Growing Beans at Home
In our climate, even in the winter frozen uplands and mountainous regions of the north, it is a simple matter, with rotational planting, to produce succulent crops of highly nutritious beans, all year round and yes, I do mean all year round.
Take this time of year for example: You should still be harvesting pole beans, runner beans, bush beans, fresh green beans, dried on the plant beans and be sowing lots and lots of broad beans – the latter need cool, preferably cold and don't mind being snowed on in the least – for very early spring crops of tiny whole pods, followed by larger pods stuffed with gourmet 'baby' broad beans, followed, in turn, by what can be astonishingly massive pods, 12inches – 15 inches in length is perfectly 'normal', bursting with large and tasty broad beans and which, if left to dry on the plants, will supply you with wonderful, very versatile, dried beans (often sold as 'fava beans') to use in a myriad of inventive ways.
There are bean varieties for every season of the year: Some like it hot, some like it cold and others relish the 'in-betweens' of spring and autumn.
Beans, all varieties, are natural born sun lovers although, having made this observation, I have found that they do enjoy a decent measure of afternoon shade during the height of summer.
They are also, as are many other highly productive vegetables, very hungry customers so their soil conditions need to be as rich as possible: The old maxim 'You only get out what you put in' could have been – maybe it was – thought up especially for beans. Hungry bean plants do not have enough energy to grow very much at all and, if they manage to survive, do not produce anything to write home about. Well-nourished bean plants, on the other hand, reliably produce far more beans than can be eaten fresh by a family comprising of at least 4, sometimes even 6, bean loving individuals and this, I promise, is not an exaggeration. If your beans do not crop to excess, it is not the fault of the bean plants but the fault of the grower.
Soil: Unlike many other vegetables, beans are very shallow rooted. This means that no deep digging is necessary when preparing planting areas as manure/compost need only be in the top 2 inches of ground. This, in turn, makes it easy to provide them with all of the nutrients they need and also keeps it easy to give them a top up feed now and then throughout their growing/ producing period. The planting location must be well drained: This helps prevent mildew/fungal diseases, associated with waterlogging, from taking hold.
Seed sowing: It is not necessary to soak bean seed prior to sowing but they must be kept well-watered at all times. Climbing beans should be sown 1 inch deep and 4 – 6 inches apart. Bush beans 1 inch deep and 3 – 4 inches apart. Beans, being fixers of nitrogen in the soil, are good companions for all other plants. Germination takes 7 – 14 days. Do not be tempted to sow beans closer than recommended: The plants need air circulation to keep them healthy. Beans are best sown in the spot in which they are to grow, this being directly in the soil or in suitable pots and containers. If you try transplanting them, a high percentage will probably die off as they dislike being disturbed.
Time to sow: Broad beans should be sown from mid-October to Mid-December throughout the country.
All other types of beans can be sown as soon as temperatures begin to rise in early spring throughout the coastal and plains areas and a little later at cooler, higher altitudes.
Sowing a few beans every 2 – 3 weeks on until the end of July, should provide a steady supply of fresh beans right through until winter comes with, if in a sheltered spot, crops continuing for a while even then.
The only exception to this is asparagus beans which, being heat lovers, should not be sown until early May.
Types of beans
Green beans: There are numerous varieties of what are generally referred to as 'green beans' or 'snap beans'. These can be in bush form, medium climbers to tall and extremely tall climbers. Climbing beans are sometimes sold as 'Pole beans' which, quite simply, means that they need poles or something else to climb up. ‘Green beans’ although there are purple, yellow, pink and green speckled and other interesting color combinations as well, are at their most delectable when pods are slightly immature. Leaving them to grow to full size often results in rather tough pods – these can take ages to cook – with, unless the variety is 'string-less', with a fibrous 'string' whose job it is to prevent the pod from bursting as the beans inside ripen and fatten and which, being tough, needs to be peeled off, from each side of the pod, before the bean pods are cooked. A fiddly job that is best avoided by harvesting green beans before they reach maturity if, that is, you want to eat them fresh. If they are being left to develop fully fledged beans for cooking or for drying, then you can leave the pods on the plants if you like. Scarlet runner beans have attractive, brilliant red flowers, Painted lady has bi-colored pink and white ones, and both are perfectly at home in the flower garden. Purple podded beans, these look beautiful hanging in bunches on the plants, turn green when cooked which, in my humble opinion, is a shame!
Butter beans: Also known as 'Lima beans', can be bush varieties, medium or tall and, unlike green beans, mostly (not always) do not have tendrils with which to climb/attach themselves to whatever has been provided for them to climb up. It is therefore necessary, to secure the plants to strong supports by means of soft string of some kind: The stems are brittle and snap easily so please handle with care and provide protection from wind. These are not grown for their pods but for their yummy beans which are eaten fresh or used when dried.
Beans for shelling and/or drying: In addition to butter beans/Lima beans, there are many other varieties of bean, bush and climbing, which are cultivated for their delicious beans rather than for their pods. Navy beans, black beans, black-eyed beans, soybeans, borlotti beans, pinto beans, haricot beans, mung beans, turtle beans, kidney beans and orca beans are just a few of the most popular beans for drying to be found.
Snake beans: Also called asparagus beans and yard long beans, these are a hot weather 'must grow' climbing bean. The plants can reach an incredible 12 feet and more in height and, luckily, are perfectly at home if grow adjacent to a tree which they can climb up and ramble around in. Claimed to have an asparagus like taste – personally I think they taste exactly like the very mouthwateringly tender beans they are.
* In the absence of a wide range of bean seeds being sold in our seed stores, I have resorted, quite often, to buying dried beans being sold for edible purposes in the bazaars. Germination has been good, resultant plants healthy and crops bountiful.