Skip to main content

Heritage Beans

Heritage beans growing on poles with a barn in the background.

Beans have been widely grown in home gardens across Appalachia for thousands of years. However, in recent years, it has been increasingly difficult to grow beans given wildlife pressure and erratic climate. West Virginia has several unique, heritage bean varieties of both pole and half-runner types that can be grown and saved by gardeners and commercial growers.

Beans are a tender crop, so they are usually planted after the last frost date; however, West Virginia University experts have evaluated transplanting beans for early harvest, which has been very successful. High tunnel production of beans is also potentially profitable. Half-runner and pole beans require trellising and can be hand-harvested for a couple months. A standard vertical, mesh trellis 6 to 7 feet high is a typical trellis, although we are currently investigating “slant-arm” trellises for easier harvest. The bean pods are harvested just as the bean begins to swell in the pod. For an uninterrupted supply, succession planting of beans can be made every four weeks from May through early July.

Heritage beans are versatile beans that can be eaten fresh, shelled fresh or even shelled as a dry bean. Compared with a generic snap bean, heritage beans have more fiber and protein per serving.

Half-runner and pole beans must be strung and tipped before cooking, canning or freezing.

Commercial Production of Heritage Beans

Since many of the indeterminate (tall vine) pole and half-runner bean types have been selected and saved in West Virginia and Appalachia, it is important to preserve these varieties for the future. Because some standard half-runner beans have exhibited a tough hull or pod trait resulting from poor seed selection and higher summer temperatures, it has become difficult for West Virginia consumers to find these beans in local grocery markets or restaurants. This has led to a niche market for commercial production of heritage beans by commercial farms.

Evaluation of Heritage Beans

From 2016 to 2018, WVU evaluated fresh and dry, shelled heritage beans for commercial production. Three potential replacements have been identified for the standard half-runner varieties. These varieties are ‘Volunteer,’ ‘Josephine Jackson’ and ‘Brown-Seed’ NT (non-tough) half-runners.

Pole beans are a much wider group of beans with a slightly larger pod and a more prominent string. For fresh market, ‘Coal Camp’ and ‘Fat Man’ are excellent pole bean varieties. For dry, shelled beans, the ‘October Tender Hull,’ ‘Turkey Craw,’ ‘Coal Camp’ and ‘Fat Man’ are excellent varieties.

The marketable yield on dry beans is much less than fresh market, but it would be profitable to allow the last pods that set to dry on the vine for dry, shelled beans.

Varieties that are separated by 20 to 25 feet can be saved for seed the following year. The seed must be thoroughly dried and placed in a cool, low humidity storage space.

For more on heritage beans, contact WVU Extension Specialist Lewis Jett.

Author:  Lewis W. Jett , WVU Extension Specialist – Commercial Horticulture
Last Reviewed: March 2019