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Fresh, jarred, canned, frozen or dried, beans are as easy to store as they are to grow. Sheena Adams shows us what to grow and when to sow.
Fresh, jarred, canned, frozen or dried, beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are as easy to store as they are to grow. The two main categories are snap beans and shelling beans. Snap beans are enjoyed whole and are mainly grown for their pods; shelling beans produce protein-packed seeds that can be eaten fresh or dried.
When purchasing beans you’ll notice the words “pole” or “bush” on the package. The names are quite descriptive: pole beans climb high and narrow, clinging to a support of some sort, so they use less horizontal space; bush beans grow lower to the ground and use more ground space, but they’re self-supporting. If you have a small garden or have trouble bending, choose pole beans. If you have a short garden season and need to harvest early, select bush beans, which tend to mature almost two weeks earlier than pole beans. For successive crops, grow both types and enjoy fresh beans early and later in the season. Both categories of beans have a range of types with their attendant nicknames: green bean, snap bean, stringless bean, wax bean (yellow and waxy in texture) and Romano (flat pods). In addition, the horticultural varieties include some exotics – those with purple or mottled pods.
Beans are some of the last seeds we sow in our gardens. They prefer warm soil that’s not too moist; if sown early, while the soil is still wet and cold, expect low and slow germination. Sow seeds two to three weeks after your expected last frost – certainly no earlier than mid-May. As a rule I sow late seeds, such as beans, parsnip and corn, after the May full moon passes. Prepare a bed of organically rich, well-drained garden soil, and direct-sow bean seeds according to package directions for spacing and depth. Beans do not transplant well, so don’t start them in pots and plan to plant them out when the soil warms up.
Germination is a critical time for beans. You don’t want to drench the soil, but it’s important that the seedlings don’t dry out. Spray the bed with a fine mist every second day, saturating the top 1 cm (1⁄2 in.) of the soil. Once your seedlings are 5 cm (2 in.) high, increase watering and apply a 2.5-cm (1-in.) mulch. This will prevent dehydration, discourage weeds and keep the soil from becoming too hot, which can cause summer blossom drop.
At planting time, mix a controlled-release organic granular fertilizer in the soil, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. Top up with a 4-2-3 organic liquid fertilizer, applied every two weeks. As the blossoms develop, add potassium and trace elements with a one-time application of liquid seaweed.
Companion planting can help beans repel insects and disease; it’s also said to improve the yield and quality of production. Plant beans with savory, cucumber, marigolds and corn; separate them from fennel, onion and garlic. Remember, once production starts, harvest regularly to encourage new pod set. A rule of thumb is to harvest every three days.
Here are 10 top beans (including a lima bean and a soybean) I’ve selected based on performance, quality and taste in my garden – and, of course, the reviews provided by my readers and customers at the nursery.
• Jade: Production begins at 53 days with 15-cm-long (6-in.), slender, deep-green stringless pods. These beans have been described as tender, gourmet and delicious. They’re heat tolerant and will provide a heavy first and second yield. Enjoy them fresh or freeze. • Venture Blue Lake: Ready in 55 days, this bean tends to produce heavily and all at once – perfect for those who prefer a single large harvest for pickling, jarring or freezing. Beans are 15 cm (6 in.) long, sweet, tender and dark green.
• Blue Lake Pole: This bean is similar to its cousin Venture Blue Lake, except it’s slower to produce (ready in 70 days) and it boasts a longer season and stronger bean flavour. • Purple Peacock: These purple, 12.5-cm-long (5-in.) beans are decorative on a fresh veggie plate, although they do turn green when cooked. It is a beautiful plant with its purple blooms and fruit. Ready in 70 days, this bean tolerates cooler seasons and sets abundantly. At the very least, plant a few to accent your dip trays and create conversation.
• Cannellini: This white Italian kidney bean commonly used in minestrone soup is ready in 80 days. It’s a mild-tasting bean that stays firm and whole when cooked, yet is tender. Shell when the pods are yellowish-green and 12.5 to 15 cm (5 to 6 in.) long; the large beans are green/white. These are large bush beans with high yields.
