Monday, February 16, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/31/2015)


          “You know, you don’t have to have meat at every meal.  Sometimes, a delicious salad is good enough,” thus spake meine Überfrau.  Munching on a pile of bean sprouts felt as though I were grazing on Kentucky blue grass.  With a distinct taste of chlorophyll, I was prepared to photosynthesize, rather than digest my food.


          It’s like losing contact with one’s bicuspids, those pitiful remnants of fangs.  Looking into the mouths of our labs, Petite and Katrina, I see those beautiful white fangs, especially Petite’s because she’s black, and they’re so white.  The argument seems to be whether vegetables were meant to be the main dish or a side dish.  Actually, a lot of Asians mix the meat and vegetables together with the sauce being the pièce de résistance.  Human beings are omnivores, crossover eaters, which raises the issue of vegetable gardens since most gardeners don’t raise cattle, swine, or chickens in their backyards.


          The best vegetables to grow are the easiest ones to grow which

puts tomatoes way down the list.  They’re a pain in the ass to grow, and

he only reason to grow them is that home-growns taste is so good while

store-bought are insults to the tongue, as in acid with no taste. Tomatoes

are worth the effort.  Socially, most of us experience enough tasteless

acid every day without eating it.


          Green beans are the easiest to grow and the tastiest.  The best

green beans are the French haricots verts which is French for green

beans.  Haricots means beans and verts means green.  The etymological

origin of haricot is probably from the Aztec ayacotli indicating that beans,

at least most of the common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, originated in

South America, in what is now Peru.  Incidentally, tomatoes come from

the same place.


As the refrain goes, “Everything sounds better in French,” so it’s

pronounced something like ah-ree-koh-VEHR, not HAIRY-cot-vert.  Going a step further, a lot of food tastes better in French.  Haricots verts are longer and thinner than most varieties.  They are also more tender and have a more complex flavor.


          Now to the nitty-gritty of growing French green beans.  One caveat, the seeds cost a more than the regular line-up of green beans, about a dollar a package.  Now, for our odyssey into the space of haricot vert.


          Starting them indoors is chancy because green beans don’t do well being transplanted.  They need temperatures between 50º to 85º to thrive so plant them after the danger of frost is past or else the seeds might rot in the soil.  In case of a surprising cold snap, cover them.  Bush beans are easier to grow than climbers, a real no-brainer.  Plant the seeds two inches apart and one inch deep.  Make sure the soil is fertile, friable, and well-drained.  Green beans generally mature between 55-60 days.  For a summer-long harvest, sow the beans every two weeks.  Harvest them every two or three days.


          Mulch the soil, and water regularly on sunny days.  Spare high nitrogen fertilizer to avoid lush plants with no beans.  Shallow cultivation doesn’t disturb the roots, and planting summer savory and oregano as companions will improve their taste as well as protecting them from aphids.


          Fin de Bagnols, as the name suggests, is a fine and delicate bean from southern France.  It’s at least one hundred years old. 


          Maxi is a delight to grow because it is a teepee plant meaning that the beans grow on the top of the bush.  A compact bush, its pods are long and thin.


          Maxibel beans are the classic haricots verts .  Dark green and thin at about seven or eight inches, their taste is elegant and luxurious.


          A genuine gustatory delight is the Beurre de Rocquencort (Butter of Rocquencort.)  A yellow wax bean, it has been grown for almost 200 years after arriving from Algeria.


          Perhaps, the best bean from France is the Comtesse de Chambord.  Its pods are thin and only four inches long.  It can be grown in pots.  It is tenderer, sweeter, and nuttier than other beans.  An heirloom, it proves that the best presents come in small packages.



Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith email at and blogs at 

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