Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Variety Spotlight - Petaluma Gold Rush Beans

A lot of vegetable varieties come and go in my garden. All you have to do is look at my stash of seeds which reveals how promiscuous I can be about the varieties that I grow. There's always something in some seed catalog to tempt me. Or I may find inspiration in a magazine or newspaper article or a blog. So when I return to a particular variety year after year you know it has to be a winner both in the garden and the kitchen.

Petaluma Gold Rush beans have proven themselves again this year and have earned a place in the spotlight. I first read about these beans in a charming little book by William Woys Weaver - 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. (That book has sent me on a number of searches for what can be maddeningly difficult or impossible to find seeds). Petaluma Gold Rush beans nearly disappeared but Mr. Weaver seemingly rescued them (I don't know the details of that story) and offered seeds through the Seed Savers Exchange yearbook which is how I got my seeds. Fortunately, the beans are once again being grown in the area for which they are named and the seeds are available from a local seed purveyor.

The reason I was initially interested in growing these beans is because they are a somewhat local heirloom. Petaluma is 150 miles north of where I live. The beans were brought to California in the 1840's from Peru and were already on the scene when the get-rich-quick bunch of 49er's started the rush to dig for gold and these beans apparently fed many a gold miner through the gold rush years. The Azevedo family continued to grow the beans for over 150 years but for some reason they stopped growing them and the beans were nearly lost. I am quite happy that Mr. Weaver rescued these beans.

I think that one of the reasons these beans do so well in my garden is because the climate here is quite similar to the area around Petaluma where these beans were grown for such a long time. Both areas are heavily influenced by the cold Pacific ocean. Our long growing season gets off to a cool start but finishes warm. The beans seem to thrive in the cool weather, growing quickly and putting on lush growth. Each vine puts out numerous side shoots and easily tops the 6 foot trellis that I provide for them.

This year I sowed 36 individual paper pots on June 17 and set those out about 1 week later at the base of a 6 foot wide by 6 foot high trellis.

July 2
The plants seemed to grow a bit slowly at first.

July 15

But it didn't take long for the vines to start climbing. On the 27th the tops of the first vines were still a couple of feet below the top of the trellis.

July 27
But in only three days the quickest grower had covered that two feet. (Look at the pea soup fog that was keeping things cool that morning, so typical).

July 30
Less than two weeks later the vines were passing the top of the trellis and numerous side shoots were climbing up and filling out. My main task with these plants at this time was to continually tuck the side shoots in so that they would grow up the trellis rather than across the bed or into the path.

August 12
Another two weeks and the vines had made a dense wall of foliage and they were loaded with pods. At this point I could have harvested some of the beans as snap beans, they are supposedly good at the green stringless stage. But I grow other snap beans and I don't want to reduce my harvest of dried beans so all the beans were left to mature.

August 30

August 30

The foliage was so dense at this time that a gentle wind threatened to push the trellis over and I had to secure it to some stakes on the opposite side of the bed.

August 30

By the end of September the beans had matured and the plants were quickly dropping their leaves to reveal the drying pods.

October 3
Most of the pods contain 6 beans. They dry to a creamy background color with magenta markings and a bit of a yellow eye around the hilum, although there's a few that come out with opposite markings - magenta with creamy marks.

But beauty and a good performance in the garden don't guarantee a repeat appearance in future years. I won't bother to grow something that I don't want to eat. Petaluma Gold Rush beans have a creamy texture but hold their shape. The flavor is full and meaty. They are a good multi-purpose bean, good in soups and salads and one of Dave's favorite preparations - beans & greens, in which I mash the beans with olive oil and seasonings and serve it with braised greens. Back in the days when we ate bread much more often, I would top garlic toast with the mashed beans and top that with the greens. Oh yum.

October 6

The harvest of dried pods went quickly this year. I collected 2 lb., 9 oz. on September 26, then 3 lb., 15 oz. on October 3, and then another 2 lb., 7 oz. on October 6. Another handful came off the vines today and there's just another handful of beans left to finish drying. The preliminary weight for the shelled beans is about 7 pounds, plus I harvested 3/4 pound of pods to use as shelly beans. The last time I grew Petaluma Gold Rush beans was in 2010, about the same number of plants and the harvest came in at 7 lb., 7 oz. of dried beans. Remarkably consistent!

The 7 pound supply will keep me in beans for the next couple of years so the soonest I'll be growing these again will be in 2016. If you are interested in growing these beans you can find seeds at Natural Gardening. If you grow these I would love to hear what you think of them and how they grow for you. You can find more of my Variety Spotlights here or by clicking on the tab on the header bar of my blog.


  1. Great spotlight - those beans sound wonderful & your yield is amazing. Our climate is quite different here but these look so good that I may try them in the future anyhow - never know until you try.

  2. A very interesting post. I don't usually grow beans for drying (though I have had Borlotti and Cherokee Trail of Tears), but I might be tempted to have another go now. What is the purpose of the plastic bottles on top of the bean poles?

    1. Looks funny, don't they? The birds like to eat the tender new foliage on the beans and and can do some really serious damage. The bottles rattle around in the breeze and help to deter the birds.

  3. They are such pretty beans. Too bad I can't eat them anymore or I'd probably try them.

  4. Nice tip on the bird deterrent. The birds ate so much of the foliage on my beans this year, that I am just now going to get my first few green beans.

  5. Very good overview. The Petalumas are a very attractive bean. Unfortunately I don't eat beans anymore, but this almost makes me want to.

  6. Thanks for the great spotlight on this variety. I too have that William Woys Weaver book -it's fantastic. I wonder if you could give some quick tips on how you cook with these variety of dried bean. I am a bit intimidated with dry beans and I know that fresh dry beans do cook a bit differently then store bought dried beans. Thanks again for the lovely post.

    1. I don't treat them any differently than most other dry beans. One thing to keep in mind is that freshly dried beans cook much more quickly than your average store bought dried bean. Actually, even my year old dried beans seem to cook up more quickly than store bought. I typically do a quick soak - boil the dry beans in water to cover by about an inch or two for one minute and then cover the pot and let them soak about an hour or until they are plumped up. Or you can do the overnight soak in cold water. I don't find any difference in the two methods. Then I change the water and cook them until tender. You can season them as you like or not, sometimes I add some herbs such as bay or thyme, perhaps some whole garlic cloves or some onion. I usually add some salt when they are about half done. Just don't use anything acidic to season them until they are fully cooked because that will prevent them from becoming tender. Some people think adding salt too soon does the same thing but I've never had a problem with salting beans too soon. Depending on the size of the bean and how old they are it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for them to become tender. I generally start tasting at about 20 minutes.

    2. Thanks so much Michelle. This is a big help in giving me some much needed direction.

  7. Thanks for the spotlight! I've been using it as a guide. Its my first year ever gardening so this blog as a whole has been extremely helpful.


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