Wondering what to plant in the garden this week? Beans!

There are hundreds of types of beans grown around the world, and this week Master Gardener Susie Everding introduces us to a few of her favourites.

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is a legume, the seed of flowering plants in the Fabaceae family. The choices are many. Susie describes them as snap or string beans, eaten whole (bean seed and pod), shelling beans, in which the seed is shelled and pod discarded, or dry beans which store well over the winter months.  Some can be eaten at any of the three stages.

Bush vs Pole Beans

Many of us are familiar with growing bush beans, which reach a modest size (less than two feet), produce pods and stop growing.  They do not usually require supports and mature more quickly than pole beans. They may take up a little more room and the beans tend to mature within a short few weeks, so be ready to eat lots and preserve the harvest!  Or better yet, sow rows at 2-3 week intervals for a crop all season long. 

Image credit: Antje Tauchmann on Pixabay

Pole (or runner) beans are a vining plant that can grow up to 12 feet tall, and therefore require a trellis or other vertical support system. They will continue to grow until frost and are a good choice if space is limited.

Image credit: Annquasarano on Pixabay

Some of Susie’s favourite beans include:

  • Pencil Pod: Heirloom bush bean dating to the early 1900’s. Produces a long yellow pod that can be eaten fresh, or black seeds saved for dry use. Seeds available at KASSI (link)
  • Royal Burgundy: a bush variety with dark purple pods that turn bright green after cooking. Fun to cook with children of all ages!
  • Cranberry /borlotti:  Usually grown for shelling (dried) and for their attractive mottled red and cream colouration. 
  • Cherokee Trail of Tears: An heirloom pole variety grown as snap beans (purple green pod) or dried (shiny black seed)
  • French filet types such as Oceanis (green)  or Velour (purple): These are slender elegant looking beans, with very tender tasty pods
  • Canada Wonder: heritage variety for drying, dating to pre-1873. Red colour with uses similar to kidney bean 
  • Black Turtle: another great bean for drying and often used in Latin American cuisine

She also grows soybeans (Glycine max) eating the immature seed pods as edamame, and Scarlet Runner beans (P. coccineus), primarily for their gorgeous red flower, which attracts pollinators to her yard.

Sowing Beans

Sowing is simple!  Once the soil temperature has reached 15-25C, find a sunny location and plant seeds 2 cm deep, 10 cm apart. Susie sows two rows in her one metre wide beds. 

Beans have a shallow root system and will therefore dry out quickly, so stay on top of your watering!  They need about 2.5 cm of water per week and as always, water at the base of the plant, not the leaves.  Mulch is a helpful means of retaining soil moisture and may also provide a barrier against pathogens that live in the soil.

Harvest Time

When the beans are ready to harvest, use two hands, grasping the plant above the point where the bean pod is attached. This will avoid damage to the fragile plant, allowing it to produce yet more beans!

Some beans are harvested for drying.  Allow the pods to dry on the plant; the pods will become brittle and will split along the sides, releasing the bean seeds.  To avoid losing these in the soil, place a tarp or sheet beneath the plants before you begin.

Seed Saving

Seed saving is a wonderfully satisfying way to ensure a stash of seeds for next summer. Because beans are self pollinated, they do not need to be isolated from other varieties by the long distances that are typical for some other species (e.g. squash).  Separating varieties by 3 -6 metres will suffice.  Locate  a few nice healthy looking bean pods from your best plants, mark them “do not pick” letting them continue to grow and ultimately dry out while you harvest the rest of the crop. Check out our previous post Seed Saving Made Simple, for more details.

Recipes

There are plenty of delicious recipes out there for bean eaters. Here are a couple to get you started:

Stir fried beans with pork and chilis – Far Eastern Cookery (Madhur Jaffrey)

Black bean and corn salad – Fine Cooking Summer Grilling Magazine 

References

Eliot Coleman. Four-season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from your Home Garden All Year Long. Chelsea Green Publishing.1999