'rattlesnake' pole bean, a prolific, easy heirloom

IT CAUGHT MY EYE in the catalogs, since I garden in rattlesnake country. (Yes, as you would know if you had read my last book: Dear Crotalus horridus is my neighbor here, and moved in long before I did. He’s recently gone from endangered to merely threatened in New York State, meaning he apparently plans to stick around.) So during my winter seed-shopping (when the snakes are hibernating) I came upon an heirloom called ‘Rattlesnake’ pole bean, and I thought: I must grow those.

Now, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the purple markings on the rounded, 6- or 7-inch green pods look nothing like those on an Eastern timber rattler. But when grown until the pods mature and dry (here’s how to grow and dry shell beans), they’d be more in the snake’s tan and brown color range, if not the right pattern, exactly. The bean seeds are somewhat pinto-like, but much smaller, and speckled the way the green pods are before they turn solid green when cooked.

Besides being beautiful, the fresh snap beans are somewhat sweet-tasting and easy to grow, and especially cooperative in hot weather (making them a favorite in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, says Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which lists them as 73 days to producing size).  Up north in Maine, Fedco’s catalog says 70 days–and that down south they’re sometimes called Preacher Beans, which Seed Savers confirms (offering a range of harvest time from 60-90 days); High Mowing Seeds says they’ll start sizing up at about 65 days.

Grow ‘Rattlesnake’ like all beans in sun, and provide support for vining types like this one, which grows vigorously to about 10 feet, producing purple flowers before the pods.

Maybe I’ll try the dried beans in a pot of minestrone soup, or my homemade vegetarian baked beans if I get enough of a harvest this fall–lots of possibilities to consider. One never knows what to expect next from a rattlesnake, right?

  1. Elaine says:

    These are a great bean, both fresh and dried. I have been growing them in Maine for at least 15 years. My original seed came from FEDCO and it has not failed to produce every year. Both Rattlesnake Pole beans and FEDCO are extremely reliable!

  2. Brian G. says:

    They look a bit like the heirloom ‘Dragon Tongue’ bush bean. Dragon tongue beans also lose the purple stripes when cooked.

    On the subject of beans, I have only grown bush beans and have found the flavor a bit lacking. Are pole beans in general more tasty than bush? I’m looking for that real old fashioned green bean flavor.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Brian G. I don’t think pole/bush is the flavor difference, but I have to say that generally I like Romano or Italian (flat-podded) types best for flavor, however they grow. There are various varieties, but look for Romano types if your want more “meaty” bean flavor, I think.

  3. Paula says:

    Hi – My first visit here and I’m happy to see this post about the beans. I’m growing them simply because they were the only pole bean seeds available when I was ready to plant this year. Glad to see the recommendations. “Petunia” is the snake that lives in my garden, but a garter snake thank goodness!

  4. Matthew says:

    Off topic bean problem. All my garden beans (wax and burgundy bush beans) are growing and flowering and then…nothing. The leaves are pretty much alright (after an earlier issue of rascally rabbits eating the leaves of the beans and the peas, all the while ignoring the lettuce and carrots), but it has been weeks now and there should be beans. Any ideas? Could heat be a problem?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Matthew, and yes, you are correct. Not unlike tomatoes and various other crops, in temps over 90 or 95, blossoms may develop and drop rather than get fertilized and matured into pods. Keep the plants watered and hope for the weather to shift, or plant some bush beans now to mature in cooler days ahead later in the season or both.

      Welcome, Paula. (Say hello to Petunia for me, tee hee.) Glad to have you with us, and nice to hear ‘Rattlesnake’ is to your liking, too. Pretty, tasty, easy (my kind of bean!).

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Piedmont. Your area is exactly where Rattlesnake is supposed to be most adapted to so I’m glad for the first-hand confirmation. We’ve been having a North Carolina summer here, so I think it has felt right at home. :) See you soon.

  5. highpoint hill garden says:

    I’m growing rattlesnake beans for the first time here in MA. Only 6 of my 15 planted beans came up…maybe due to the cool weeks we had in late spring. I first learned of this heirloom variety of bean from my sister and a friend in southern Illinois. They are very tasty and beautiful in the garden. Hope to do better with my planting routine next year. What do you do at planting time with pole beans?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Highpoint Hill Garden. A great bean, to be sure. I had so-so germination, too. I shoudl use a legume inoculant (powder) intended for beans (I used it on my peas but forgot with the beans and think it was too early/cold/wet). But there’s another thing here: CHIPMUNKS. I have had whole rows disappear (also squash seeds and such).

      1. Gabriella Kadar says:

        Margaret, this year I noticed that the pesky creatures don’t eat garlic or onion.
        I sprinkled garlic powder around plants to deter the animals and it worked.
        Costco sells big jars of the stuff for very little money.

        Onion granules work too.

