Heirloom Beans

Friends Drift Inn Farm – What We Grow

Planting heirloom beans Friends Drift Inn Farm

“You take these beans out of the field and you snap them. You sit on the porch and do that, you tell stories and jokes.” Sean Brock, Husk Restaurant chef, Food 52 interview


We Grow Heirloom Beans; Lots and Lots of Heirloom Beans!

Do you know beans? Of all the vegetables in the garden, nothing sparks more pride amongst mountain families than the heirloom beans that are special to their Appalachian history. You would be stunned how many different beans are saved in our hills and hollers.

We choose to grow both bush and pole beans; and here’s why. Bush beans mature faster; in 50 to 60 days versus 70 to 90 days for pole beans. In the race to be the first to farmers market with beans, you will never win if you depend on the longer maturing pole beans. The thing is, pole beans are meatier and in my opinion just taste better.

Harvesting Heirloom Beans grown on a pole tepee Greasy Grits

At Friends Drift Inn Farm, we pride ourselves on being uncommon. It would be impossible to list all the beans we grow, because no matter how much we plan, we always wind up adding a few more rows and a few more varieties. We grow for farmers market trade and the restaurant trade. We have private clients that ask us to grow beans for their yearly canning needs. If you need a specific bean grown out, and you are local, be sure to email us. We love growing beans!

Planting Heirloom Beans

Charlie and I roll the dice and try to get early beans in the ground a week or so before April 15, our last frost date here in zone 6b. Unless it is a hard-to-get heirloom, we put the first plantings out without benefit of row cover. If we lose them, we replant. If they thrive, we will be first to market and that is the name of the game.

Pole beans, which mature later in the season, bear much heavier than their bush counterparts. Because pole beans are run up a trellis, they are also easier to pick. In Appalachia, pole beans are generally preferred for cooking, canning, and drying in the hull – which will become the regional favorite called “leather britches.”

For market, we make plantings every two weeks to assure a supply of fresh heirloom beans right up until frost. As with all of our crops we are mindful of creating a bee-friendly environment. We have to this point avoided spraying beans.

Bumble Bee on Bean Blossom Friends Drift Inn Farm

Gourmet Beans

Friends Drift Inn has popularized filet beans at our local market. Our clients are mostly professional people, who love to cook but are pressed for time. We use an electric skillet with a little olive oil, quickly wilt the beans and serve samples fresh at the farmers market. We use a green filet bean that matures quickly and a French sun gold variety.

Bush Beans at Friends Drift Inn Farm

Bush Beans

White Half Runner beans are the standard here, mostly because that is what the box stores offer at ridiculously low prices. I resist growing this variety, but Charlie always put them out. They do not sell well at market for us, but we have private clients that like them for canning.

I am a big fan of Old Dutch beans, sometimes marketed as “Mountaineer.” For a bush bean, these have an excellent flavor, and are “go to” bean while we wait for the pole beans to mature.

We have private clients that like Pink Tipped half runners, a favorite over the hill in Virginia. They are beautiful to look at. Sometimes we grow White Hastings, an heirloom green bean popularized by chef Sean Brock who grew up very near here. We grown a horticultural bean, Taylor, which is a semi-bush variety. We use it for snaps, but it is exceptional as a shelly bean.

Pole Beans

Poles for pole beans or cornfield beans

Pole beans, are well worth the wait! Coming in several weeks after the first of the bush beans have begun to produce, these are the beans that drive our farmers market customers to show up an hour before market opens just to be first through the entry gate. These are the beans our chefs want too!

Pole beans have long vines and produce larger bean pods. They are called pole beans, because for family gardens they are generally grown on a tepee of poles. Some folks also refer to pole beans as “cornfield beans.” Cornfield beans are often planted in amongst field corn, the beans using the corn for supports. We did this for years, until the weather began to change kicking up fierce windstorms. The winds blow down both the corn, and the beans that are supported by the corn. We cannot afford to lose two crops in a weather disaster; thus we have gone to bean trellis cultivation.

Pole Beans at Friends Drift Inn

For market, we are known for our Rattlesnake Pole beans. Picked when the beans have filled out and got bumpy, these purple streaked legumes have the beany flavor that makes a rich potlikker I love to sop up with a wedge of cornbread. The seeds are brown.

Greasy beans, so called because their pods have a slick sheen – lacking the hairs found in most garden beans, are highly prized in Appalachia. Because demand by chefs is so high, we rarely get these to the farmers market. Each year we grow more, but it is never enough.

We love Turkey Craw beans, but they are ravaged by the Mexican Bean Beetles, like no other variety. Not sure what was up with that. Turkey Craw beans have beautiful seeds, a creamy light brown with splatters of frosty snowcaps.

Friends Drift Inn Farm has a large stash of heirloom bean seed, and we like to surprise our market clients with unusual varieties and one-time offers. Cutshorts, Greasy Beans, Double Hulled, we know all about them. You can just never tell what we will bring to market.

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Graphic line divider beans

More Friends Drift Inn Farm
Friends Drift Inn Farm Manifesto
Friends Drift Inn Farm – A New Beginning
Friends Drift Inn Farm At A Glance
Heirloom Bean Recipes

About the Author

Joyce Friend Pinson is a regional farm-to-table columnist for the Appalachian-News Express. She is a local television host. Her column show and blog, Friends Drift Inn, explores food, gardening, and real life farm-to-table stories from the perspective of a baby boomer in Appalachia. Joyce has a background in agriculture, media, and small business. Joyce is an heirloom gardening addict and home canner. She has a penchant for big hats, pointy toed shoes, and bourbon. Along with her husband Charlie, Joyce really does live in a barn where they ballroom dance. And laugh. And cook. And giggle.