Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gigante Beans

The peppers may be crap this year but I'm taking consolation from the fabulous Greek Gigante beans that I'm growing for the first time. Perhaps you've come across these in a Greek restaurant, that's where I first encountered them, at Evvia in Palo Alto. I have them every time I have a chance to eat there which is not very often since I live more than 90 miles away. Evvia prepares them in a typical way, baked in tomato sauce and served as a meze. If you are a bean fan these are not to be missed. Gigantes are also known as Gigandes, Yigandes, Yiyantes, and who knows how many other variant spellings. And then there is also the Macedonian Elephant bean which seems to be the extra-large selection of the already huge Gigante (Giant) bean.





There seems to be a lot of confusion about what type of bean the true Gigante bean is. I've seen them classified as common beans - Phaseolus vulgaris. There are large white lima beans or butter beans, Phaseolus lunatus, being sold as Gigante beans. Actually, that's about all I can find when I do a web search for Gigante Bean seeds. But I do believe that those are incorrect classifications, the true Greek Gigante bean is a runner bean, Phaseolus coccineus. The misclassification probably came about because of the difficulty of finding the real deal for cooking so a number of substitutes are recommended. The Spanish Hija bean is a good substitute, it is also a large white runner bean, although not as large as the Gigante. I have a very good Greek cookbook that calls for large white lima or butter beans, presumably because the author supposes that true Gigantes aren't readily available. But look at those flowers above and the plants below, those are neither common nor lima bean plants. And for further confirmation that these are runner beans, the cotyledons stayed in the ground when the seeds germinated.





So, you ask, where did I get my seeds if they are not available anywhere? I got them in a seed swap. And where did my seed source get his seeds? From a bag of imported Greek Gigante beans for eating. The real deal. Well, technically speaking, my harvests can't be called true Gigante or Elephant beans which must be grown in the Prefecture of Kastoria in northern Greece, so these are the California kissing cousins.





These beans are going to be huge. Each pod has 1 to 3 beans forming and there are a lot of beans setting. So far, so good, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something doesn't happen to mess with my beans.


18 comments:

  1. So beautiful! I've only read about gigante beans, but haven't eaten them. The vines are fantastic--so lush!

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  2. I so love runner beans, but have never had that variety. I didn't grow them this year which is good. With the heat they wouldn't have set any beans. A decade ago it was a great bean as it sets in cool weather and our weather was cooler then.

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  3. Thanks for the tip on Evvia in Palo Alto. It's just 4 miles from my house and I have never eaten there.

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  4. Pretty awesome looking beans. I grow Scarlet Runner Beans because they're so pretty, but the beans are mealy and I never know how to cook them. Does anyone eat Scarlet Runner Beans as dry beans?

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  5. I have had very good luck growing runner beans here in my growing region. I bet this variety would be happy here too. I actually skipped growing runner beans this year though to give more room for a larger crop of snap peas (wanted to have more than fresh eating needs covered - wanted to freeze some this year too). Now I am missing them after seeing your lush wall of bean greenery!

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  6. Oh yum - I do like the idea of growing Gigante. I haven't seen the seed for sale here either but the suburb I live in has a large population of Greek heritage so I reckon if I look over some fences I might find someone growing them - especially now I know what to look for.

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  7. I too am growing Gigante Beans...I ordered my seeds on-line from Greece...very reasonable. Problem though, while my plants are lush and have plenty of flowers flowers, they have yet to set pods. The flowers just fall off. It's not heat related as I live in North West Washington State. Any ideas on how to get the plants to set fruit?

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    1. How long has it been since your plants started to bloom? It seemed like the first week or so that my plants were blooming the same thing happened, lots of flowers but none of them were setting. Eventually the beans started to appear and now they are hanging off the vines everywhere. But, it really is just a fraction of the blossoms that have set. I really can't figure out why that is, it's not hot here either.

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    2. I live in NW Washington, also. I have wondered the same thing about why there seems to be a low ratio of blossom set. My guess is that there is a lack of enough pollinators. High temperatures may also be a factor. I was in an area of Northern Greece during the bean growing season and there was an abundance of pollinators at the time. So many,
      that I took a video of a large tree near the bean fields that seemed to be dancing it had so many bees, thousands. We get enough pollinators here to produce a decent crop but, I have never seen anything like that tree covered in bees.

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  8. I recently purchased some Gigante beans at a local Greek grocery store and attempted to sprout them, which surprisingly enough worked. Soon I will be ready to plant but I can't find much information on the where/how. I live in NC and have a large yard with areas of full sun, dappled and deep shade and am considering the spiral supports on gardeners.com so I can make them a lovely part of my landscaping rather than farmers rows. Do you have any recommendations as to the soil/sun and if these supports would even be strong enough? I probably have a little time before they actually need to go into the ground and have yet to order the planned supports so it would be easy to change plans based on your advice.

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    1. Hi Ish, I think that any good garden soil will be fine. The plants are LARGE, they are runner beans and very vigorous if they are happy. My plants quickly climbed their 5 foot trellis and then spilled down the side. The biggest issue that you may have in growing them is that they prefer cool weather (which I have in abundance). Heat will make them drop their flowers. I would recommend that you go ahead and start some now though. I don't know how cold it gets where you are, but in my zone 9b garden the plants are perennial. My plants are going into their second year now and are even bigger this year than last year and already blooming and setting beans. If your winter climate is colder, it is possible to lift the plants in the autumn and store them like dahlia tubers. Plant them out again as early as possible in the spring and hopefully they will bloom and set beans before it gets too hot. I'm not really sure if they would prefer full sun or partial shade where you are, I grow them in full sun, but like I said, my climate is cool. They are definitely worth experimenting with!

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    2. Thanks Michelle. I do have a couple of them in the ground now and bought some trellising, which I configured like a 2-sided ladder in a sunny patch for them. They shot up surprisingly quickly once sprouted- pushing the top off the pot the morning after they were planted in peat pots, then shooting up to about a foot high in 4 days. I planted them in full sun but I'm wondering if with the heat they might like partial shade more. (I'm in zone 7 btw) I guess I'll find out with how they do in their current location and plan on placing them elsewhere if I need to next year. Thank you for the information!

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  9. I've eaten Gigantes and they are wonderful so I want to grow some. Thanks for this post with ideas for getting seeds and growing.

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  10. How do you harvest them? Do you dry them?

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    1. I allow the beans to dry of the plant. When the pods are completely dry you can hear the beans rattling around inside. That's when I cut them off the plants and shell them. The I remove them from the shells and make sure the beans inside are completely dry before I store them in jars.

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    2. Hi again, Thanks for your response! I live in the PNW and harvested them recently but many of the pods are still green. I thought they'd rot on the vine with all the rain. Not sure how to dry them now? I am thinking of stringing and hanging to dry. Or I could use the dehydrator. What do you think?

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    3. I don't have any experience with harvesting green pods, but I would be inclined to try stringing and hanging to dry first.

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    4. I left a few on the vine just to see what happens. I have them on a string in the house (they look decorative) and will report back!

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