January 2, 2012

One criticism I've occasionally heard regarding my writing is I have a tendency not to recommend specific varieties of vegetables. To some degree this is intentional, because nowadays few varieties stick around for more than four or five years at best - at least with some types of vegetables anyway. But many people find specific lists helpful; plus there are other vegetables where varieties have staying power - so I'm going to try to do better. Today I'm going to tell you about my current favorite pole beans. These are listed more or less in order of my personal preference.

All of the varieties listed have proven to be good performers in our typical Maritime Pacific Northwest summer weather.

You can click on any of the photos to view a larger version.

Fortex

Available from Johnny's Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, The Cook's Garden, and many others

Fortex pole bean
Fortex

Fortex is, without a doubt, my favorite bean. Taste is always the most important factor in determining what I grow in my garden, and Fortex's flavor has few rivals. This is considered a "filet" bean, meaning it tends to be thinner than the typical snap bean; but it can be allowed to grow quite large without the flavor deteriorating in any way. As a matter of fact, I usually wait until they're as thick as a pencil before harvesting - at that point the beans are often close to a foot in length!

The only downside I can think of is production tends to wind down over time. It's not enough to stop me from growing Fortex, though - it's been a staple in my garden for many years.

Marvel of Venice

Available from Johnny's

Marvel of Venice pole bean
Marvel of Venice

I've tried a number of different Romano pole beans over the years, but none of them managed to make much of an impression on me until Marvel of Venice came along. This bean has a lot going for it - a nice bright yellow color, vigorous fast-growing vines, and superb flavor. I'd place it right up there with Fortex, frankly.

Marvel of Venice is not the most well-behaved plant, though. It's vines routinely overtop my 6-7 foot trellises fairly quickly, so it often flops over on top of the neighboring variety. That's really the worst thing I can say about it, though - in the grand scheme of things that not a bad problem to have.

The vines continue to prolifically generate 8-10" pods throughout the season. I have noticed, towards September, these plants respond to shorter daylength by producing seeds more quickly - so you need to keep picking regularly. Once seeds began forming, both texture and flavor go downhill a bit (although they're still not bad).


Trionfo Violetto

Available from Cook's

Trionfo Violetto pole bean
Trionfo Violetto

I used to purchase seed for this variety from Johnny's, but they haven't carried it the past couple of years. Fortunately The Cook's Garden still carries it (as of 2012). The flavor is quite good, although it's a notch or so below Fortex and Marvel of Venice. But the color makes up for it! Light purple flowers give way to 8-inch dark purple beans. Cooking causes the color to fade somewhat (to a very dark green). I enjoy munching on these raw, out in the garden - they have a very nice "snappy" texture.

I used to refer to Trionfo as my favorite bean, but Fortex has dethroned it - however I do hope Trionfo continues to be available for many years.


Fasold

Available from Thompson and Morgan

Fasold pole bean
Fasold

Territorial offered Fasold for a year or two, but no longer. Each season I've grown it Fasold has consistently been the first pole bean to produce. It's also the prettiest snap bean I've ever grown - the mauve flowers contrast wonderfully against the lime green leaves.

Fasold produces nice, light green beans that are usually 7-8 inches long. The flavor is good, but definitely not in the same class as the other varieties I've listed.


Other Thoughts

I'm sure some people are wondering about Blue Lake, Kentucky Blue, and perhaps other personal favorites. I've grown most of these on more than one occasion; and I try to grow at least one new variety each year alongside my old favorites for comparison. But while they have name recognition, and most have decent flavor, I generally don't feel most of the "old standbys" measure up to the ones I've listed here.

You also may notice that I haven't mentioned any bush varieties at all. I've tried bush snap beans - while they certainly are convenient to harvest, and they do produce several days ahead of even the earliest pole varieties, for me the trade-off in flavor just isn't worth it.

Finally, a comment about runner beans. I've grown Scarlet Emperor and Painted Lady, and like them quite a lot! I've enjoyed watching the hummingbirds visit the beautiful flowers. But while I don't mind the fuzzy pods or strong flavor (as long as I pick them before seeds start to form), the rest of my family refuses to eat them - so they don't regularly find their way into my garden anymore.

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This page was last updated November 18, 2013