If You Give a Mouse a Lima

Philip Kauth, PhD, assistant curator, and Steffen Mirsky, horticultural technician, make up the Seed Savers Exchange Evaluation Team.  The Eval Team is the division of the Preservation Department that keeps detailed records of more characteristics than most people know an individual variety can have. Their work helps us differentiate between the varieties in our collection and describe them clearly in the Yearbook. 

Step up to the Plate is a blog series in which the evaluation professionals profile a variety that stands out to their distinguished senses each month. 

May 2015: Lima 201 'German Butterbean'

Few vegetables elicit as strong a reaction in people as lima beans.  We either love them or hate them.  However, most of us can agree that lima beans from the frozen foods section of the grocery store are vastly inferior to homegrown ones.  So, if you have ruled lima beans out of your diet, we urge you to give them another chance.  At Seed Savers Exchange, we have over 300 varieties of lima beans in our Heritage Farm Collection, displaying a tremendous array of colors and patterns.  In 2014 we grew 18 different varieties for evaluation, with one variety standing head and shoulders above the rest for taste.  Lima 201 ‘German Butterbean’ is a very large, white lima with a buttery, sweet flavor and velvety texture.

'German Butterbean' lima bean pods and leaves

A sneaky, snacky lima bean thief

My (Philip Kauth here) three-year-old daughter loves limas, even the plain green frozen ones. When Steffen and I discovered in our evaluation how delicious ‘German Butterbean’ was, I knew my daughter would love it too. The next day I harvested a significant quantity of beans (enough to heap over a two-quart Pyrex) and left them in a pile on the kitchen counter that evening. Around 4 AM, I awoke to cries from my younger daughter, who was just four months old at the time. While I was up with the baby, I noticed that the limas were still on the counter. After I laid her back in bed, we all slept till about 6:30 AM.  I walked to the kitchen to find that all the limas were gone. The ground cherries I’d harvested were still on the counter, but every last lima bean had vanished.  I thought my wife may have moved them, but she swore she had no idea what had become of the missing limas.

A snack fit for a mouse

Some forensic investigation revealed a few mouse droppings on the counter.  As it turns out, ‘German Butterbean’ appeals not only to the human palate, but also the palate of a particular sneaky, snacky mouse.  The only explanation is that this apparently famished mouse had cleaned out every last German Butterbean within a two hour span! My daughter and I were very disappointed, but that mouse must have been very happy.  And who knows? Maybe the mouse’s young, lima-loving daughter was the happiest of all.

A true family heirloom

Lima 201 ‘German Butterbean’ was donated to SSE by William Rastetter, of Frankton, IN, in 1994. William received the lima from his friend and neighbor, Flossie Canfield Drake. According to Flossie, her mother brought the lima to Frankton from southern Indiana in the 1800s. The exact origin of the lima is still a little hazy however. Through some fine investigative work, Sara Straate, our seed historian, tracked down Donna Harwood, a relative of Flossie Canfield. Mrs. Harwood mentioned that the lima could have come from three different German families. Both Flossie Canfield’s mother and aunt were daughters of German immigrants. Also, the wife of Flossie’s cousin was from a German family. See the diagram below for a family tree that illustrates the possible origin of Lima 201. With its long history of family stewardship, ‘German Butterbean’ is a true family heirloom. 

SSE’s 2015 Yearbook description:  Pole lima. A staff favorite in 2014! Beans are sweet, moist, and juicy with a buttery taste. Texture is smooth and creamy. Vigorous climber. Pods slightly curved with a short beak. Large pods, measuring 3.8-5.5" long and 0.9-1.2" wide. All white seeds are very large and flat. 2-4 seeds per pod. Dry pods; shattering type. Intermediate productivity and late maturing when grown in 2014 at Heritage Farm.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.