Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lean bean pickings

I love borlotti beans but I have only ever been able to find cans of them in the supermarket. This year, however, I found packets of seeds in the garden centre and I decided to grow my own. The instructions on the packet were in Italian, not my forte but I think I did all the right things. Actually, I treated then just as I would runner beans (US pole beans) and hoped for the best.

They were very slow to get started but shoots appeared eventually and I watered and watched them daily as they snaked their way up the wigwam. And then they stopped! They reached only about one third of the way up the poles. Still, flowers appeared in abundance so I carried on watering and watching. The first pods developed and, treating them like green beans, I picked them to encourage more growth. If only I were further on in my Italian lessons! I think I made a mistake. No super abundance of pods grew. In fact the crop was very meagre indeed.

I cooked the first pickings, which were delicious. Then I waited patiently for the rest of the pods to develop their beauteous red/purple hue. When I arrived home from my trip Up North, I found that a number of the pods had dried on the plants so I decided to harvest the crop this morning. All those months of loving watching, waiting and watering produced this:
Not enough to feed the world but did you ever see anything more lovely? Actually, had you been in the kitchen with me,  you would have seen much denser colouring but my camera has not fully recovered from it's adventure on the beach and I haven't replaced it yet.

I found that the beans inside the pods that had dried were a very deep purple  colour, the less mature pods had beautifully speckled beans and the younger pods had pale beans. Here is the full bounty:
I usually have enough runner beans to feed us right through the summer with enough extra to give away, to freeze for the winter and to make lots of green bean chutney. I have enough borlotti beans for one meal!  I have learned a great deal, though, from the experience:
  1. I should have read up on growing borlotti beans and not guessed at the Italian instructions!
  2. I should have planted my runner beans as well.
  3. I should have allowed all of the pods to turn a deep shade before picking them.
  4. I should have expected an exiguous crop (I've been dying to use that word in a sentence and this is my first opportunity and the only reason for making this point).
I will definitely grow them again next year for their sheer beauty but I'll carry on buying canned beans for cooking.


  1. A small crop is better than no crop at all, M, and well done for persisting. My self-sufficiency efforts this year have produced just two, yes two, courgettes. As for those instructions, send them over to me. I may be an unsuccessful gardener and rubbish at maths but I have got an A-level in Italian.

  2. Remember: Google is your friend when you need to know How To Grow Borlotti Beans or anything else. There also there are many websites like this where one can get free translations of text in almost every known language.

    BTW - I saw the filmed version of book "The Help," "The Maids" in the UK and unreservedly recommend it. There wasn't a dry eye in theater including my own. The cast was perfection itself, especially the Junior League types with which I was very familiar growing up in NYC and the reason I've never liked belonging to any group or club.

  3. D, if we put our spoils together we might make half a meal! As for the Italian, I thought my Latin could get me close enough to the meaning but obviously not. I've just started an Italian conversation course so I'll come to you for help with my homework.

  4. e, if only I had been blessed with foresight instead of hindsight!

    Thanks for the tip about The Help, I will certainly want to watch it.

  5. m. that's what friends are for. :-)

  6. e

    I have discovered that the film, still called The Help in Uk, will be released here in October.

  7. I never heard of borlotti beans before. They are beauties! I'd like to try to grow them myself. I planted eggplant this year and got a very small yield. I later found out that they don't do well planted near tomatoes. Oh, well, there's always next year. The tomatoes didn't mind the eggplant - they came in like gangbusters. Go figure...


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