I'll admit, Dragon Tongue beans had two initial points of appeal for me: the fantastic name, and the lovely golden-yellow color, liberally streaked with purple. It turns out that those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons to grow this fantastic bean!
As a parent, I involve my kids in every aspect of our garden, from the planning and planting, to the harvesting, preserving, and consuming of the produce. When I first read about Dragon Tongue beans, my first thought was that my kids would be all over any plant that included the words "Dragon Tongue." Both are fans of fantasy and science fiction books, so dragons are a subject of fascination for them. Beans are also a favorite vegetable in our household, so that was two counts in their favor. When I read more about them, and learned that they are a wax bean, I knew my husband would approve, as he prefers wax beans to green beans any day. Then I saw a picture, and I fell in love! The pods were long and narrow, a delicate golden color mottled with streaks of purplish-brown. They immediately found a place in my garden plan!
These Dragon Tongue beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, are a bush-type stringless wax bean. Like most bush-type beans, they achieve a height of 18-24 inches, and form compact, bushy mounds. They may take 60-100 days from planting to harvest. Figure on closer to 60 days for use as a fresh bean, and 100 days if you plan to let them mature on the plant to use as a dry shelling bean. I didn't plant nearly enough last year, as it was our first trial with these beans, and I wanted to see how they performed before committing a large portion of our garden to them. They were quite productive, and the beans formed were nearly as tall as the plants themselves! They also didn't seem as prone to the fungal rust spots as other wax beans I've grown in the past.
Dragon Tongue Beans are an heirloom variety, originating in the Netherlands, and are open-pollinated. In short, this means you can allow the beans to mature on the vine and save some seeds to plant next year. Unlike hybrids, which may have sterile seeds, or may produce offspring very unlike the parent plant from which you collected the seeds, open pollinated plants will produce seeds that will be the same variety. I like to grow heirloom vegetables when possible and do my part to maintain plant diversity, as long as the heirloom varieties perform in my central Illinois garden. These plants were great performers, and seemed just as disease resistant and drought tolerant as any other beans I've grown. In fact, they were less bug-eaten than my other variety of wax beans, so that was clearly a point in their favor.
I've had some difficulty growing beans the past few seasons, which has been disappointing. I'm sure the weather is partly to blame, as I've had very poor germination in the past few soggy springs, and our bumper crop of rabbits managed to mow down whatever beans managed to make their way through to the surface. The next year, the Dragon Tongue beans, however, had great germination. I had only a few gaps in my rows where one didn't come up, and it was easy enough to go through and poke a few individual seeds in to fill the spaces. It is difficult to know how much this is a reflection of the difference in weather and garden conditions from year to year, and how much this is a reflection of the vitality of the seed, but it passed my first test!
The beans were also quite productive, and continued producing pods as long as I kept picking them! One of the advantages of Dragon Tongue beans is that they can be used as either fresh beans with edible pods, if picked young, or as dried beans if they are allowed to mature on the plant. My family is not overly fond of dried beans, so we picked them regularly to encourage a prolonged harvest. If you intend to eat them as fresh beans, just pick them while the pods are still young and tender, before the seeds inside have swollen and filled out the pod.
In the past, we have usually cooked our green and wax beans, and frequently froze or canned them. Our only disappointment in Dragon Tongue beans is that they do not maintain their mottled, streaked appearance when cooked. Instead, they revert to a creamy yellow color, and look very similar to standard waxed beans. The flavor and texture is amazing, however. Even when my attention wandered and I left them in the steamer much longer than I intended, they retained a crisp texture and didn't get mushy. They were better than many beans for canning for this reason. I've begun freezing most of our beans, because I prefer how they retain their bright color and texture, but these beans fared well with both canning and freezing.
The upside to their color loss when cooked is that it encouraged us to step outside our comfort zone and look for ways to use this bean raw, so we could take full advantage of the appealing colors. We found that they added a nice touch to lettuce salads and vegetable trays, and were a real hit with kids when we put them on a relish tray with carrots, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and sugar snap peas. Everyone wanted those streaky dragon beans! I also experimented with marinating the raw beans in vinaigrette dressings, which were a hit with the pickle-loving half of my family. The vinegar-challenged members didn't care for that presentation as well, but I think it is good to try new things periodically! I had hoped that a quick stir-fry would retain the color, but found that even minimally cooking them meant a loss of color. The flavor was exceptional, and the golden color of the cooked beans still added a nice contrast to the other vegetables in the stir-fry. It was entertaining to try different ways of preparing them, and note the results!
If you have never ventured beyond the old standard favorite green beans, I'd encourage you to give Dragon Tongue beans a try. You just might find a little magic in your veggie garden after all!
Images courtesy of PlantFiles