pole beans. One of the inhibiting factors in the commercial production of heirloom beans is the high labor input required for harvesting.

The beans were harvested twice a week and immediately weighed and graded for quality parameters. Both the Non-Tough and Josephine Jackson varieties produced a very high marketable yield of fresh green beans, according to the study. “Non-Tough” achieved the highest marketable yield of the semi-runners evaluated. Both varieties had very good size and color uniformity.

The trellis design significantly affected the marketable yield. The transverse arm trellis design had a marketable yield that was 15% to 35% higher than the vertical trellis. The north-leaning trellises outperformed the south-leaning trellises. The single-arm trellis did not have significantly higher marketable yields than the vertical trellis for either semi-runner or pole bean species. The quality of the beans grown on the single or cross arm trellis was perceived to be better than the beans harvested from the vertical trellis. Half runner beans had better quality and visible pod color when grown on the single and cross arm trellis.

Both the single and cross arm trellis designs effectively separated the pods from the canopy, making it much easier for harvesters to harvest beans of marketable maturity. With the cross-arm or single-arm design, there was almost no contact with the crop and the crop canopy. The vertical trellis was much more intricate and much time was spent searching for pods in the canopy. Measured as time per unit harvested, both angled trellises improved harvesting efficiency, according to the study.

Jett’s study concluded that changing the orientation of the trellis could be a solution to the problem.

“Angular trellises can significantly improve bean quality, but also have equal or greater marketable yields compared to traditional vertical trellises,” Jett wrote. “Harvesting efficiency is improved by using trellises with one or two cross arms for indeterminate beans.”


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