Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Spotlight - Greek Gigante Beans

My first two Saturday Spotlight posts were about vegetables that I was harvesting at the time I wrote the posts. This time around my post is about a vegetable that is long past producing, it's actually time for Northern Hemisphere gardeners to think about sowing the seeds now. I want to get the word out about this fantastic, delicious, but little known and hard to find bean. I knew when my husband asked me if I was planning on growing Gigante beans again this year that I have a winning vegetable.

Gigantes, aka Gigandes, Yigandes, Yiyantes and even Macedonian Elephant beans for the extra large selections, are runner beans - Phaseolus coccineus - the same bean family as Scarlet Runner Beans. They do best where it doesn't get too hot so they are quite happy in my cool coastal climate. Unlike Scarlet Runners they have pure white flowers and huge white seeds.

In the kitchen they are traditionally prepared in a tomato sauce and served up as a meze.  This is how I first tasted them at Evvia, a very good Greek restaurant in Palo Alto, California. That's how I typically prepare them myself but I've also baked them with swiss chard in tomato sauce which turned out delicious. What I love most about this bean is the luscious creamy texture. Another plus in my opinion is that they hold their shape.

This bean came to me by chance, I hadn't been seeking it out, but a reader of my blog requested some caper seeds from me and sent a variety of seeds in return, including the Gigante beans (thanks Robert!). It took me 2 years to get around to growing them, for a variety of reasons including battles with rats, gophers, and moles, and a need to reconstruct, or rather construct some proper garden beds. These beans were some of the first vegetables to go into the new raised beds that I had built early last year.

Here's the result - 7.3 pounds of dried beans. Those are quart canning jars which will give you an idea of how large the dried beans are. Imagine how large they swell up to be when you rehydrate them!

Greek Gigante Beans

Now I'm going to bore you all with the story of their time in my garden. This is actually one of my primary reasons for writing this blog, to be able to go back and see what my garden was doing in the past, it's my garden journal.

I sowed the beans in paper pots on April 19 last year and planted them out into the garden not long after they germinated. The beans are so big that they nearly pushed themselves out of the little paper pots when they rehydrated. And then they quickly started to outgrow their little pots when they germinated so I had to set them out ASAP. I used two trellises, each one 3 feet wide by 5 feet high. I had sown 18 seeds, all of which germinated, and set them out along both sides of the trellis, each plant ended up about 1 foot apart. I knew that these plants would get to be big and I didn't want to crowd them.

At barely more than 1 month after sowing the seeds the vines were already starting to climb the trellises.

May 21, 2012

Only 11 days later they are already filling out, sending out side shoots, some of the plants sending up extra shoots from their crowns, and climbing higher.

June 1, 2012


Another 10 days and they are already blooming.

June 11

June 11

Barely 2 weeks later and they've topped the trellises and are in full bloom.

June 24

A little more than 3 weeks later the vines are draping down the front of the trellis. They could have easily climbed another 3 feet higher. The first pods to set are sizing up.

July 17

Only a few flowers on each raceme set a pod of beans. Most of the pods had 2 beans, some 3, and just a very few had 4.

July 17

A month later and the trellis looks like a hedge. The plants are full and lush and green, but the first pods are starting to dry on the vines. I harvested the first dry pods on August 20th.


August 15

August 15


And then one month later, with the vines full of maturing and drying bean pods the plants are starting to die back.

September 19

September 17

October 2


I didn't photograph the garden in October, but the bean plants were in transition between the photo above and the one below. By early November I had harvested all but a very few late drying beans. The vines were steadily dropping their leaves and dying back.

November 7

By late November I had cleared out most of the bed and planted my garlic. The vines haven't completely died back because we hadn't had any frosty nights yet.

November 26

Let's jump forward about 2 1/2 months. After a few freezing nights the vines had completely died, well, almost completely. Runner beans have very fleshy roots and in mild climates like where I garden they often times don't die, especially if the vines are not cut back. I believe, but don't take my word for this, that as the vines die back that they send their energy down to the roots which helps the roots to endure the cold wet winter. When I got around to cleaning up this bed a couple of weeks ago I found that most of the vines had died down to just above the crowns of the plants, most of them had about an inch or so of fleshy stem left above the ground and all but one of them had big fleshy roots. I cut each vine down to just a couple inches above the soil line.

