Giant Purple Beans!

Cross of Purple Pod and Runner beans?

Cross of Purple Pod and Runner beans?

After a mere decade or two of trying….

Top is a dry Scarlett Runner Bean pod, bottom is a set of three normal sized common beans (2 purple pod, one Cherokee Trail Of Tears). The ruler shows that in between are some 19 cm long ( about 8 inch) Giant Purple Pod beans. The story follows:

A Long Long Long Time Ago…

In a Back Yard not to far away…

OK, it started out simple enough. Grow some beans to eat. Bought some Kentucky Wonder and had some Scarlet Runner beans for show and for the Humming Birds.

Some of the Kentucky Wonder beans were a bit, er, large. So I planted them the next year.

One of the KW vines was especially rampant and made a very large bean. About 1/2 way from a regular KW to a Runner Bean. Could it be that these two different species could cross?

My beans are regularly visited by a bunch of pollinator species. 4 kinds of bee, a couple of different humming birds. The cross pollination delivery was there. But who knows.

And the mutant KW had a ‘bit of string’ in the pods, so SWIMBO would not eat them. Me, being more robust, will eat them happily. (Frankly, as long as it doesn’t make me sick, I’ll eat anything that doesn’t run away and some things that do…)

By rights, I ought to have chucked out the seeds as “rejects”. But they called to me.

HOWEVER: I have a special fondness of Purple Pod beans… Could I, with some work perhaps, get a “3 way” going and make a Giant Purple Pod bean? The only thing that makes my Scarlet Runner Beans anything less than a spectacular favorite (with those bright scarlet flowers) is that the pods are a deep green. Not purple.

So the plantings began. Yes, I could have ‘helped things along” with deliberate attempts at hand pollination. But that is not my way. (The Plant has to want to change ;-) So I planted pole type Purple Pod beans next to my 1/2 mutant Giant KW and near to my Scarlet Runners. And each year would look for ‘interesting plants and seeds’. I’ve now got quite a collection of odd things.

Some deeper brown seeded KW (with less string) from back crossing some regular KW into the Giant KW. Some much lighter, nearly white seeded Giant KW (and the seeds are more ‘squarish flat’ than cylindrical.) Some Purple Pods with lighter flatter fatter seeds. All very nice and all 1/2 way to where I was dreaming about…

So It’s Fall

Time to pull up the summer stuff and prepare for the fall / winter garden. One patch of “Darwin’s Garden” (C) had been crowded under a runaway sage bush (that the hummers and bees love in October…) with corn overhead and my Cabbage That Will Not Die on the north edge. I’d put the three beans in there together and had dismal growth (I was also selecting for ‘needs nothing of me’…) but some survived. Had about a dozen purple pod beans on one vine.

In taking down the bunny fence around the square, I saw 2 Very Large purple pods, hiding at the back edge, under the sage. You can see them in the picture up top. Not your typical Purple Pod (that is more like the small dark purple pods at the bottom of the picture). The middle dry pod is a Cherokee Trail Of Tears bean for comparison. It has the black seed. The regular Purple Pods have a dark brown seed. At the top is a Scarlet Runner pod that has dried off. Notice the large flat lavender speckled seed.


I think I’ve got it!

Giant Pod? Check.

Giant Seed? Check.

Purple Pod? Check.

Only thing missing is a purple speckled seed…. Something to work on for the next 20 years….

So I’m going to be taking Very Good Care of these special seeds. I’ve got about a dozen, per bumps on the pod, but they need to finish drying, then do a small stint in the freezer (to assure no bean weevil eggs are on them… lost a batch of runner bean seeds to them one year…)

Next year I’ll be planting out about 1/3 of them (with 1/3 for the next cycle if this one fails and 1/3 in the deep freeze seed archives…).

I’ll also be planting out another troika of the three parent seeds that were in that batch in the hopes of another bit of luck.

FWIW, it may be that I must accept a white seed. All the “Giant” mutants / crosses have had a whiter seed than the parents. It’s quite possible that the giant size is on the same chromosome as the white seed coat. Getting a gene to jump chromosomes is not easy…. (It can happen. There are a variety of odd ways that the ends of chromosomes can move, or just flip over and get joined on backwards. So I won’t give up. But the practical fact is that it may take another hand for that step.)

