The Extreme Gardener

Experiments in permaculture and
other gardening adventures in northeastern Vermont

Archive for February, 2013

Conti’s Marconi Rampicante Romano Bean

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

The name is musical and surely doesn’t sound like a Vermont heirloom bean, but indeed it is, with a history approaching 100 years of being grown in Barre. It just goes to show that there really was some cultural diversity in Vermont in the 20th century, even though, at least when I was growing up, cultural diversity was not much discussed or encouraged.

pods of conti's marconi bean

I received this seed from Alan LePage, a market gardener in Barre, who received it from one of his neighbors, Constantino “Stan” Conti. Stan’s parents brought the seed with them to Barre sometime between 1914 and the mid 1920s when they emigrated from the stone-quarrying village of Lettommanoppello, in eastern central Italy, to live in the granite-quarrying town of Barre, central Vermont.

“Rampicante” is Italian for “climbing” and this is a rampantly climbing pole bean for sure. I’ve had some jump their 10 foot poles and climb into an apple tree. This vigor extends to their pod production as well – the flat Romano pods average 10 inches long at maturity, and if kept picked it will keep bearing until the frosts come. But, what is amazing about this bean is the superb flavor and crisp texture, even when the pods reach 10 inches and more. I can understand why the Contis brought the seed with them and continued to grow it in Barre all those years.

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Conti’s Marconi Romano behind some “wild” (non-bulbing) perennial fennel.

The “Marconi” part of this bean’s name was probably given as a tribute to Guglielmo Marconi, an inventor known as the “father of radio.” He was evidently widely celebrated in Italy with many streets in towns and cities all over the country named after him. There is a Marconi sweet pepper, and a quick internet search reveals Supermarconi Romano pole beans, Supernano Marconi Gold, White-Seeded Marconi Romano bush beans, and Black-Seeded Marconi Romano bush beans being offered by seed vendors. If anyone knows anything for sure about the history of "Marconi" beans in Italy, I’d love to hear about it.

I find it interesting that there are no Romano beans, or anything resembling them, listed in The Beans of New York. Published in 1931, Beans of NY was part of a WPA project to catalog vegetable varieties known in the Northeastern US at the time, and it’s pretty thorough. I’m sure there were many other folks besides the Conti family who brought Romano-type bean seed with them from Italy when they came to the US in the early 20th century, but evidently these beans were not well known outside the Italian-American community.

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Romano beans as a category are snap beans, stringless, with flat, wide succulent pods. They are great examples of the plant breeding proficiency of Italian gardeners and farmers. Consider that many vegetables now considered quintessentially Italian – tomatoes, beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), peppers, and corn – had their origins in the New World and were unknown in Italy until the 16th century

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The seeds

While its culinary aspects are excellent, for a bean, Conti’s is a bit of a nuisance to get seeds from. What makes it so tasty – the pods’ ability to stay tender and crisp – means that the pods are not inclined to dry down well and protect the seeds from mold at the end of the season. Plus, the seeds are thin-skinned and prone to splitting open in the drying process. Our autumns tend to be cool and damp, so the pods with mature seeds have to be brought inside and dried with gentle applied heat. I hang them in net bags near our wood furnace, and turn them daily. The extra attention is well worth it. This is one of the finest tasting green beans you’ll ever come across.

Two Remarkable Tomatoes

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Dan and Val McMurray, or Grunt and Grungy as they were known on the Homegrown Goodness Forum, were fellow extreme gardeners in British Columbia. Their presence is sorely missed, but many of us were gifted with seed and good gardening advice from them, and they live on in our gardens and memories.

Tomatoes were a particular passion with them. When I realized the extent of their tomato endeavours (I believe they grew hundreds of varieties) I had two questions to ask: Of all the varieties you have grown, which are the best tasting early tomatoes, and which are the longest keeping tomatoes?

Burztyn

I promptly received seed for several varieties of each category in the mail. In trialing them, two real stars emerged that adapted well to our climate and have become “must-grow-every-year” tomatoes for us.

Burztyn was aquired by Dan and Val in 2004 in a trade with someone named Jetta in Denmark. There may be another variety in the Seed Savers Exchange that goes by the same name, but is indeterminate. Our Burztyn is determinate. To add to the confusion, the word “burztyn” means amber-colored in Polish, and there are a few varieties floating around from eastern Europe and the former USSR called Amber or Amber-Colored. I may have to try to get a few seeds of the SSE’s accession to grow out to see if they are the same variety.

Burztyn a few weeks after picking

Here’s Dan and Val’s description: “60 – 70 days, det., regular leaf, blemish free amber colored fruit, 2-4 oz. Very good tomato taste, more sweet than acid. A must regrow here. 9 lbs/plant.”

We found it to be nicely early, and the flavor is such that when it’s ripe there is a tendency to ignore other ripe tomatoes. Burztyn seems to have a certain amount of disease resistance – it can stand up to late blight a little longer than some, though it’s certainly not immune. It also keeps a month or so after picking, which is very handy in our climate where frosts can strike any time after September. Burztyn can be purchased at Tatiana’s Tomato Base

Giraffe Abricot has very tall vines

The second tomato is not a luscious tomato by any stretch of the imagination, but no other tomato I know of stores as well. It’s called Giraffe Abricot (or just Giraffe), giraffe because the plants are very tall and elongated (it requires about 6 feet of vertical support), and abricot because of the apricot color (yellow blushing orange) of the ripe fruits. I don’t know exactly who Dan and Val got it from, but it is a Russian commercial variety bred at the VI Edelstein Vegetable Experimental Station.

Giraffe Abricot picked in early September
for winter storage.

Here’s more about storage tomatoes.

Now, as I write this at the end of January 2013, I still have 3 Giraffe Abricots left that were picked in September of 2011. I wouldn’t seriously plan on keeping them into a second winter as part of our food scheme, but I am amazed by their shelf longevity. Nothing was done except to pick them carefully into a flat lined with newspaper (as seen in the photo above), and put the flat on a shelf in our cold room. In all honesty, after 16 months in storage, they are not really palatable – at this point they completely lack acidity and they are rather pallid. You can see the color difference in the two photos.

Giraffe Abricot in first winter of storage.

Through the first winter, they do have enough flavor to make a positive contribution to such culinary endeavors as omelettes, sandwiches, quiches, etc., if they are thinly sliced, but forget about salads, sauces or salsa.

This tomato is about storage, not flavor. It has better disease resistance than the other long-term storage tomatoes I’ve grown. Those others have better flavor, but when it comes right down to it, the better flavor doesn’t do me any good if they are going to promptly rot out. We’ve been dealing with late blight for the past few years, and I’ve found that for Giraffe, if I pick the fruit at the first signs of LB on the plant’s foliage, the fruits escape infection. That’s how it was when I harvested this batch in September 2011. I was not paying close enough attention this past fall, and the blight got into the fruits, so I lost the entire crop.

Giraffe Abricot in second winter of storage.

So, of course it has occurred to me that maybe a cross of these two gifts from Dan and Val would result in an improved storage tomato. I think I’ll have to try it this coming season. A Burstin’ Giraffe perhaps?