4 Amazing Heirloom Bean Varieties I am Growing This Summer


Bean, beans, the musically fruit as the saying goes. In recent years I have noticed a slight bias or preference towards the incorporation of beans into my diet on a daily or weekly basis. Some people may argue that they would get sick of beans if they ate them that often or only consider beans to be a side for other dishes. I can assure you that with enough creativity and open mindedness, beans can suffice you across a diverse array of dishes spanning many different cultures.

I first started growing beans after learning about the beneficial nitrogen fixing bacteria that have a symbiotic (mutual/equally beneficial) relationship with various legume species. If you live or grew up in an agriculture based community/region you may notice that a lot of farmers will alternate in what crops they grow. Often switching from soybeans to some type of grain like sorghum or corn, farmers do this to put some of the fixed nitrogen back into the soil that was previously depleted by the corn or other grain in the previous year.

While there is quite a bit of evidence supporting the use of rotational grazing, I believe that the impacts of the practice are often exaggerated in some cases. Many believe that growing legumes alongside other crops helps fertilize crops in the vicinity of the plan. This is not entirely true; almost all of the fixed nitrogen is allotted toward the legume plant and is usually used for seed production. Whatever is leftover is usually put into developing the plants foliage or overall biomass. The nitrogen available for other plants is typically not made available to other plants until the plant has died and the roots are left in the soil to rot, freeing up this nitrogen, but sometimes leaching does occur, benefiting other neighboring plants occasionally.

Not all legume species fix the same amount of nitrogen into the soil, some plants like soybeans and peanuts will fix more nitrogen than common bean crops, while other plants like clover will fix more than all of the plants previously mentioned. Regardless, there are many other benefits to rotating crops. If you are interested in learning more about nitrogen fixing, check out an article from New Mexico State University, they do a great job at highlighting the basics in a short amount of words.

I started growing beans a couple of years ago so that I could begin fixing my own nitrogen in my garden soil. I grew a few bush green bean seeds from a Lowe’s seed pack; I didn’t realize that bush bean varieties produce less than runner varieties, which was a bit of a letdown. I later realized that based on my handful of beans I would be better off growing other, more productive plants in the space. It wasn’t until I discovered the three sisters growing method that I came back to the idea of growing beans. I am not going to explain how beans correlate as this is explained more in depth in the hyperlink provided in the previous sentence.

Beans were a staple for me when I was vegetarian for a year in college. I seem to never get sick of them and could easily eat them every meal. My body seems to appreciate the added protein and fiber. Because of this newfound love for beans I have decided to become more self-reliant and try to grow enough to suffice me for a year. I understand why Native Americans worked so hard to develop bean varieties into what they are now. They contain many of the nutrients to keep one full and healthy. They are a “survival crop”.

Once you jump into the world of beans it is hard to go back to your basic pinto/black bean varieties. Not only are there bean varieties that grow larger, but they come in an array of colors and tastes. Often, many of these varieties are considered “rare” or “gourmet” but can be grown at home fairly easy. Many of these unique varieties are common in other countries and often contain both a greater connection to the local culture/history and higher nutrition than that of the beans we most often consume from local American supermarkets. Because of this I have strived to buy and plant a variety of heirloom beans. Many of these varieties are being lost due to prioritization of common conventional varieties/lack of demand. I hope to spread awareness on the issue and encourage my fellow gardeners to take a leap and grow beans. I recently thought up a phrase while weeding which said, “the more we know our food, the more we know ourselves” which felt groundbreaking at the time and seems fitting now.

1. Scarlet Runner Beans

I first was introduced to the idea of growing scarlet runner beans from a few YouTube videos I watched while in college. I recall being amazed at how beautiful both the beans and the plant were that were showcased within the video. The plant produces large green pods, which can be eaten green or you can let them dry and eat the beans as normal. The beans are a speckled mixture of a beautiful pink or purple color. They are relatively large beans and are known to be great producers. The flowers of this plant are bright red and known to attract hummingbirds, giving it some appeal to flower gardeners as well.