  6. Peg says:

    I have grown rattlesnake beans as a dry bean for years. Then a gardening froend says to try them as a snap bean. I’m sold. They are delicious, much better than the many different bush beans I have tried. I think the rattlesnake name comes from when they are dry. They rattle….so do any other dry beans. Some real rattlers around here in the Shawangunks, none in the gardens.

  7. marcia/fairport ny says:

    Visiting friends in Maine last several years, have been impressed w/ Rattlesnake bean”s “meaty” texture and great taste; even the big ones are good!. Hope I can buy dry ones to bring home in fall

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Marcia. I only see them dried in one place (that usually supplies restaurants but now also individuals, I think). It’s Marx Foods. Will be interested to hear if you find them at the market dry.

  8. atalet says:

    seems so fun to see my favorite bean’s photo: they are really sweet and we add some sugar while cooking it.. it is one of the best “olive oil” specalities of the turkish cuisine..
    I even have right now a fresh cooked “barbunya” ready to be eaten..=)
    they may be frozen and easy to be used ..I buy them at this season and freeze them…
    as they are sweet they might not be good in the minestrone.. try them as we use to do.. one onion diced.. one big tomato diced or grated.. (I prefer grated or processed) olive oil and the beans themselves..
    you just turn the onions and a pinch of salt in the olive oil.. until they get pinkish.. add the tomato and one or two cubes of sugar continue cooking ..when the tomato is bright red add the beans and boiled water just enough to cover the beans..cook until tender.. wait until the dish is cold. put in the fridge.. it is served cold..a precious taste..

    same goes with the aunt addi specie..all beans are great cooked that way..

    I just wanted to add an eastern piment ..

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Atalet — and all the way from Turkey, perhaps? The ay of preparing the beans sounds delicious, and I only wish I could read your blog (I speak no Turkish — but I have visited there!). Thank you for these ideas, and hope to see you again soon.

  9. Ren Prickett says:

    Growing Rattlesnake Beans, yummy. Plants are almost 30 days old, 8-2–12. came up easy. Have fert. them had soil tested-little high ph-,added Alum sul. ,according to Aum. University. Bean shoots turn black and plants die. Plants doesn’t seem leaves dark enough.(green). I called the extention center and he said heat shouldn’t be a problem. Any ideas?

    1. margaret says:

      I don’t know, Ren, and am not sure what region you are in, but I’d start by clicking through the links to all the articles on diseases of beans on the Minnesota extension site or a similar site in your area. Beans can get rust, anthracnose, phytopthora and various molds and so on.

  10. Ren Prickett says:

    fig trees-
    Can you tell me the proper way to plant fig trees, container grown , in the ground and when , in Alabama. And about fertilizing the trees.

  11. Christina says:

    Hi, probably a dumb question as I’m very new to gardening, but can the pole bean vine last until next years producing season, or do you have to replant each year?

    Thank you!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Christina. There are no silly questions here. :) They are annuals, going from seed to seed in a single season. So you have to start over. Usually there is enough seed in a packet for a few years of planting.

  12. suzie says:

    I am growing rattlesnake beans for the first time in Wyoming. Trying, also for the first time, the “3 sisters method” I had to put in poles at the last minute because they just refused to climb the corn. They look lovely climbing the volunteer dill, however :) Tasty and beautiful. Will plant again.

  13. Peter Truitt says:

    Everyone wonders what is in my backyard. It is a ten-foot tall trellis for the Rattlesnakes (beans). They grew right to the top. I know that keeping the vines picked may keep the flowers (and beans) coming, but I am trying something: Since I can’t get the beans at the top without a stepladder, I am leaving them to dry to provide me with beans/seeds to plant for next year. Do others do this, too? If so, do the vines keep producing, or do they stop for the season since the beans at the top are not being picked?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Peter. Same issue here! I do bring the stepladder out to the bean poles this time of year (but only when someone else is here to keep an eye out, for safety), and yes, I also let some just set seed on the vine. Technically the ripening pods up top should impact the vines’ desire to keep flowering/making new pods, but I swear I get plenty of pole beans anyhow, no matter what I do. : )

  14. Chris Baswell says:

    This is my first year with rattlesnake beans as well, and I’ll never be without them again. They were my earliest pole bean to bear — weeks before the romanos got going — and to my surprise, they continue to pump out snap beans even as the vines get heavy with pods for shelling. At snap-bean stage they’re excellent, and my first little pot of green shelled beans was subtle and rewarding too. They’re the most productive bean in my garden. For a slothful gardener like me, too, it’s a comfort to know the oversized pods aren’t going to waste, just maturing for a different use. Definitely my favorite new vegetable of the year.

