Heritage beans

I  love the autumn, the change in the weather, the freshness of the wind, the autumn colours (yes, even here in Northland), the cooler nights and the autumn crops glowing with health.

It’s immensely satisfying to consider all the things we’ve got stored away – bottled fruit and tomatoes, jars of pesto, sacks of potatoes, kumara boxed safely up, and jars and jars of dried beans. I particularly love the dried beans – they are beautiful to look at and great to cook with – a real taonga. They’re a real passion of mine and it’s a puzzle to me why lots more people don’t grow them. I’ve known plenty of really good, experienced gardeners who don’t grow drying beans despite them being so easy. Maybe it’s because people have got out of the habit of cooking with them, but they are a really important part of our diet particularly over the winter. Its easy to learn to use them but like other good food just takes a bit of planning.


We grow several varieties and have some real favourites. Our favourite climbing drying beans are Gila (I think pronounced “Hila”) and Norridgewock Pean. The Gila beans are beautiful – black and white or red and white kidney shaped beans with markings that remind me of paint horses. The Norridgewock peans are rounder and look as if they have been half dipped in dark red paint. Both are prolific and easy to harvest. The Norridgewocks are listed as shellouts in the catalogue and are great for that purpose but we use them entirely as drying beans.

We also grow bush drying beans and it can be hard to choose which ones to grow. Sinton are one favourite. These are also kidney shaped and a beige colour. Not as startling as the others but with a quiet appeal. Another is Kaiapoi Pink Seeded which are a beautiful deep pink colour and very productive with a great flavour. We successionally sow both of these over the summer and harvest them initially for eating green (they’re not stringy when young) and then let the later ones dry. Mother In Law are another favourite bush bean. The plants have a semi climbing growth habit and twine together with their neighbouring plants. The beans are much smaller, white round beans in small smooth pods that are purple before they start to dry. Very pretty. Although the beans are small they produce well and I’ve counted more than 70 pods on one plant.

I was given Adzuki beans by a guy who came into the old Koanga shop in Kaiwaka. We’ve been growing them ever since and they do really well for us. They’re small bush beans with pretty yellow flowers, very drought tolerant and with good crops of small, reddy brown adzukis.

The dwarf and climbing beans I’ve mentioned are all Phaseolus vulgaris (except adzuki which is Vigna angularis). Conventional wisdom is that Phaseolus vulgaris are self fertile and don’t cross, but other sources indicate that crossing can be as much as 10%. I make sure that any beans I collect for use as seed are grown well away from other varieties to prevent crossing.

Harvesting and processing is easy. I’ve learnt to look for varieties with smooth pods that make processing easier (as the beans come out easily once the pods are dry). It’s also my impression that if you get a really wet spell when the beans are starting to dry on the plants then the smooth pods seem to shed the water more easily and are damaged less by the rain. Here in Northland we often get wet spells around the end of summer so this can be a great advantage.

I pick the beans when the pods are dry and then dry them some more, usually hung in onion sacks. Once they are really dry and crunchy I tip them into a plastic fish bin and stomp on them. Most of the beans come out of the pods that way and the debris can be lifted out and the remaining few beans taken out of the pods.

We long soak our dried beans, often with whey added, and then rinse and boil them and put into our hot box (which is like a slow cooker). Once cooked we use them in a variety of ways. Baked beans is a favourite, slow cooked in the range with onions, carrots, tomatoes, herbs and a chopped apple. Refried beans is also great – the cooked beans are fried and mashed with onion, garlic and spices and then eaten with salad, stir fried veggies, salsa, guacamole, and home made corn tortillas and feta. Our kids would often choose that as their special birthday meal.

The varieties I mentioned earlier are just our favourites and there are heaps of others to choose from. Mainly I want to just encourage everyone to give it a go if you haven’t already, and to find the varieties that suit you best.

Happy growing and eating!

Gail Aiken

You’ll find of all the beans available here on our website.

Having trouble deciding which beans to grow? Check out our Heritage Bean Selector Chart here