Party Time

But for now: I’ve got what I’ve been working to get for over a decade now. A Giant Purple Pod bean. For the next few generations, it’s just stabilize the cross, deepen the color, hope there isn’t too much ‘string’, and enjoy the show at the “Post Darwin” plot. When a plant has survived “Darwin’s Garden”, and especially if it has given me an improved version, it gets rewarded with a few generations of rampant pampered growth. And I get rewarded with a larger and more stabilized seed bank.

So for now, it’s “Wee Haw!” time ;-0

Update, just an hour later

Ok, I’m a bit wound up about this. But I just can’t let this go by without a bit of perspective. This particular bean is my Giant Kentucky Wonder. It is growing from some fairly crappy soil (barely turned over once 3 years ago, no fertilizer at all and never worked before that one turn. Just sod before that for a few years) in a corner that’s shaded by the tree for half the day and the house for another part of the day, with sporadically irregular water. Oh, and I over crowded the planting of the 4 x 4 foot square with some green onions (perennial ones), a dozen other beans, a 3 year old avocado tree in the center, a Marigold in one corner, and some radishes.

So the beans finally got above the crowd on the wire cages, then I sent them up a string into the tree. (A fruitless pear). I’ve picked a bunch of beans already, but when preparing to clean it out, noticed some up high… There are some shriveled leaves, too, as I’d cut the vine a couple of days ago. How high?

The Orchard Ladder

The green thing on the ladder is a 1 foot ruler. I make it about 15 to 16 feet straight up, but the vines did not go anywhere near straight.

Orchard Ladder to Giant Kentucky Wonder Beans

Orchard Ladder to Giant Kentucky Wonder Beans

Above and slightly to the left of the green ruler are some shriveled bean leaves. There is a pod higher up, behind the tree limb:

Giant Kentuck Wonder Dry Pod and Green 30 cm ruler

Giant Kentuck Wonder Dry Pod and Green 30 cm ruler

You can click on these pictures to get much much larger ones. The pod is the dry brown thing in the far upper left of the frame…

Those seeds are going to be planted out again next year, but in a bit of nicely prepared soil and with some decent water, fertilizer, and sun.

Anyone know where I can rent a helicopter come harvest time? I’ve run out of ladder…

Update 2

Scarlet Runner Bean Sport?

Scarlet Runner Bean Sport?

While harvesting some of the Scarlet Runner Beans, I came across one pod that was a bit different. Smaller. Smoother. More “paper like” texture. Much more like the typical ‘green bean’ texture. The seeds inside had the typical Scarlet Runner black and magenta mottled color, but were a bit smaller.

The one in the tea spoon is a Scarlet Runner bean of large but normal proportions. A fully plump shelly stage bean is about 25%-50% larger than the one in the spoon. Makes eating things like Chili interesting in that it’s one bean per spoonful ;-) I’ve been known to use a knife and fork on individual beans so the sauce gets on the insides… And I don’t care if it looks funny ;-)

OK, so inspection of those ‘odd’ seeds shows them to be a bit smaller and thiner. The papery pod means a tender and non-fibrous green bean. So yes, I’m going to be saving this “sport” to see if I can make something out of the 3 beans I’ve got to work with.

The pod at the top is a interesting one. Nearly normal size (some were a bit longer). The texture was mostly like the “normal” ones (which have a rough kind of ‘wool tweed’ feel to the dry pods) but just somewhat softer, about 1/2 way to the smooth sport. Most of the seeds in it were normal sized, but a couple (one shown) were smaller. (Notice the bean space to the left of the bean shown is larger). As though 2 sizes of seeds were each contributing growth messengers to the pod.

I suspect that these seeds are crosses with the Kentucky Wonder that was growing right next to them. We’ll find out in a about a year. (IFF I remember to plant these guys out next year… sometimes I get wrapped up in something else and a new project gets to sit another year… or three… 8-{

But this is how a gardener or farmer can ‘develop’ a variety. While doing the day to day chores of a garden, keep your eyes open. Be aware of what’s different. Ask why? And don’t just pitch out the ones that are ‘not to type’ but ask if they might have a property you would like more. Less stringy pods for Runner Beans, or larger sized beans for Kentucky Wonders, or even a Giant Purple Pod.

Nature will provide the opportunities. But it’s up to you to see them.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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15 Responses to Giant Purple Beans!

  1. PhilJourdan says:

    What next? Pod People? ;)

    Congratulations on the cross polination. The real test – do they taste good?

