Mr. Tung’s Pole Beans

I finally added some information a very helpful gardener here on the Island was so wonderful as to send me.

In 2009 I found Mr. Tung’s pole beans at the local Seedy Saturday in Nelson (where I was living at the time). While I had come up with the idea to start the seed bank in January of that year, the beans I got in March were really the catalyst for me to make this seed bank something a little more than just banking my seeds. Mr. Tung’s Pole Beans transformed this bank into a place to store your seeds and to keep your history.

Over one year after receiving these seeds originally, the history was laid before me, after a few twists and turns with information that wasn’t quite right. I’m pleased, however, that now the correct historical information is revealed, and I’m keeping here on the website for anybody who’s interested in hearing about the long history of these beans.

Below is the article sent to me by Annette, and it’s also available on the Mr. Tung’s Pole Bean page.

The following information was written and provided to The Island Grower by Irene Mollison (nee Kerr). it is a story about a special bean. According to Irene, the bean is delicious, and is served best by frenching before cooking. It is a stringless bean, and the dry seed pods are a beautiful shiny brown. She has generously agreed to send a few beans to interested readers if they include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

“My father, James D. Kerr came out from Englad at the age of 21 in 1906. he purchased 50 acres of land at Long Beach on Kootenay Lake. In those days the only means of transportation were the paddle wheel steamers, whose route was from Nelson up the Lake, calling in at all the small communities.

His property had to be cleared in order to plant orchards (apples, cherries, pears, raspberries, and strawberries, etc.). In order to do this heavy work with a team of horses and stumping powder, he hired a Chinese labourer, newly arrived in Canada, whose name was Tung. A shack was built for him on my father’s property, near the stables. He proved to be of great help to my father, staying with him 25 years, and endearing himself to the family.

My parents, James D. Kerr and Dorothy Lucy Eskrigge, were married in 1910 in Nelson, and I, Irene Kerr arrived a year later. Tung was in charge of the vegetable garden, and planted his beans in the garden, having brought the bean seed from China. These beans were incredible. The flavour wonderful. My grandmother, having lost her husband in 1909, bought an acre of land next to the ranch, and built her cottage there. In 1936 a killing early frost destroyed all the orchards in the whole valley. Tung then returned to his homeland permanently. Year after year we planted and enjoyed his beans.

In 1940, the ranch was sold and grandmother, who passed awa in 1921, left her cottage to me. I still own this cottage. All the orchard equipment, tools and garden equipment were stored in a shed on the property, as were the fruit baskets.

In 1947, after the war, my husband Donald Mollison and I moved into the cottage. For seven years (the war years) the cottage and property lay idle. My husband decided to tidy up the shed. I mentioned to him “if you find any little brown beans please bring them to me, as they are very important.” Later he came in with four beans he had found in one of the fruit baskets and said “Would these be the beans you were speaking of?” — I was delighted to find the four beans were in perfect condition, in spite of the years of dormancy. These were planted, for seed, and every bean grew perfectly — it was unbelievable! We planted the new seeds every year after.

In 1956 we moved to Victoria and I brought a good supply of Tung’s beans for many friends. We felt they were not quite as good as those that grew out at our cottage, perhaps due to the warm Kootenay climate. Our long-time gardener and friend, Bruce Saunders, has plented them year after year and enjoys them as much as we do.”

It’s kismet that I should have moved to the same city where Mrs. Mollison originally moved. I’m thinking the next step in the Mr. Tung’s Pole Beans saga might be to see if I can make contact with any of Mrs. Mollinson’s family, as I would love to re-share these beans with them if they no longer are in their family.

To be continued?