February 16, 2013


So here's a couple of the plants yesterday, most of them are starting to send up new shoots from the roots. The first to sprout about 2 weeks ago is already sending a runner towards the trellis.

March 29, 2013

A couple more are looking more like this or just barely starting to poke a tiny green tip out of the soil.

March 29, 2013

And a couple are looking less happy, fleshy roots but no shoots, but I'll leave them be and see what happens. Most of the plants are starting to pop out new shoots, so I'm really hopeful for another good and perhaps early harvest of Gigante beans.

March 29, 2013

As I mentioned earlier, seeds for this variety of bean are really difficult to find. The Mother Earth News seed and plant finder turns up not one source. A google search turns up one seed purveyor that is selling a lima bean, and lots of links to people searching for seeds. So where I wondered did Robert find his seeds? From a package of imported beans for cooking! And so far as I can tell that is still the only "seed" source.

So if you love big (huge) creamy easy to cook white beans and you live in a climate favorable to growing runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), I urge you to go find a packet of imported Greek Gigante beans. Cook up a bunch and save a few to sow in the garden, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Now be sure to head on over to Surburban Tomato to check out Liz's Saturday spotlight about Summer Dance cucumbers and find links to other spotlight posts by other garden bloggers.

18 comments:

  1. They sound and look great. We have a really big population of Greek descent in Melbourne so I reckon I should be able to find a source of seed. If not I'll get ones for cooking as you suggest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, I will look out for those beans here in Australia!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I could find the seeds in three minutes flat. I live in a Greek (and Italian) section of town. At the Greek grocery they sell them in huge bags. They aren't technically seeds. They are meant for eating, but I'm sure I could get them to germinate easily. I still haven't tried them though. Some day I might try. But I like regular beans more than runner beans as dried beans. Is the texture and taste of the Giganite about the same as the typical runner?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really can't say if the texture and taste are like typical runner beans, I've only ever grown or generally eaten common beans.

      Delete
  4. Wow, amazing beans, wonder they would come back every year, runner beans grows well for me here, but I've never eaten them before.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I loved the drama of your Spotlight, those things really grow fast! Have you tried eating them fresh, or only dried?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've only tried them dried. This year I want to try some as fresh shelling beans.

      Delete
  6. Fascinating bean! I've been harvesting a crop of gigante limas this month. The beans and plants are huge and look very similar to your gigante runners but the lima flowers are small and lavender in color. Baking them with swiss chard in tomato sauce sounds really good!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice, we have a similar variety in Poland. It's called 'Jaś' (meaning 'little John, or Johnny'. This variety has very big seeds, too!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for the great introduction to gigante beans, they're gorgeous and must be terrific to cook with! Will now be on the look-out for them...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was just winnowing down my cookbook library, and found reference in Elizabeth Berry's Great Bean Book to another name for your gigante — Hija beans; Purcell Mountain also has them listed under "Hija".

      Delete
  9. What an awesome bean, would be a great one for kids to plant as they are so fast growing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Love it! I bet these beans are fantastic. They would probably not freeze here ,either. Hmmm.... Me thinks me be on the look out!

    ReplyDelete
  11. You know, I always dig up the roots, but maybe I should let them be and see about getting a double growing. I have the room. . . What a nice looking bean.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I followed this article in 2015, bought some beans on line from Greece and planted early spring. First year, modest harvest, then sure enough they resprouted here in Virginia. Unfortunately, in 2016 plants didn't set any beans until now (Sept). Wondering how your second year went.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The second year was a good one, the plants resprouted and covered their trellises and produced a nice crop of beans. I'm not sure why your plants didn't set beans until now other than perhaps your weather has been too hot. Runner bean flowers don't pollinate when temperatures are too high.

      Delete
  13. You can find the seeds in the Real seed cataluoge .This will be our first year trying them on the coast of Maine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure how you ordered seeds from them to be delivered in the US. Their website says they only deliver to the UK, Ireland, France, and Spain. So far as I know there still isn't a US based seed source.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I value your insights and feedback.