  2. Verity Jones says:

    Fee Fi Fo Fum… ;-O

    So if the yield (pods) and flavour are acceptable, they also produce a lot of biomass in a season and fix nitrogen, that could be a good addition to the compost heap too.

  3. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, I’m not going to be eating any of them this year!

    The Giant Kentucky Wonder (that is one parent) tastes very good, but has a bit of string if you don’t harvest them young. The purple pods are just delightful. The suspected other grandparent, the Runner Bean, has a nice enough flavor as a green bean, but again must be picked young to avoid a fibrous texture. Inspection of these pods shows similar fiber developing, though to a much lessened degree. In all cases, the dry beans taste like, well, beans. Runners have a slightly thicker seed coat (that the Giant KW and Giant Purple look to have avoided) but make an OK chili. (Though they are so large that the spice doesn’t get into the middle of the beans very much, so you get soft of a ‘spicy sauce and mild bean’ effect.)

    Overall, I expect them to be tasty and tender when young (thus the advantage of the purple pod… you can FIND them when young!) yet making a decent dry bean when allowed to run too long or run to seed.

    But as I’ve said in a comment elsewhere (on the Kimchi thread) my major goal is not ‘tasty and tender’ but rather ‘rugged and not asking for much’.

    But now that “I’ve Got ’em!”, I can work on flavor improvement and texture improvement as needed.

    I expect to be doing a fair amount of back crossing with regular Purple Pod beans in an attempt to strengthen the color and improve the cold resistance anyway. (Brown seeded beans are typically more cold tolerant, and these are white seeded, so I’m just a bit worried they may not be as cold tolerant as I’d like.) After a major grow out next season, I’ll do a cold sprout test on some and see if they will sprout at 60 F. (Purple Pods sprout down to 50 F).

    I expect to be doing a lot of ‘flavor evaluation’ next year too ;-)

    Per Pod People:

    I’ve added an update at the bottom of the posting with pictures of the High Pod from my Giant Kentucky Wonders. Given the size, if next season some time posting mysteriously falls silent, you might want to send over someone with shears and a very tall ladder ;-)

    I expect the Giant Purple Pod to grow as high, but if need be, I can back cross with these guys for more “lift”…

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, I don’t dare let them go to the compost heap! The bunnies would ambush me!

    When it’s fall cleanup time, the vines come down and a small crowd of fluffy tails gathers under the ladder. I drop the leaves, and in about a day or two I’ll have “instant compost” via the bunny poo. As I also open the cages when I clean them out, the “product” tends to be deposited on the ground directly. About 2 weeks later, I turn the top layer over, and that’s that.

    It’s a surprisingly efficient system.

    Any stems or things like squash vines that they don’t eat do go to a compost heap, but that’s a pretty small operation. It gets ‘dug in’ about every 3 rd year, mostly because I’m lazy and partly because I don’t really need it with the rabbit raisins already in place…

  5. Verity Jones says:

    How could I forget about the bunnies?! I think my brain has run out of steam for the night!

  6. mrpkw says:


    Genetically modified food !!!!!!!


    Way cool project !!!

  7. mrpkw says:

    “Any stems or things like squash vines that they don’t eat do go to a compost heap, but that’s a pretty small operation. It gets ‘dug in’ about every 3 rd year, mostly because I’m lazy and partly because I don’t really need it with the rabbit raisins already in place…”

    I bury my compost pile about every 4 years . Most of it is lawn clippings and kitchen leavin’s and I try not to put too many stems and what not on it. I am fortunate that I have a field where I can dump my industrial strength yard waste.

  8. Pascvaks says:

    How have the new beans done vis-a-vis output, any noticeable increase or decrease in this area with the crossings?

    You know, I’ll bet there were a couple smart guys and gals like you over the past few thousand years that saved the biggest and bestest seeds for the next year’s planting and that’s how Mesoamericans came up with corn, potaotes, and a bunch of other bumper crops by the time Chris and his gang showed up in the Carry-bean.

  9. dearieme says:

    We’ve grown Borlotti beans this year for the first time. The pods ripen to a pretty scarlet, the beans are beautifully speckled, and the flavour is much to my taste – reminiscent of the beans that the French use in cassoulet. A hit!

    My wife likes to leave some of our scarlet runner beans hanging in our garden through winter – they attract in pheasants to entertain us.

