October 1, 2010

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It’s been about 10 years since John Strang initiated a variety trial for green beans at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. A horticulture extension specialist for the college, Strang said it was a good way to involve several departments and do a thorough analysis on one of the most common veggies.

“This variety trial has really turned into a multi-departmental effort,” he said. “We’ve had folks from horticulture involved obviously, but also from plant pathology and the School of Human Environmental Sciences. We’ve also had an undergraduate student, Patrick Kelley, working to satisfy degree requirements and get some field experience before going on to teach vocational agriculture at the high school level.”

Strang said the main reason for the study was a need to update variety recommendations for commercial vegetable growers. However, home garden growers could probably benefit from the results as well.

Student farm workersplanted 20 varieties of green beans, replicated four times in 20-foot rows. It may not sound like a vast planting, but Strang said the crop is very labor-intensive when it comes to harvesting and that it took about six weekly harvests to get all the beans picked.

“The trend lately has been toward green beans that are darker green in color,” he said. “We have Pam Sigler (UK extension specialist for curriculum and instruction in the School of Human Environmental Sciences) compiling results from a taste analysis she conducted on cooked and cannedgreen beans to see what consumers prefer.”

Plant Pathologist Kenny Seebold analyzed the beans for disease, and Doug Archbold, UK horticulture professor, is studying the antioxidant levels in the different varieties.

“The primary antioxidant in green beans is Vitamin C, so we want to see which varieties have the most and the least,” Strang said.

Strang said aside from those larger comparisons, researchers also observed other traits of the plants and the beans including size, straightness, plant stand, if the plant held the beans off the ground, bean color and yield.

The weather made the trial even more interesting, because Central Kentucky experienced a very hot and dry summer with many consecutive days in the 90s.

“Hotter temperatures cause blooms to drop off the plant which reduces yield,” Strang said. “So the trial also turned out to be a study in how green beans grow and yield under high temperatures.”

Strang said Tim Coolong, UK horticulture professor, will take the weather-related data from the green bean trial and combine it with a larger project he’s working on to study how different vegetables respond to prolonged dry and hot conditions.

All the results will be compiled into a report Strang and his colleagues will release at the January 2011 Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Lexington.