20 November 2011

Peter's Trail of Tears

It has a sad story and an evocative name. It is also a 'heritage' bean so the climber Cherokee Trail of Tears is cherished now in a way that the Cherokee Nation never were during the forced exodus from their homelands, taking the black bean with them.  But like the Native Americans, the bean survived - just.

Peter is a custodian of heritage seeds at Garden Organic and had his original beans from there, but they have become more mainstream and are readily available these days. There is a large pile of them in his garage, surrounded by a ridiculous amount of preserves - so envious - plus a harpsichord. He has just picked the last ones. Being a scientist there is nothing random about this pile of beans. It is a small part of a much greater yield of about 7000 beans and they have been weighed, counted and had scientific thoughts applied. Each Cherokee Trail of Tears plant (above and top) has produced on average 205 beans, with 36 pods per plant. For storing and cooking it's a good prolific bean. However, there is an irregularity which occurs in 10% of them and they are white. 

It is an impurity, a throwback, in other words a sport. 'And it's a damn sight more interesting,' says Peter, than the original purpley-black bean. Each plant from this white sport has yielded about 232 beans (that's almost 30 more per plant than the original - do keep up). Peter has called them White Tears (above and below). Each bean is heavier in weight, and although there are the same amount of beans per pod, there are more pods per plant, so the beans weigh in at about 25% more than the Trail of Tears.

 Both plants produce between three and ten shoots near the base so they are more vigorous and bushy than other heritage varieties which can be notoriously precious and mean. Attractive as the Sezma Zebra is (below) it only produces one vine and wouldn't feed many. The weight of beans per plant is a quarter of that of White Tears.

So Peter is very excited about this sport and has been known to give away some of the white beans for Christmas. However... there is an even more exciting experiment taking place and that is the bean which Peter calls Black Tears. 'There is a spontaneous production of black beans FROM THE WHITE BEANS!' he says. 'This I think is truly amazing.' This double throwback takes place 5-10% of the time and grows in the same way as White Tears but is slightly less prolific.

Clearly, there is a lot more information to be had from Peter on the perplexing mechanism involving recessive and non-recessive genes. Can it wait? Method and Observation I always quite enjoyed at school but Conclusion, well. The results from the latest sport Black Tears are still being concluded, so Conclusion itself might have to wait. An extension please.


  1. I would love to get hold of some of these seeds for my veg plot next year, white and black!

  2. Science with Peter - no problem about the sample of beans via Lady Muck. I had 5 lbs of dried beans from 2 wigwams of 30 plants from White Tears. To use soak overnight and BOIL FOR AT LEAT 10 MINUTES changing the water at the end. This removes any stuff that would give you the belly ache. I am in the process of counting more beans, and designing the experiments for next year. Some of the data is a bit sparse. Anyway, in simple terms, White Tears is simply the best bean I have ever grown, heaps better than anything else.