  10. Tom Bakewell says:

    What a remarkably talented soul you are. It pleases me no end that amongst your gifts is the one for high quality writing done for the joy of the craftmanship and the simple pleasure of sharing.

    Tom Bakewell

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @mrpkw: But only the ones that WANTED to change ;-) I didn’t force them to cross with anyone they didn’t like…

    The beans with the “Giant” trait generally out produce the others by a significant margin. That’s how I noticed them in the first place. Had a Kentucky Wonder that was twice as big and putting out 3 times as much…

    The only real “issue” is that they have a bit of ‘string’ in the pod. If you don’t pick them early, you “got string”.

    Since all green beans had that at one point and it was bred out in the late 1800’s IIRC; I’m willing to accept that as a future development need.

    And yes, the traditional farming technique does that. I remember my Dad telling me that you always picked out your very best, most prized produce from the garden: Then DID NOT EAT IT. It was for seed…

    @Dearieme: Odd, I grew Borlotti for the first time this year too! (In a small pot on the patio. Where I often do initial small trials.) They stood up well to periodic drying, mediocre potting soil, cramped pot, the works. From a gallon or so sized pot got about 150 cc of beans. I’ll be proceeding to grow up a larger square of them next year. I’m torn between them (called “cranberry beans” here, much of the time) and “Dragon’s Tongue” that looks very similar to me, but is purple instead of pink. I lean to the purple side most of the time… but the pink looks so nice next to the purple…. Maybe I’ll do both…

    I wonder how many gardeners are happy to share with the wild life? It seems to be something of a common behaviour… Most of my Runner Beans utility is for the birds and bees. It’s treated largely as an “Ornamental Wall Cover” just outside the living room window (and masks the compost heap behind it ;-) and the entertainment we get from hummers and the golden bumble bees alone is worth it. (The golden ones look like gold nuggets in the sun, just floating… The big black ones are fascinating too. I’ve had them 1 foot from my face and they just ignore me. [ didn’t see one when picking bean leaves for the bunnies… he just lifted off the flower nice and slow and cruised higher up…] ) The beans are eaten only by me, as SWIMBO insists on food with no texture at all ;-) In fairness, the texture of bean strings and skins is not high on my list of preferences, but I’m willing to ignore it and swallow … But pheasants! Now THAT would be fun!

    @Tom Bakewell: Thanks! Yes, I do like to share things that make me happy. No idea why. I just do. “Sharing makes the happiness double”. I think it comes out of the Amish roots on my Dads side. The whole Barn Raising thing… We used to have periodic Pot Luck lunches in the park in summer (often along with things like tomato judging). I remember one where I saw my first yellow tomato (at about 5 years old?). You take one dish and get a dozen… I think that was the first time I had macaroni salad too. (My mom made potato salad more often).

    And since nearly nobody in my area is interested in the things that interest me the most… you get them via writing. And I’m glad you like it. My spouse would contest the quality assertion, though… She is a teacher. It drives her nuts when I start a sentence with “And…” I think of it as “style device”. I also use sentence fragments for effect, that drives her up a wall too. So it goes…

    The one big frustration I have with the garden development is the pace. I have just too small a plot and too little time to do all the trials and grow outs I’d like to do. (Thus some things getting initial trial in a single pot…)

    I’ve got a dozen selected seeds in the freezer just waiting for their day in the sun. A “field corn” or Indian Corn with very very thin flat seeds. Large, colorful, 14 or 16 row IIRC. But field corn takes so much space it’s been waiting for a decade now. I’ve also been working on a Black Aztec / Country Gentleman cross. At F3 now. Need to get to about F6 for the result I’m hoping to get. Gets grown every 3rd year… So about a decade more. ( I’m hoping to make a “Black Country Gentleman”, just because I like the name and the Black Aztec has great flavor while the Country Gentleman irregular rows are a cool feature.)

    I really need to get 5 acres and a midget mule… ;-)

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve added another picture at the bottom of the posting. While harvesting some dry runner beans, I ran into an interesting “sport”. More delicate paper like pod. Smaller beans…

  13. Congratulations!…you really got it!
    If everybody begins eating these giant beans, the H2S and CH4 contribution to the atmosphere will be fantastic, while being carbon foot print free!
    I suspect you will have soon either an inspection from EPA or the visit of Al Gore’s Cheff. :-)

  14. Pascvaks says:

    I’ve heard that because we use so many hybreds that and big bulk harvesting techniques, farmers rarely see these type of things anymore and if small, back yard growers don’t notice these differences and do what you’re doing, it doesn’t get done. Well, not the way it used to be done. You’re a jack-of-all-trades!

