Whitesburg KY

‘Babes’ are causing trouble

Points East

Loretta just told me that she could not understand why anyone would want to eat garden green beans, just now-picked tomatoes, cornbread and cottage cheese for supper four days in a row, especially if said eater had numerous other choices.

For example, I could have had a three-egg Western omelet laced with onions, bell peppers, fresh tomatoes and anything else she could find in the kitchen, meat loaf could have made the cut as well as a huge bowl of Campbell’s hearty sirloin burger vegetable soup. Spaghetti was also offered up as an alternative but I decided to stick with the beans.

The Babe beans are just now coming on in the garden and I could eat them year round when they are this fresh. I’ve also put old friend and Letcher County native Johnny Sexton on notice that he also needs to start picking some to can. Johnny now lives near Berea, about 10 miles from our place, and he loves green beans as much as I do if such a thing is possible.

Babe beans are named for the late Babe Campbell and originated in Letcher County’s Campbells Branch and Linefork community just before the start of the 20th century. They have been a main crop for members of the Campbell family for well over a decade. Babe’s niece, the late Tannie Campbell Cornett, gave me a start of the seeds in 2005 and I’ve been growing them ever since. Tannie, a lifelong gardener’s gardener, crossed over to the other side earlier this month at the age of 89 and every time I pick or eat the Babe beans, I think of her.

The white seeded beans look like half runners on steroids and, at least to me, they actually taste better than half runners. Babe beans are probably ancestors of half runners and I have no idea why the originators of half runners decided to fix something that wasn’t broken to begin with.

It could be that half runner developers were trying to grow a variety that didn’t make such long vines because Babe beans will grow like kudzu. However, unlike half runners, they will bloom and bear until frost kills the vines. I suspect that they were originally grown as cornfield beans because they thrive best when grown as a companion crop to both field corn and sweet corn.

Older varieties of field corn frequently grew stalks that were more than 10 feet tall and it would have been difficult to pick beans when they reached the top of the cornstalks. I can tell you, for sure, that Babe beans will grow out the top of a guy wire on a 25-foot power pole because I’ve tried it. Squirrels were still eating the dried beans in January.

We currently grow them in sweet corn and plant them about the same time as the corn starts tasseling. Planted any sooner than that the vines will literally wrap around the ears of corn and tie it to the stalks. At this writing the sweet cornstalks have died and turned to fodder, but the Babe beans have it covered it with greenery. We are, at this writing, picking mature beans and the vines are still covered with blooms. They will stay that way until the first hard frost in October.

I had originally intended to get our almost-ready lazy wife fall beans as part of this column but you will have to stay tuned next week. The lazy wife beans are so different, taste wise, that comparing them to Babe beans is like the difference between apples and peaches. But, at this writing, they will be ready to start picking by this weekend while the vines are so covered with new, white blooms that it looks like a light snow has fallen on them. They more than deserve their own story.

In the meantime, if you don’t like bean tales, you should probably skip next week’s column. However, it will not be as corny as this one.

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