Thursday, July 11, 2013 • 9:28 AM Comments ()

Beans and cocktails

posted by Caleb Rounds

At some point in the distant future I will be able to sit on a beach and read a book. Right now a day at the beach is more like extreme child-care: if the children aren’t endangering their lives or the lives of others why bother going? In that far distant future I envision myself reading a murder mystery, getting wrapped up in the plot and only coming out of my trance for cocktail hour. Until that distant future I will have to rely on my garden mysteries. Theydon’t require a trip to the beach, but may bring on cocktail hour.

Last year on July 12th I wrote that my dry beans (both black and kidney) were behaving strangely. I had purchased bush beans: bean plants that will grow two feet or so then set fruit and wait for death while their fruit dries around them. Instead the plants were sending up a growing tip to wrap around a support. I quickly fashioned a trellis which they overwhelmed.

I’ve been trained well by my erstwhile faith: I blamed myself. This year I resolved to check packages much more carefully to avoid the mistake.

After carefully ensuring that I had ordered bush beans, I now have three different varieties growing like pole beans. One is a green bean and the other two are dry beans (black and pinto). I checked my order online and the packages, these are supposed to be bush beans. It seems unlikely that the seed company could have messed up all of the packages, but I called to see if there had been other complaints. The nice young lady on the phone consulted with her office mates. They felt it was due to weather. Yeah, right, blame your mother earth.

So I turned to the interhoopity. It doesn’t seem to happen a lot, at least I couldn’t find any evidence. So what gives?

All of the dry beans we grow (with the exception of fava beans) are Phaseolus vulgaris or Phaseolus aboriginues, that is swearing bean or eggplant bean (sort of a pun). They were domesticated in south and central America and made their way to north America long before the hordes of pale apes arrived with their nasty diseases and tasty drinks.

Bush beans are mutants. Instead of having an indeterminate growth habit where each new node results in a stem that terminates in a leaf bud and another shoot, bush beans ultimately have a node that terminates in a flower. There is a difference in the plant’s DNA that leads to a difference in the body plan. That is a phenotype based on the genotype. What I am seeing is that this phenotype is being altered by some sort of environmental effect (or the seed company screwed up).

So I have a mystery. How can I solve it? The black turtle is not a hybrid variety, so I could save the seeds then replant them in different controlled environments and measure the height of the plants and the fate of the terminal bud. That won’t get done in time for cocktails.

The only way to really handle this is to fight against every fiber of my being and relax. Put up a trellis and wait for the beans to harvest. Meanwhile, a cocktail.

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