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Just trying to keep alive a few family traditions. Farming and blacksmithing were the major family trades (along with some sailors and a couple of Summoners to The Crown…)

    I suppose I’ve updated the “engineering” part of Smithing to the computer age ;-) and turned a bit of the Farming into a particularly odd sort of genetics research… but it’s still the same tap root.

    Oh, and “being prepared” has a long tradition out in Iowa and Ohio and even back into Pennsylvania (where most of my Dad’s side comes from).

    FWIW, modern farming has a few folks who still keep their own seeds ( I’ll avoid a long discussion of the horrible things Monsanto has done including the destruction of a farmers lifetime work selecting a Canola seed…) but it’s mostly just a ‘grow out’ operation now.

    Seeds are by and large developed and produced by large chemical and agribusiness companies. Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta. Genetically engineered and patented. Designer seeds that you can not save and grow at all. (Some via patent, some via tort / suit, some via terminator genes, most via unstable hybrids). Each year you buy the seeds, plant and grow out, then harvest and go buy more seeds.

    NOBODY on the typical agribusiness operation is looking for any seed production at all nor evaluating the product for anything other than box and ship.

    The legal environment and the technology of GMO seeds are being used to crush any attempt at keeping your own seed stocks. The chemical companies have bought up many of the traditional seedsmen and either locked up their open pollinated seed libraries or outright destroyed them. (The were, after all “obsolete”…).

    There is a grass roots movement to preserve open pollinated varieties, but it’s barely holding it’s own. In the EU, it is under horrible attack from the EU Aparatchiks. (There was on ‘ark’ of seeds sent over to the USA to avoid mandatory destruction…)

    If you can at all pick some heirlooms to propagate and save, please do so. In many cases we are destroying 10,000 years of selection and work by hundreds of generations of farmers, all of the benefit of Monsanto and similar companies.

    FWIW, my best contribution IMHO is just the fact that you can put a load of seeds in a glass jar in your freezer and they keep for decades instead of a couple of seasons.

    Even ‘fragile’ seeds like onions (that usually are good for one season only). I’ve had some 7 years old that had good germination rates.

    So even if you don’t have a garden now, you could order some of the more endangered / fragile types and put them in a jar in the freezer…

    The “Mangle Beet” and the “Sugar Beet” are at spectacular risk. GMO sugar beets are pretty much all this is commercially viable. Mangle beets (that fed northern / nordic cattle for generations) are on the edge of extinction due to “modern” feed processors (who needs feed that grows in bad climates when you can haul it in from South America…) Last time I looked there were only 9 varieties left. ( I’m preserving one. A “Golden Mangle Beet”. But I really need to find some non-GMO Sugar beets … )

    So while I’m interesting in creating new and novel varieties, the opportunity to do that rests on having the open pollinated heirlooms as starter stock, and that basis of all our agriculture is being systematically attacked for the purposes of destruction, and to the monetary gain of the GMO seed companies.

    Thus my small freezer of seeds. I’d make it a big freezer (or 4!) if I had the room for it.

    I find myself once again hoping that somewhere in China or Russia they have saved samples of all the seeds we are disposing in our rush to Frankenseeds.

    The Good Bit:

    If you have a decent library of varieties, nature being what it is, you can get new varieties fairly readily. So even those lost can, with a heck of a lot of work, be replaced with something similar. Where it’s a problem is when you are down to just a handful of types (like sugar beets) and have lost the core of the portfolio. It took hundreds of years to create some of the traits we’ve got today. You could create them again, but it would take another hundred years…

    The other good bit:

    There are a fair number of folks saving “granma’s peas” or “grandad’s fava bean” and not saying anything to anyone. Sometimes when these folks die, their seeds die with them, but sometimes they are “re-discovered” by a gardener friend. We got back the “Moon and Stars” watermelon that way (It has one large yellow circle and a bunch of small yellow dots on it !!) and several other “lost” varieties.

    And as the problems have surfaced, more folks have come out of the woodwork to pick up part of the load. It isn’t even very hard. Just plant some interesting stuff in your garden, and buy interesting seeds, and put some of them in jars in a freezer from time to time… And it’s a heck of a lot of fun…

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