Butter beans

Butter beans are shown being cooked in Florence.

Nothing says “Southern” more than a big pot of butterbeans or peas.

At one time, Lake City was considered the “Bean Capital of the World.” Bushels and bushels of snap beans were loaded onto rail cars and shipped to all of the large Northern cities. This is why Lake City is the home of the National Historic Bean Market Museum.

The Bean Market Museum is a true gem in the Pee Dee. Not only do the folks at the Bean Market Museum preserve the past of how beans were marketed, sold and shipped, but they also encourage the future of the Pee Dee through community development and tourism.

Today, the Lake City area and the surrounding counties are still the bean capital of South Carolina. but now instead of snap beans, butterbeans and peas have become the fresh market kings.

Some snap beans are still being grown in our area, but the real demand is for butterbeans. However, butterbeans can be difficult to grow in South Carolina’s heat and humidity.

When night temperatures stay above 75 degrees, the flowers of beans do not pollinate properly, do not “set pods” and drop off the plant. This dropping of the flowers reduces yields and limits the bean production season to early spring and again in the fall for South Carolina.

What happens is that you can have a beautiful plant that is flowering up a storm but never sets pods. The hot spell we had at the beginning of June really hurt our butterbean crop that was just beginning to flower. No pods were set in the heat, but during the cool spell that followed, most plantings set pods about the same time.

Therefore, our butterbean season will be short with lots of beans available at one time. So, get prepared to get yours. Get your name in the hat, and get your share

It has surprised me that the demand for fresh butterbeans has remained high even in our fast-food society. In many years the demand far outweighs our production. So the moral of the story is to get your beans when they are available.

Therefore, at my research area at Pee Dee Research & Education Center in Florence, I am increasing seed of eight new heat-tolerant varieties that I have selected. Hopefully in a year or two we will have some heat-tolerant varieties to help with these supply problems.

Also, many folks have compensated for flower-drop in beans by switching to Southern peas in mid-summer. Peas love the heat, tolerate drought and grow well, with low fertility making them the perfect S.C. crop.

But the problem with fresh market peas is that they can be difficult to pick with mechanical harvesters. Some varieties like “Top Pick” and others are much easier to pick, but most folks in our area demand the “Dixie Lee” variety because of its flavor, small seed size and brown pot liquor (soup).

“Dixie Lee” is a vining variety that is difficult to pick with machines, but if grown on low-fertility soil, with no fertilizer inputs and no or little irrigation, sometimes one can limit the plant size and improve mechanical harvest.

This practice reduces per-acre yields, but most growers have sorry-almost-good-for-nothing fields that can make good pea land.

There is a short cut: Just open a can. McCall Farms is canning superb Southern vegetables right here in Florence County. Already washed, cooked and seasoned, they are sold under the brand names of Margaret Holmes, Glory, Bruce’s, Veg-all, Allen’s, etc., and only need to be heated and served.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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