• Speckled Bay: If you want a bean to dry for winter soups and stews, grow this cream coloured bean with red speckles. It’s ready in 95 days and the open-pollinated seed can be saved and replanted year after year. French Filet Bean • Isar: This yellow gourmet bean is meant to be harvested when young and slender. It is ready extra early, producing pods 10 to 12.5 cm (4 to 5 in.) long, with excellent flavour, at 52 days. For a nice green type, grow Nickel Filet, a personal pick that’s available from West Coast Seeds.
• Romanette: Ready in 55 days, these 15-cm (6-in.) beans are extra thick at 2 cm (3⁄4 in.) and are considered stringless bush beans.
• Dragon Tongue: This Dutch wax bean has creamy pods striped with purple. This is a stringlesss bush bean with very tasty 17.5-cm (7-in.) pods. Eat fresh, freeze or leave on the vine to develop beans for drying.
• Sayamusume: This is a cultivar of soybean (Glycine max) meant to be eaten fresh rather than processed. Beans are mouth-watering and tender. Freeze extras for winter edamame snacks. Soybeans are ready in 90 to 100 days and produce high yields of sweet, buttery beans in lightly fuzzy pods. Boil or steam and serve with butter and salt for a nutritious finger food.
Allow the beans to mature on the vines until the pods are a straw-like colour and rustle like brittle paper. Cut the pods off the plant with scissors and place them on a cookie sheet. Allow them to dry in a warm, dry place for five days. Once the moisture has been reduced, split the pods and the beans should fall out easily. Dry the beans by placing in a paper bag for several weeks. Store dried beans in labelled jars in a dark cupboard.
Legumes are among the many types of plants that host symbiotic bacteria in nodules in their roots. These bacteria take nitrogen out of the air and turn it into a form that the plant can use. This boost of nitrogen allows the plants to grow more quickly. To jumpstart this process, purchase inoculant and apply to the soil according to package directions. To encourage these helpful bacteria to stay in the soil, you can cut spent bean plants off at ground level and dig their roots into the soil to decompose in place. Inoculants are especially useful for soils with low organic content or low pH. If your beans don’t produce well, have yellow leaves and lack strong stems, these are clues you should apply an inoculant.
One of the world’s oldest cultivated foods, broad beans (Vicia faba) are also known as fava, horse, English or cattle beans. They are a wonderful source of protein. Although they are commonly grown as cattle feed, there are a few cultivars selected and enjoyed by gardeners and gourmet foodies. This is the only type of bean that thrives in cool damp weather. In coastal gardens they can be sown in fall; in other areas they can be planted from February through May. Before planting, treat with a bean inoculant, and be sure to plant in compost-enriched soil. Sow seeds 7.5 cm (3 in.) deep and 15 cm (6 in.) apart, leaving 30 cm (12 in.) between rows. These plants can grow to as much as 2 m (6 ft.) high, so provide a tall support system. Allow three to four, even as much as five months for broad beans to mature. You’ll know they’re ready when the pods droop from the weight of the seeds. Picked when young, the pods are tender and can be enjoyed whole, steamed or boiled. Mature beans are shelled and the 2.5-cm (1-in.) bean seeds enjoyed in soups, meat pies or simply steamed with butter. You can also dry the bean seeds for winter use. Broad beans to cultivate and enjoy include Windsor and Sweet Lorane.
Sweet Lorane fava beans also make an excellent winter cover crop that helps break up compacted soil and fixes nitrogen. Tilled into the soil before planting time, it adds organic matter, creating better soil structure. Cover crops also prevent weeds from taking root during winter. After hauling out all your summer harvest, weed your beds thoroughly. Then dig organic matter, such as leaf mould, manures, seaweed or compost, into the soil. This is also the time to add glacial rock dust to supplement trace elements and minerals. Rake the beds in preparation for broadcasting the seed at about 500 g (1 lb.) for 10 sq. m (100 sq. ft.). On the coast you can plant the cover crop until mid-October or sow in February. In colder areas, wait until March or April. The cover crop will grow all on its own, with no care, during cool weather. Three weeks before planting time, till it into the soil.