I used to muck about with all sorts of bush beans in the kitchen garden but found that these dwarf bean varieties seemed lower to the ground with each passing year. While quicker than climbing beans to produce a crop, their single flush of beans overwhelmed the cook and plunged us shortly thereafter into a ‘bean drought’.
Climbing beans, on the other hand, tended to grow up our 4m tall bamboo tripods out of reach of the cook, and created a different type of drought that brought down curses upon the gardener’s head and nostalgia for the short bush beans of an earlier era. (OK, she never swears! That’s my job too…)
All these bean irritants have receded in our kitchen garden since I have concentrated on growing and saving on a single climbing bean variety called ‘Lazy Wife’ bean. The original packet I purchased over a decade ago from a heritage seed company called them ‘German Lazy Housewife Beans’. This was clearly a typo introduced by some Australian seed packet printer, as numerous trips to the Fatherland over the past thirty years have indicated the complete impossibility of the simultaneous occurrence of the words ‘German’ and ‘lazy’ in the same sentence. It would seem that the original seed came from Germany, and the ‘lazy’ bit crept in because this large flattish bean crops almost continuously for months on end and is largely stringless, saving much labour for busy housewives. The Digger’s Club used to make a claim that only a single bean reached Australia over a century ago, and that our current bean stocks were all grown on from this single seed. Eden Seeds in NSW describe this bean as follows: -
Original stringless bean from 1810, thought to have come from Germany, named because of ease of preparation, delicious flavour, heavy bearer over a long period, not much string even when old, round pods to 20cm. 80 days.
What’s changed in our kitchen garden is that I no longer fence the chickens in and the garden out, but now fence the garden in and the chickens out. These permanent fences use heavy duty galvanized mesh that’s perfect for cucumbers, peas and of course, climbing beans. Climbing beans reach the top of this fence, wave their growing tips in the air for a week, then form an interwoven cap to the fence that restricts their height and makes the cook’s job easy at harvest time.
The gardener has his own reasons to be grateful for the stringless qualities of this old heritage bean variety; extra points with the cook can be earned in the evenings by topping, tailing and cutting up basketfuls of these beans for freezing or lacto-fermenting.