My friend Caroline was finally planting her Romano beans, now that the soil was good and warm.

She downplayed the event. “They’re like any Romano bean you can get from the seed catalogs,” she said.

Except that Caroline’s seeds descended from ones her neighbor Wally gave her before he died a few years back, at age eighty-nine. He grew the beans for decades, having obtained his stock from childhood pals born and raised in Garlic Gulch, the old Italian settlement in the Rainier Valley, where immigrants once maintained small farmsteads. Caroline thinks the strain is hundreds of years old. She’s pretty sure they’ve always been grown organically.

“Wally was kind of a health nut,” she said. He ate a cup of quinoa and a banana for breakfast. The beans he dried, stored in big pantry jars, and ate year round. He stood about 5 foot 2, Caroline said, and couldn’t have weighed more than 85 pounds. He never married, didn’t have children.

Wally was systematic about his bean growing. He always sprouted the seeds on a damp paper towel and planted six around a 15-inch diameter circle. He trained the plants onto a central trellis constructed from a tall stake with scrap wood nailed on. Caroline told me the beans are real easy to grow and produce lots of nice pods. She grows them in waves, so there’s always a fresh supply; that’s how she prefers eating them.

Later I searched a few online seed catalogs and discovered that some do indeed sell the Romano variety, also known as the borlotti, a flat green bean. The Roma bean is a sibling; a more distant cousin may be the flat wax pole bean I grew last summer called Gold of Bacau. The seeds of Romanos are often white or black, but Caroline’s are tan, with brown speckles and fat racing stripes.

Anyway, she sent me home with two of last summer’s pods. Back home, I put them in a damp towel to sprout, happy to do my part in propagating the bean and its history.

Which reminds me that I need to read Claire Cummings’ book about genetically engineered seeds.

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