Scarlet Runner Bean

This bean has considerable potential for the market garden.

According to Suzanne Ashworth, author of “Seed to Seed,” Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus) has numerous attributes that set it apart:

  • it originated in Central America. The dry bean, characterized as mealy, is part of the local cuisine in some places there;
  • widely used in England as a snap bean, and green shelly bean;
  • in colder climes, the tuberous roots can be dug up, stored in damp sand, and replanted in spring – this way, it will produce much more quickly than those planted by seed;
  • fairly easy to shell by hand;
  • they attract numerous pollinators.

11122017 purple hyacinth 2

Saving the seed

Ashworth notes that bean seed is fairly easy to save. Frozen storage is essential, as bean weevils tend to lay their eggs in the pods. The eggs die off after three days at 0°. If they hatch, one could lose all of the seeds. Before freezing, ensure that the beans are entirely dry: take several beans, place on a hard surface. Hit each with a hammer. If they shatter (instead of being squashed), they are ready to freeze. When removing from frozen storage, do not open the airtight container in which they are stored, because they’ll take in too much moisture at once. Wait 12 hours.

My experience

These beans were taken in after several days of rain. They were swollen with water. I let them dry inside out of direct sunlight for a week. Most of them seem dry enough to store, but I’ll do the hammer test and sacrifice a few.


I’m looking forward to growing these next year. I’d like to see if I could train them up an elderberry (though I may have to prune them back considerably as the elder give off considerable shade). I could also experiment with the indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa); but this would be a true experiment, as I’ve never intercropped with two legumes.

For a while, I dreamed to developing a cold hardy perennial bean, by crossing P. coccineus with P. polystachios, thicket bean, which is a native perennial. This could still be an opportunity.

11122017 purple hyacinth

Edit: this post was originally titled “Purple Hyacinth Bean” – I continue to get those two names mixed up, though they are completely different genus and species, and the purple hyacinth bean is toxic. My apologies.


Thermopsis villosa syn caroliniana (Blue-Ridge Buckbean, Carolina golden banner, Carolina bush pea, Aaron’s rod). Seeds from Prairie Moon had a very nice germination rate (they arrive scarified). They came with a Thermopsis inoculum (which is the same as for Baptisia inoculum, perhaps indicating their genetic proximity). Thirty day cold-moist stratification. Scarify with sandpaper or by pouring boiling water and let sit overnight.

This plant brings happiness to my heart.

Our Thermopsis flowered for the first time in the garden this Spring. I have saved seeds, and am nervous because that means I (may) need to scarify them myself. The Prairie Moon accession, I sowed in flats in February, and was pleased to see them germinate in March or so. After that, I ran out of time, so they were largely on their own until yesterday, October 28. Of the ones that made it the first month, there was zero loss.

I may go ahead and sow the collected seeds (“Megadiverse” accession? -not yet) now, to see if I can circumvent scarification.

10282017 thermopsis 2
The distinct leaflets-of-three can be seen towards the top left. These will be interplanted in a perennial bed with Scrophularia marilandica (figwort) and Scutellaria lateriflora (skullcap).
thermopsis 3
Here can be seen the delicate pink nodules, which host an invasive symbiotic rhizobium that acts to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it to a form that the plant is able to take in.
10282017 thermopsis 1
This will be next year’s growth.


Chapin (2009).

thermopsis distribution

The above map from Weakley (2015) indicates that Thermopsis is endemic to a small portion of Appalachia. It’s southerly reach indicates to me that it may thrive in our climate zone, 7A. A goal of mine (really a quest) is to locate a naturally-occurring population of this plant in Rockingham County, thus indicating that it’s reach is a bit more easterly than determined.
Source:  Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. Taxonomic Data Center. ( Chapel Hill, N.C


Fall compilation – 2017

Yesterday was fall planting day. Not too much – the trees included a downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and a pawpaw (Asimina triloba) from the UNC Arboretum accession, as well as two other pawpaws from Mellow Marsh native nursery. I also planted numerous Blue Ridge buckbean (Thermopsis villosa), indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), figwort (Scrophularia marilandica), and mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora).