In some areas this variety of bean can over winter and produce tubers from what I have heard. This is usually in warmer climate, but I thought it was an interesting fact. I am excited to finally be growing these beans and look forward to seeing what all in the garden comes up. The plants grow fairly tall and could easily climb up corn stalks and will gladly devour whatever space you allot to them.

2. Cherokee Trail of Tear

Another bean variety that I was very excited to grow was the Cherokee Trail of Tear beans. If you were unfamiliar with the bean variety you would most likely think that it was a plain old black bean that you would find at any local super market. This bean, as the name suggests has a connection to the Cherokee people. It was first originated in the American Southeast and brought to Oklahoma as the United States government forced the Cherokee people (and their slaves) to live on a reservation so that their previous homeland could be used for economic and rural development for White settlers during the early 1800’s. This was a repercussion of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The beans grow as runner or pole beans and are known to be very prolific. They produce green and purple pods and are known to climb to a very tall height. These beans are produce a versatile pod as they can also be eaten fresh or left to dry as a shelling bean. This is my first year growing these beans in combination with the other sisters (in the three sister growing method), they have already sprouted and put on their first set of true leaves despite only being planted a week or so ago. I planted two beans per plant and had a great germination rate so I need to thin some of the plants back. I am excited to see how much they produce as I have heard many say that they produce more than other common varieties of beans.

3. Ayocote Morado

If you have been keeping up with my YouTube channel lately you might have seen my videos where I unbox and cook with/review the ayocote morado beans I ordered from Rancho Gordo. These beans are grown in Mexico and are relatively common down there. It seems that there are very few people who produce them here in the United States making them hard to come by. If you watch my review you will see how the cooking process goes and my true opinion on the bean. Based on my consumption of the bean, it was very filling and had lots of flavor. It made a good broth and gave almost a meaty texture. After trying out this variety I decided to give it a shot and grow it in my garden at home. I do not live in Mexico, but am hopeful that the variety will produce in my climate.

At first glance these beans may appear similar in appearance to that of the scarlet runner beans, though if you have seen both, they look relatively different as these beans are typically purple and have no speckling. These beans are also runner beans and produce red flowers like that of the scarlet runner bean. I speculate that they are closely related. There are a few other types of ayocote beans I would like to try in the future ranging from ayocote negro, ayocote blanco, and a few others. I am curious to see how each one tastes in comparison to the fan favorite ayocote morado.

4. 1,500 Year Old Cave Beans (Anasazi)

Lastly, I decided to take a risk and purchase some beans known as the 1,500 year old cave bean. The story surrounding these beans is that they were discovered in a cave in New Mexico sealed in a clay pot with pine pitch. Miraculously the seeds were still viable and were carbon dated to be about 1,500 years old. After impulsively adding a seed pack to my order from one of the common seed companies, I realized that I had become a victim of good marketing. As an aspiring entrepreneur I had read books on marketing and listened to various gurus on various podcasts. I understood that this company used a story/title to draw in consumers and created a rarity/collectable aspect around it. The story is not unique and is commonly used for various other indigenous varieties. I find it hard to believe that so many people are finding well preserved beans in clay pots. I speculate (based on their appearance) that these beans are nothing more than Anasazi beans, rebranded to be stand out and be more marketable.  

Despite my reflection, I do think that the beans are still pretty neat. They have a brown and white or purple and white pattern that makes me think of a spotted brown cow. They are said to be kidney bean shaped and have prolific vines/production as seems to be the trend. Many people point out that the beans have delicious flavor and are favorited by gardeners. I am only growing a few plants of this bean this year for beans, but hope to grow them in greater abundance in the future.


As you can tell in this writing, I may have a gardening obsession. I dream of having enough seed diversity to be considered a seed bank. I hope to do this with a variety of crops, but do see the need to preserve genetic diversity of various crops. Seed banks are typically one of the first things to be destroyed during time of war. This indicates that we should be cultivating our own collections as to minimize the risk of the potential extinction of some of these crops. Beyond the genetic preservation, I hope to maybe encourage you to consider trying some heirloom/gourmet beans and open your eye to the amount of flavor these beans have without any spices or added broth. You will be shocked at the taste difference when compared to the basic beans at the store.

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