  15. Laura says:

    Hi! Growing rattlesnake beans here in the SF Bay area for the first time. Got the seeds from Nichols out of Portland. This is my new swear-by crop. The beans are sweet, easy to spot among the foliage and grow in clusters of 2 or more, making picking easy and efficient. After the first batch, I was worried that the plant was done, but no – it took a short break and then began growing back down my bamboo tripod. Has continued to be plentiful. Still harvesting now, late Sept.

    As for the idea of leaving beans on to mature for seed… my experience is that it is unwise to do this until the end of the season. Here’s how I think of it, the bean is the expression of the plant’s innate urge to reproduce. That is why it is important to keep things picked. If the reproductive cycle is completed early, why continue? Taking all the beans (or whatever) off signals the plant that they need to produce more in order to reproduce…

    Back to the rattlesnake beans… being an heirloom, I am encouraged that saving the seed may work and produce true to this current generation. I;m going to give it a try.
    I never put all my eggs in one basket, but I’m ditching the romanos and kentucky wonders… Will plant my saved seed and the rest of my purchased seeds in two locations next year so I can figure out if the plants remain true.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Laura, for your input on the beans. I also let the last weeks of beans be the ones I save seed from — but not scrawny ones that happen too late. Ones that are true to type — not runts produced when my season gets cold or anything, you know?

  16. Cynthia says:

    My first time trying Rattlesnake Pole beans (from HighMowing Seeds) here in central Florida. I purchased seed that would be in keeping with my organic gardening and have had very good luck with everything, thus far. I do believe every single seed came up and they are all at least 6-8 feet tall with beans about 6″ long!! What a joy to grow; cannot wait to try eating them. Not to mention that picking them will not be a back-breaker like the Romanos, which have always been a family favorite. We also tried another new-to-us bean, an old heirloom called Strike Bean – as in strike it rich with such a crop of beans!

    So, we have the three varieties of beans in the garden – Rattlesnake, Romano and Strike -each very different from the other and am now wishing we had planted more rows of each. Have decided my 2000 square feet of garden is not big enough! Happy gardening and healthy eating to all. cynthia

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cynthia. Love this bean here, too. 2,000 square feet! Lucky you. I wish I had even more sunny space for more raised beds here.

  17. Tammy Ann says:

    I am growing Rattlesnake beans this year for the first time, as well as Cherokee trail of Tears and Logan County Cornfield Giants. All given to me by my Uncle in NC who has been seed saving seed for 40 years.

    The Rattlesnake will be a yearly must have in my garden. First of the 3 to sprout and produce, and I was harvesting at 50 days! Great old time bean flavor. My current trellis system is about 5′ tall… I’m definitely going to have to come up with a better trellis system next year that is at least 8′ tall, if not 10.

    PS- Pole beans make a great Privacy screen.

    1. Laura says:

      I live in Oakland, CA and have grown rattlesnake beans from my own saved seeds. Make sure the seeds are really dry before you wrap them up in a closed container…

  18. glenn says:

    My daddy grew these heirloom rattlesnake pole beans for our table which we enjoyed as snap beans here in S. GA. Now he is gone I missed them so much I found them from a website in Athens, GA and have been planting them for over 20 years. I use metal post and hog wire fence attached to these post for them to run on. I only plant the rattlesnake pole beans because they taste better than any variety I have found. They will keep producing until the arrival of the first frost. If I have seeds left over I place them in a container and put them in the freezer, and they germinate when I plant them the next spring. I also plant pickling cucumbers in the skips and they do well together.

  19. Jamie says:

    super excited first time bean grower here. I picked the rattlesnake variety because of the expected height of the plant. I am getting my first beans right now and was hoping to find out how to process them for dry storage….I see now that drying is later in the season:) but excited nonetheless to learn about the Turkish recipe for fresh beans with tomato and onion (sounds lovely) and that my pick of the rattlesnake seems to be a tasty one at that. Thanks for the wonderful blog.

  20. Debi says:

    I’m growing rattlesnake beans for the first time. I planted the beans in a playground with young children. The beans will hopefully climb up the poles of a teepee and make a little hiding place ti get out of the sun.

    I was wondering if there are any concerns if the children eat beans raw? I did this project a few years ago with Scarlett runner beans. The worry was if the children eat the beans raw they could get a tummy ache from them. They had to eat a lot of them for that to happen.

    I’m in Massachusetts.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Debi. I suspect the same could be said from eating immature vegetable of many kinds–think of what a big green tomato, or an undeveloped pepper or squash would be like to digest. Ugh. So I don’t suspect basic plants in the edible garden are actual poison when immature as much as just not yet fully ripe and as I say therefore not very digestible.

  21. Arlecie says:

    My cousin just gave me quite a few rattlesnake beans aka: preacher beans. The are fresh picked snap bean stage. Can you tell me if they are good for canning? I’ve never had them.

    1. margaret says:

      I don’t soak my beans normally but do keep the planting area watered carefully and consistently through germination. Some friends soak theirs first (any bean, not just these).

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