The Q&A Archives: Rogue beans

Question: Over the last few years I've noticed an increasing number of rogue beans in my Blue Lake pole bean seed packages. I tried buying the seed each year from different reputable companies, but it doesn't seem to matter. The rogue bean looks and tastes very different than my standard Blue Lake. What's happening? Don Gholston Watsonville, CA

Answer: Even though you bought the seed from different retail companies, those companies probably bought their Blue Lake pole bean seed from the same wholesale seed grower, who probably hasn't been roguing out variant strains of the bean in the fields, says John Navazio, plant breeder at Garden City Seeds in Hamilton, Montana. Many of the old standard varieties, such as Blue Lake pole bean, are still popular but not very profitable for companies to produce. So there may be only one or two companies still producing seed for Blue Lake pole beans, he explains. It isn't economically practical for seed-producing companies to spend time separating out mutation or variant strains that naturally develop in bean fields, he says. If these strains are superior to the regular strain in their ability to reproduce, they'll naturally increase over generations until the seed producer decides to clean up the line, he adds. The best solution for you would be to grow the beans again this year, planting extra plants to account for any rogue plants that you find. As the variant plants become obvious, pull them up and destroy them, says Navazio. Save the beans from the 'true' Blue Lake plants yourself. To save seed, select several healthy and disease-free plants. Let some of the pods of these plants mature to the dry stage. Remove a number of pods from each plant and let them dry inside for one to two days, until the bean pod shatters. Remove the beans and save the best ones in an envelope stored in a cool, dark place.

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