Experiences with an Heirloom Pole Snap Bean

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

I spent 5 years in the Seychelles Islands, an Indian Ocean Island nation, as a Peace Corps volunteer and an agricultural school teacher. While there, we grew a very prolific pole snap bean from South Africa called ‘Witsa’. This bean was great tasting, high yielding and long lived. It was a strong climber and trellised very easily.

After coming back to the US, I could not find this bean variety in any seed catalogs. While teaching Master Gardeners about vegetables, I challenged them to find me some ‘Witsa’ beans and one of the students brought some seeds back from South Africa. Ever since I have been growing ‘Witsa’ in my home garden and have found it to be well adapted to my Eastern Shore Maryland location.

Most pole snap beans such as Kentucky Wonder or Kentucky Blue do no hold up well in the heat of summer. I have found ‘Witsa’ to be much more heat tolerant. Even though it will slow down in July heat, as it cools down in August, it reflowers and produces high yields into September.

I have also tried a new All American Selection pole snap bean ironically named ‘Seychelles’ https://all-americaselections.org/product/bean-pole-seychelles/ and have found ‘Witsa’ to be higher yielding and more heat tolerant.


This heirloom bean (Witsa) is a South African bean developed in 1951 from a cross between Green Savage and St. Louis Perfection. It is a very long, tender podded, stringless bean with good disease resistance and outstanding productivity. It is also very tender with low fiber content.

Information on its history can be found here in a PDF image of an old South African market bulletin from June 1966: https://journals.co.za/doi/pdf/10.10520/AJA00148490_3532

Witsa bean pods

Image from http://onesunnyacre.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-real-witsa-bean.html

As The pods average 8 inches long, with 9-10 seeds per pod. They remain tender even as the seeds fill out in the pod. The plants are vigorous climbers, and the blooms are white. It is one of the most productive beans pole snap beans I have grown. It has an initial large flush around 65 days from planting, the vines remain disease-free and healthy, and it gave me a second large flush in August through September. Off 16 poles, I harvested about 20 bushels of beans.

Unfortunately, most of the beans being sold out there as Witsa are not Witsa (a flat podded type is being sold a Witsa but it is not the original Witsa). From the blog http://onesunnyacre.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-real-witsa-bean.html they state “Adding to the confusion is that most are listed as a Runner bean, but this is a Common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. This may be a cultural difference by country in which they mean a Runner bean to be a Pole bean, not P. coccineus as we know a Runner bean to be.”

The dry pods are easy to shell once allowed to dry if saving seed. I have been saving seed and hope to have some to sell in the future. You will not be disappointed with this heirloom pole snap bean.

Much of the information in this article came from http://onesunnyacre.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-real-witsa-bean.html.

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