This relatively leisurely Saturday presented the opportunity to photographs various features of the farm, now that lots of weeds have died back.

10282017 fall 1
Habanero pepper. A prolific grower, but will not be in the garden next year.
10282017 fall 3
Marchbox. An open-pollinated variety (seed from Fedco). Parents include Hungarian Hot Wax and Hot Banana. Prolific, especially in the hot, dry late Summer. Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum) in the center right – most of it went to seed before I could get to it. I am heartened knowing that it is native, and chickens enjoy eating it.


Farmers and gardeners are best suited planning out next year’s planting and harvest during the current cycle. We must reflect early and often, and organize these reflections into plans for next season. This is especially true for market farmers who juggle a diversity of specialty crops for a small-town niche public.

I’ll not do Habaneros again, but I may stick with the Matchbox. I was not pleased with the bell peppers, even though they were nematode-resistant Carolina Wonder hybrids. I will probably continue with the Truhart sweet pepper, but I may explore the frying/stuffing peppers such as Gamba or Marconi.

Tomatoes (no pictures here) – I’ll stick with the Cherokee purple, and, since it is the popular low-acid variety here, the German Johnson. I put in numerous blue varieties, but was less-than-satisfied with their size, color (not blue!), and taste. I tried.

10282017 fall 2
The spent seedhead of khella (Ammi visnaga) – looking similar to its umbel relatives, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and others – lies amidst baby khella plants. They may or may not make the winter, but there are plenty of other seeds in dormancy. Khella, like most umbels, attracts a host of pollinators and nectar-eaters. It is not native.
10282017 fall 4
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), or licorice mint, native to the Western U.S., is a plant that continues to give. This plant has put out new growth and flowers even as the stalk and seedheads from spring persist.
10282017 fall 5
Heath aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) recumbent beside comfrey (Symphytum officinale).
10282017 fall 6
No Southern garden is complete without celosia or cockscomb (C. cristata). Seeds from my farmer friend Pat Bush. These are self-sowed. Upper left, a tiny stand of indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa).
10282017 fall 7
Foreground, smartweed. Mid-part, the tri-lobed passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata). Background, goji berry (Lycium spp., Chinese 枸杞 gǒuqǐ)
10282017 fall 8
More passiflora (the green fruit) and goji.


10282017 fall 9
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum). Left top corner, A. fruticosa. Middle, goji. Back, old growth of Sweet Annie (Artemisis annua).

The above three photos are all taken from the goji row, interplanted with various herbs and volunteers. It seems that goji berry does well in North Carolina in the latter part of summer and early fall. It is a difficult plant to figure out. It sends runners up to 5 feet. It has long, spindly growth that may or may not stand upright, and thorns. It also sells for $15 a pound. I’m not going to give up altogether on it, but I’ve got to figure out how it fits into our farm.

10282017 fall 10
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). I do not tire of this sprightly perennial. Just brushing against it releases it’s savory garlicy aroma. It is a hardy grower, and withstood transplant during our dry summer. I’ll keep it on the edges, though.



Aster of the fall

It took me a minute to identify this one. Ubiquitous in all open spaces around the farm – it can get to 5 or 6 feet if it doesn’t topple over. These pictures don’t do it justice – from afar, it looks like a living snowdrift. And up-close, it is a pollinator magnet – particularly bees. The honeybees love it! But so too do all manner of bumblebee.

I feel fairly certain that this is Symphyotrichum pilosum, heath aster or white oldfield aster.

10182017 aster 2

Here, it’s upright growth habit may be evident. Again, this one is not flower as prolifically as a typical specimen in the area.

10182017 aster 1

This botanical illustration is what helped me conclude that this was S. pilosum. the forb-like growth on the right is indicative of young growth (about 6-8 inches) for the first few weeks or months – somewhat misleading as to how the plant will turn out.

symphyotrichum pilosum
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 430.