The Mysterious Bill Mathis Bean

Reader Contribution by Renea Winchester
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Friends, I need your help. I am obsessed with beans. I believe the obsession began about five years ago when I started helping my farmer friend, Billy Albertson. He tilled up a portion of his backyard so I could plant tomatoes, but once we saw the dirt, we decided there would be time to plant a couple rows of pintos, and then the tomatoes.

From that moment things have been getting out of hand; at least on my end. If you are a Facebook friend, you know that what started as two rows of pintos grew into a search for unusual beans. And for me, who grew up in western North Carolina, anything other than a white half runner bean falls into the “unusual” category. I have a particular fondness for October beans, but that is an aside that really doesn’t have a thing to do with the mystery I need your help with.

Most of you know that I avoid “big box” farm supply stores like the plague. I like my local folk; independent farm supply stores that have provided seeds and fertilizer, baby chicks, and animal wormer to my family for generations. I am fiercely devoted to the independent farm supply stores. Here’s why.

Inside stores such as these, you’ll find seeds named after the local farmer who brought them in. You’ll overhear someone whispering about Bill Mathis beans, and you’ll almost push that someone out of the way to get your hands on a sack of them. I didn’t actually push, but I did tap my foot and hope the person ahead of me didn’t buy them all.

I didn’t know what the beans were, didn’t really care. All I knew was if some farmer from the western North Carolina mountains was selling his bean seeds, then I needed to get my hands on a handful … pronto.

And while some may think I need therapy for this obsession (I do), I now have a bit of a mystery on my hands. Take a look at this.

Mr. Bill Mathis did not sort his beans! Any farmer worth his salt knows I can’t plant the seeds like this.

Bringing my bag home, I quickly arranged my loot according to appearance, coming up with this method.

Then I placed a coin beside the bean for a size-reference.

Unfortunately, the bag contained only one seed of some of the larger beans. One bean! What if that particular seed was the last of its kind in the whole wide world? (Perish the thought!) So, I determined that I’d best get to the garden and plant a test area, a place where I could grow these beans just for the purpose of having more seed next year. The only problem is that I haven’t a clue what these are!

That is where you come in. Can you help identify any of these seeds? If you can, please let me know.

Numbering a piece of paper, I laid each seed out beside a number and took a picture. Does this help any of you seasoned bean growers identify what in the world I’ve planted?

Next, I went to the garden and planted each of these seeds beside a flag with the coinciding number. As the growing season progresses, I will share images with the hopes that you can help me identify what in the world I’m growing.

If you can identify any of these beans, (even just one) and are on Facebook, please visit my page and leave me a message. Or, contact me through my website. Just say bean No. 1 is (insert name); bean No. 2 is (insert name). Truly, I need your help.

Until then, I’ll keep growing and searching for unusual seeds.

As always, thank you for reading, and for your help.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In September of 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter here.

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