Beans: Get Your Garden On

When my brothers and I were kids our parents used to tell us we were “full of Beans!” when we were making mischief.  Well there must have been some mischief going on when I purchased seeds this year because I cannot believe how many different kinds of beans I bought.  The whole thing sort of took on a life of its own and now the garden is draped and carpeted with 6 different varieties of beans!  You have to understand…my vegetable garden is tiny by most standards.  It’s plenty of room to provide us with constant fresh produce but I’m hardly an Iowa farmstead or even an Urban Farm.

Pole Beans
Pole Beans

I think it all started when I made the decision to integrate edibles throughout my ornamental plantings.  A harsh winter and several plant losses gave me plenty of opportunity to literally put my money where my mouth is.  So now we’ve got favas beneath the Katsura trees, corn in the front yard and beans…well they’re everywhere!  Most are pole varieties so I just keep building bamboo structures (that’s another post – coming soon!)

Here’s my bill of beans:

'Golden Sunshine' runner bean
‘Golden Sunshine’ runner bean

Golden Sunshine’ runner bean:  This is a beautiful, yellow-leafed runner bean with brilliant red-orange flowers.  I harvest my runners as a shell bean.  With their hot pink and black speckles this has GOT to be the bean Jack fell for.  And with this one’s golden foliage, maybe I’ll get lucky and get a goose that will lay me a gold egg!

‘Royal Burgundy’ bush bean:  Sturdy short plants (about 24″) are self-supporting and just ready to burst into beautiful bloom.  I think the flowers will be purple and I know the beans that follow are a gorgeous burgandy red.  An attractive addition in the vegetable garden where they paint a pretty picture with my purple podded peas.

Purple bean & peas
Purple bean & peas

Borlotto lingua di Fuoco pole bean:  This italian shell bean is knock-out gorgeous.  Not yet, right now it just looks like a regular ‘ole beany bean.  But I can’t wait for the beans to show; creamy ivory pods are streaked with bright red…thus the translation “tongues of fire.”  Reputedly a delicious fresh shell bean – I’m looking forward to a tasty and beautiful crop!

‘Lazy Housewife’ horticultural bean:  Who could resist that name!  These beans may be harvested for string beans or allowed to fill out their pods and shelled for a tender “horticultural” bean along the lines of a French flageolet – delicious  braised.  Apparently the curious, and slightly rude name derives from the fact that these beans are ostensibly “string-less” a boon for the indolent cook.

Tricolor Pole Beans:  This is a blend of ‘Blue Lake’, Yellow Pole Wax, and ‘Purple Peacock’ pole beans.  I always buy this blend from Renee’s Garden, a long-time favorite seed source.  Renee’s is known for creating interesting mixes and packaging them so those of us who have limited space can still have a nice variety without buying more than we can plant.  This colorful mix of vigorous climbers makes a tower of lush vines; the yellow and purple pods in particular are easy to pick among all the foliage.

Black Beans:  This is Latin America’s favorite bean.  Also known as turtle beans, these small, glossy black beans grow on semi-vining, bushy plants and require a warm growing season.  I got these seeds in an online seed swap from a gardener in the South.  Given our warm weather early in the season this year I had high hopes.  Unfortunately they’ve been a no-show even in the warm soil.  Oh well, maybe I’ll just cook and eat the rest of the package.

Fava Beans
Fava Beans

‘Violetta’ & ‘Broad Windsor’ Fava Beans:  Oh don’t worry.  I’m not going to go off on a fava bean tangent…even though they are my favorite vegetable…and a beautiful plant…and tremendously hardy and easy to grow…and did I mention delicious?!  Just go here or here to read about this lovely legume that is a staple in my garden year after year.

Here are some bean harvesting tips from Growing Your Own Vegetables, my latest book:

Once your bush green beans start, they will bear for 4 to 5 weeks if given regular water and kept thoroughly picked.  Pole beans flower and set pods from the bottom of the plant up and will continue to do so as long as the plants are well-picked until the first frost.  Handle the vines gently when picking to avoid damaging the plants.

Snap beans are picked and eaten, pod and all, before their seeds have begun to mature… Snap beans are the most tender if they are picked before the seeds have begun to swell their pods.  Some people prefer to pick them quite young and slender, in the manner of the French haricots vert.  Romano beans are a European variety with large, flat, meaty pods and a distinctive flavor.

Shell beans are grown specifically for their large seeds, which are removed from the pods and either prepared fresh as green shell beans or allowed to dry and shelled for long-term storage.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of garden beans.  There’s pinto beans, kidney & cannelli beans, pigeon peas, Southern beans, soybeans, yardlong beans and oh-so-many more.

Several years ago on an idyllic California roadtrip, my husband and I stumbled upon Phipps Country Store in Pescadero.  The dilapidated buildings, strange menagerie of caged birds and animals both domestic and exotic and the mossy overgrown greenhouse created a sort of spooky atmosphere.  Of course we were the only ones there and it was October.  We wandered the grounds, admired the piles of impressive pumpkins and picked through the greenhouse for horticultural treasures.  But the beans were the highlight!  Bin after bin after bin of dried beans in almost every color imaginable!  It was such a temptation – I had to buy 10 different varieties simply for their beauty alone.  Stern signs everywhere cautioned “keep children out of the beans!”  It was hard to resist just sifting them all through your fingers and collecting one of each type.  Think of the great crafts you could do!

Anyway, (…this has gone on quite long, thank you very much)  Turns out Phipps Country Store is known throughout the country for their extensive bean collection.  Discriminating gardeners and savvy cooks can order online from a huge list.  But if you’re ever in Pescadero, California you gotta stop by.  Maybe you can find out the story behind the quirky zoo.

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3 Responses to “Beans: Get Your Garden On”

  1. Knittlebits July 12, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    The bean pictures are beautiful but I’m loving the edging! Does pic 3 have tumbled stone or are those bricks?

  2. admin July 12, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    Those are old bricks that I must have moved a dozen times in the garden. Right now they’re just (very precariously) stacked atop a short wall in the garden. Actually it’s handy having a stack of loose bricks at hand – I use them to pound a stake in, weight down the plastic on my coldframe or to outline a new planting area.

  3. Knittlebits July 13, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    We live in the Rocky Mountains and have granite rocks & boulders all around. I edge with them often but really like the look of those bricks. The moss on top is perfection against the bean green. I’m going to have to haunt the local Habitat ReStore and find some!