Part of a series on growing heritage bean varieties for local food sustainability.
Mexico is one of the global centres of native diversity for the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). In the 1990’s I visited a small mid elevation (1300m) town called “Xico’ on the east slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. Heaps of beans were displayed for sale in the local market. I bought a handful of a particularly attractive small black bean and brought it home to Vancouver Island. I grew it for several years then forgot about it. About ten years ago I discovered the old seed mostly eaten by mice. Of these abandoned seeds only one germinated. From this plant and its seeds, I now have one of my most tasty and productive bush beans. Incidentally “Xico” is my unofficial name for this variety; it no doubt has a local common name in Mexico.
I have grown Xico in various garden settings and it never fails to germinate and prosper. Last year I sowed a 4.2m row in previously composted soil enriched with dolomite. The row had pole beans to the north and bush beans to the south separated by 50 cm (Figure 1). I sowed on May 11th in relatively cool soil covered in clear plastic sheeting for three weeks. The first shoots began to emerge in two weeks. The plants grew into erect to eventually trailing bushes that quickly closed over the space between rows and suppressed the weeds. I watered deeply about once a week at this site in full warm sun. A few of the plants will go rogue and grow into short pole beans about a metre and a half tall. These can be trained up sticks.
The bushes sprawl from 60 to 105cm (average 79 cm) long. Plants consist of a few thick basal branches that extend into thinner more vine-like branches. Flowers are pink to light purple and are concentrated on the inside of the bush (Figure 2). Pods form by start of August. The young pods are often purplish, and mature pale lilac to light beige (Figure 3).
After pods were fully dry, I put them in a paper grocery bag and I crushed them (using gloves) repeatedly to release the seeds. Unopened pods were then hand split to get the last of the lot. My yield from 4.2m row was 1.5kg or about 3.3 lbs (0.36kg/m of row).
The thin pods range from 9-10.5 cm long and contain typically 6-7 (5-8) small black beans with a tiny bright white scar. Each bean is slightly less than 1cm (0.7-0.9cm) long by 0.5cm high and only 0.4 cm wide (Figure 4). Many of the seeds, rather than being typically rounded, have one flattened to angled end.
The beans cook up in no time in an Instantpot, no need for the long soaking ritual. The taste of these beans is mild and the texture creamy. The beans take on the flavour of the seasoning you use, garlic or onion in my case. I toss a small handful into soups without precooking, and they soften up quickly because of the small size. Xico black beans work well in the traditional Cuban Congris rice and bean dish. In Guatemala I ate black beans many years ago for a breakfast dish with a topping of dry white cheese and a side serving of rice.