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A new 'smart' bean that knows when to germinate

There are beans growing at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station here that exhibit a whole lot more savvy than their everyday relatives. ''Smart beans'' is how their developer, Dr. Michael Dickson of the Department of Seed and Vegetable Sciences, describes them.

They seem to sense when conditions are too cold for good growth, and they don't germinate. They sleep late, so to speak, where conventional beans sprout only to shiver and grow stunted in cold temperatures.

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On the other hand, once they germinate (at around 50 degrees F.) they will grow readily in cool spring temperatures that stunt conventional beans. At the other end of the temperature scale, these same ''smart'' beans will set full, smooth pods even at temperatures as high as 95 degrees.

Work on getting heat-loving beans to enjoy cool spring weather began in Sweden back in the 1920s, but the development was left in limbo for several decades until Dr. Dickson picked up on it a few years back. Dr. Dickson, who made a name for himself a decade ago by breeding a ''dry'' cabbage for the sauerkraut industry, has now developed the new snap bean to the stage where breeding lines will be available to seed companies. They in turn will use these lines to introduce the improved qualities into their own favorites.

What this all means to bean production, whether at home or on the farm, is simply this: If we should have an unusually cool, damp spring, bean production will not drop significantly. Conversely, should a heat wave arrive just when the beans are flowering, there will be no dramatic drop in pod production. And these beans will be available for our own backyards within two or three years.

Meanwhile, we have a pretty good selection of beans available to us right now. Our need is to get them to produce abundantly this season, and a few cultural practices can go a long way toward boosting production above average. So:

Keep them picked. All beans, particularly the determinate bush varieties, seem to produce more abundantly if the beans are harvested a little on the young side.

Mulch with compost or aged manure. Beans that are well fed and growing vigorously produce heavier crops, and in the case of the bush variety the picking period is extended. Add the mulch as soon as the first flowers start forming.

Try a little pruning. When the harvest is beginning to wane, strip the plants of all remaining beans. Then prune back the plants. New shoots should quickly appear.

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