Legumes’ nitrogen-fixing abilities enrich the earth during the season and long after they’ve decomposed. As green manure, they are an integral component of crop rotation — boosting yields and bolstering a healthy, balanced biota.
Above ground, they’re a sight to behold. Beans’ varied growth habits create a dappled coat of greenery, blossom colors and verticality. Broad leaves. Ferny leaves. Dark green. Yellow-green. Purple blossoms. Pink blossoms. White blossoms. Some plants top out at 2 feet. Others try valiantly to find the giants’ kingdom.
In our diet, beans play a vital role in keeping our systems humming along. They’re high in protein, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron, folic acid, calcium and trace minerals. Through their low glycemic index, they can help prevent or manage diabetes. And beans’ high fiber content can lower cholesterol and combat colon cancer.
Beyond these noted benefits, I find dried beans terminology especially enchanting. In addition to self-explanatory terms such as string beans, shelly beans, wax beans, pole beans and bush beans, heirloom seed catalogs and packets also frequently reference:
With these, I found my initial suppositions on their definitions were way off. What set me straight was a visit to the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center’s website. There, a glossary of Southern Appalachian Heirloom Bean Terminology provides descriptions and historical background for a long list of terms.
Contrary to my idea that cut-shorts must need to be pruned during the season, I learned that they acquired this name because the seeds outgrow the hulls and lock developing seeds against one another, making them appear square or triangular, even trapezoidal. In short, their circular shape is cut short. They’re also noted for being higher in protein.
Greasy beans, I learned, aren’t fatty or best prepared in bacon grease. Instead, their pods are slick without fuzz. Considered high quality, they fetch higher prices.
Greasy cut-shorts are the cream of the crop and in high demand.
OK, so half-runner makes sense. These beans tend to grow 3- to-10-foot vines. Full-runner beans can grow as many as 20 feet high.
But soldier beans? I couldn’t conjure a meaning. On the website, I read that this is the mark of a good bean crop, where the beans line up on the stem in formation — one by one or two by two, until the stem contains six to 12 beans. When weather conditions are accommodating, one vine may have 100 or more bean pods, yielding 700 to 800 seeds.
So, my new goal is to produce soldier, greasy cut-shorts.
What can I say?
Long after the vines have been pulled, beans continue to cast a spell on me.