Beans are one of the really healthy veggies, containing vitamins A, B and C, calcium, phosphorous, iron, lots of fiber, and they have only 31 calories per cup! Not only that but amino acids and folic acid are also released as we digest them, helping in the development of red blood cells, the nervous system and digestion. You didn’t know they were this good for you, did you?
There are three types of beans: the snap types (the green and yellow varieties we all grow); green shelling beans (like broad beans); and the dry shell varieties (like the kidney types). Most popular, of course, are the snap types, both bush and pole.
Beans, by the way, are not hybrids. They are produced as open-pollinated crops in Northwestern USA. All beans are legumes, like peas, and fix nitrogen in the soil as they grow, making them an important nutrient crop.
Now that beans have earned the recognition they deserve, we need to be a little more creative in how we grow them. They make wonderful container plants in limited space gardens, but be innovative. You need a pot the size of a traditional half barrel. Make an eight foot teepee with three to five bamboo canes, plant the seeds at the base of the canes and watch the pole beans grow. For a much more beautiful effect, alternate your favourite flavourful varieties with some beautiful red flowered ‘Scarlet Runner’ beans. You might also plant some bush types around the base, blending your favourite green bush, yellow wax and the purple ‘Royal Burgundy’. You can have it all – flavour, variety, a longer harvest period and lots of colour!
Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but the weather needs to be good and warm before they are planted. Consistent night temperatures of 55-60˚F (13-16˚C) are the minimum for beans to grow instead of rotting. Gently push the seed about 1½ inches (2-3cm) into the soil and space bush beans about 3-4 inches (8-10cm) apart. You don’t need a lot of plants to get a great crop, usually a quarter or half a packet will do. Repeated plantings every two or three weeks will give you continuous cropping. I sow my last crop about mid-July and enjoy beans well into October.
If summer drought becomes a problem, beans are a smart crop because all they need is one inch of water per week. All watering should be done early in the day to keep the foliage dry at night. Don’t harvest or work around beans when it’s wet for fear of spreading a fungus-like rust. Beans are also light feeders. If you have enriched the soil with well-rotted manures and quality compost, they will require little else.
It’s best to harvest snap beans when the pods are just starting to plump up and are four to five inches long. Lima beans should be picked when the pods are really puffy but before the seeds yellow. Be careful when harvesting beans to cut or pick the pods off without destroying the main stems. If you stop harvesting, most beans will stop producing, so keep picking!
Bean varieties have really expanded. It might be fun to try a few new ones. ‘Dolicho Del Metro’, otherwise know as ‘The Yard Long Bean’, is an interesting subtropical that produces delicious 18 to 24 inch pods. They are stringless, sweet, crisp and ideal for your stir fry dishes. ‘Royal Burgundy’ has five inch purple pods that look and taste wonderful in salads. After cooking for two minutes, they turn green with a purple tinge. Their flowers are also purple. ‘Borlotto’ is a striking red and white flowering variety with delicious ten inch (25cm) pods. It’s a golden oldie heritage pole bean from the 19th century. ‘Purple Peacock’ is another beauty with deep purple pods and light purple flowers. The added bonus is its ability to handle more cold than other varieties, becoming one of the earliest to enjoy in our garden. Burpee’s ‘Green ‘n Gold’ beans produce a blend of beautiful bush beans that really colour up the plant.
So grow some beans and get healthy, enjoy great flavours and add lots of colour both in your cooking and on the vine.