T is for Tepary Beans, Phaseolus acutifolius which is out of my alphabetical order, but too bad.
Tepary beans had me intrigued because they are known for being drought resistant or heat tolerant. This puts them into a style of plant like black gram, guar, and moth bean, and links them to my Big Question (in another blog post, pending). (The Big Question is: Do I aim for quick maximum biomass, or the longevity of the ‘green bridge’ without anything going to seed?)
I sourced a packet of Brown Tepary Bean seed from Inspirations Garden Centre http://www.vegetableseeds.net.au/ via David Kenyon in Tasmania, a very helpful enthusiast who grows his own seed and collaborates with Bob Reid of www.tasglobalseeds.com Being a very old plant from the Americas the seed is commonly available there in multiple varieties eg Brown seeded, Blue hooded, speckled white, and foodies and gardeners rave about them. But apart from the Biloela germplasm bank, Qld, I found them difficult to source in Australia. I’ve been in contact with Dr Sally Norton, who is currently leading the Plant Genetic Resource team at the Australian Tropical Crops and Forages Collection in Biloela, and has tepary bean seed of multiple varieties in her control.
I’m reluctant to mention this, but since they are not commercially grown in Australia (to my knowledge), there is potential to supply a niche market. If anyone imports and sells them by the packet, or knows of a seller, please let me know (not every seller is online yet, strangely enough…). Via web searches, they sound useful for the diabetics market. They are tricky to eat re soaking and cooking, but if I was living in risk of my limbs falling off, and injecting insulin, I’d be modifying at my diet/exercise anyway and looking at alternatives, (with no disrespect to diabetics).
Tepary beans allegedly tolerate alkaline soils, but they don’t like salty soil or water, so with our Na levels, it could be an issue. The biggest issue I see is that, apart from seed availability and price, they grow very quickly. Sown in mid Jan 2012 in my Trial, they were flowering in 8 weeks and harvested in 12 weeks. Mr Bob Redden, Victoria, (local pulse guru) suggested to me that if sowing for seed, I should sow them late spring or late summer to avoid them flowering in 35C heat. It seems mine didn’t mind some hot March days, and podded anyway. They were the first and for a long time the only plant to germinate, grow and produce ripe seed with a germination watering and very little rain (cowpeas are still podding and ripening, the millet seed is still ripening.) Thus as a cover crop spp they will germinate well, grow and stay alive with no rain. BUT they may pod quickly without producing much biomass, either live or ripe. The pods seemed to ripen quickly and evenly on the plant, but plants ripened in a staggered fashion. If grown for harvest, the uneven ripening could be quite an issue. The pods sit well up off the ground, and being a bush, plants seem to stay upright. The potential as I see it is for the beans to be produced locally for consumption, let alone the cover cropping seed market. Otherwise we need to jump through the hoops of importing seed.