With the New Year fast approaching it’s time already to think about next year’s garden. This means time to think about beans. My garden this next time will be simple, because two year’s production is setting on the shelves now and I can focus on what I like the most. Tomatoes, summer squash and okra will certainly have their place, but at least half my space will go to beans.
In spite of having had a pretty good bean crop this past summer, I wound up short of anything except green beans, so when the bus I was on passed a sign for “New Crop Pinto Beans” outside of Lucerne, Colorado, I marked down the name Northern Feed & Bean Company and called them up when i got home. I got twenty pounds of pintos for just over half the cost of the next best deal I could find and there’s a noticeable difference in taste and texture between the beans from Northern Seed & Bean and the dry beans I got at Walmart or Kroger. That’s still the best way to get beans, buy them from the producer. Beans are cheap, good food.
In the garden I focus on specialty beans, either too expensive in the grocery or impossible to find. Last year I grew two kinds of green beans, a green shell bean, three kinds of lima beans, an Asian long bean, and fava beans. Everything produced at least enough for a few fresh meals, except for the fava beans. Out of all that experimentation I hope to have saved enough seed to grow more of the best choices in the coming year.
For my Indiana garden, the best pole green has been Blue Lake, which thrives here and produces throughout the summer. Kentucky Wonder does the opposite, always fails, so I don’t even try it any more. Provider is a good bush green bean for my local climate but none of the Italian varieties of bush beans have ever produced more than a handful of pods. Gardening is about finding something that grows well where you live, and once you find that crop, keep growing it. Every Walmart in the country sells the same assortment of vegetable seeds and at least half won’t grow where you live, no matter where you are.
None of those green beans are good as fresh green shell beans, which is my favorite kind of bean, so last year I tried four different types, hoping to find one that prospers here. Fordhook limas did almost nothing, but a row of white butterbeans I planted from a pound of dry food grade beans produced a reasonable amount of delicious green limas, and the tiny packet of Christmas limas eventually caught up to them. I saved seed from the Christmas limas and will expand the patch next summer. You don’t get much seed for $5 when you buy a packet of large beans, and I’ve gotten some very poor quality malformed beans that way. Food grade beans seem to grow just as well or better. I tried one heirloom bean called tiger’s eye beans, edible as green pod or shell or dry beans, and got a good yield early in the summer before rust took the leaves off the vines. I saved a couple hundred seeds for replanting because the flavor rivals that of limas and it has a chance of being productive early in the growing season.
Want to save a little money on seed and plant all the limas you have room for? Buy a package of food grade dry butterbeans. The beans are often better quality than the beans in seed packets. They outproduced the Fordhooks I bought in Walmart’s Lawn and Garden department.
Fava beans from a pound of un-blanched dry food grade favas grew into beautiful late season plants by the end of November but produced nothing. The plants bloomed but at that season of the year nothing is around to pollinate them. Probably favas are only good for ground cover here, in spring the hot weather ruins them so even though I will plant them again, early, I will plan on turning them under. If you plant food grade favas instead of the incredibly expensive seed packet beans, be sure to get unblanched beans. Blanched favas are scalded and peeled.
The other oddball bean I tried is actually a crowder pea. The Asian long bean is edible at all three stages of growth, but is most commonly picked at the green pod stage. Pods can approach three feet in length so you don’t need many for a meal. These plants did not start making vines until the August heat set in and the first pods set on in September. That’s the best I’ve done with them here and I will not plant them again. In the Ozarks, with hotter summers to work with, I could pick long beans from July to October, but not here.
If you live below the Mason Dixon line click here to try Yard Long Beans, a form of black-eyed pea.