General Info: Beans are members of the legume family. Legumes are “givers” – essential for good crop rotations. Their roots have a symbiotic relationship with microbes that help fix nitrogen. All varieties prefer a non-acid soil (pH 6.0-7.5) with plenty of organic matter.
Seeds: Come in a range of shapes and sizes from small roundish shell beans to large flat fava beans. Seeds store for 2 years (or longer in the fridge) and germinate in 7 -14 days.
Varieties: Beans fall into the following types, each of which has many different varieties:
- Fava or Broad – a cool loving legume that sets upward pointing pods with strong tasting beans
- Runner – a medium temperature, heavy cropping pole bean grown for its long crisp pods, mainly in the UK
- Bush, Snap or French – the commonest type of low-growing heat-loving bean with green, purple or yellow pods
- Dried Bean – similar to the bush bean but grown for the beans which are allowed to mature and dry in the pod
- Pole or Climbing– many different varieties that grow up to 10′ high with round or flat beans of different colors – heat-loving
- Lima or Butter – bush or pole varieties that have large flat soft buttery-tasting beans – heat-loving
- Soybean or Edamame – heat-loving Asian bean grown to eat cooked straight from the pod or as dried soybeans
Most beans do not like to be transplanted, so direct sowing is recommended. However, runner beans can be sown indoors, 1 seed per container in late April. Harden off and transplant in late May or early June after your last frost date.
- Favas – Direct seed in the garden or greenhouse from early spring (or even late winter) every 3 weeks until mid summer. Sow seeds 2″ deep, 8″ apart in double rows.
- Runners – Sow in late May and early June 2″ deep, 8″ apart against long poles or trellis. Runner beans will not flower in high heat but may set beans again in the fall.
- Other Beans – Plant after last frost date in full sun, 1″ deep, 4″-6″ apart depending on type.
Soil: Beans prefer well-drained non-acid fertile soil, high in humus; the plants are not fussy and do well in a crop rotation after root vegetables. Bean roots attract rhizobia bacteria that form nitrogen-rich nodules. Rhizobia occurs naturally in fertile organic soils but may be killed off by the use of chemicals. In that case, a rhizobia inoculant is recommended
Cultivation: Do not disturb the roots but keep weeded. Mulch the soil when the weather is warm. Use shade cloth or lattice over fava plants to reduce heat. Keep evenly watered during germination and flowering for the best crop. Support pole beans with a bean teepee of bamboo poles that cross each other in the middle rather than at the top. This makes picking easier.
Harvesting: Pick beans regularly and often as soon as pods or seeds just develop to the size you prefer. Leaving pods on the plant will halt further bean production.
The whole Fava pod can be picked and eaten when pods are 2″-3″. Harvest fava beans for shelling before the seeds have a black scar. If beans are over-mature, the outer skins may be removed before cooking.
Harvest most bush and pole beans at 4″-6″” long except runner bean which can grow to 10″. If pods are over-mature, shell the beans and use the fresh seeds.
Dried beans are left on the plant until the pods are dry and rattle.
Nutritional Value: Shelled Beans are very nutritious providing high levels of protein, vitamins and fiber. Soya beans are the only vegetables with complete protein – other beans require a grain supplement to be complete. Research shows that diets rich in beans lower obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Bush and pole bean pods are low in calories but high in a range of nutrients: vitamins K, C, A and Bs; manganese, potassium, calcium and iron; folic acid, tryptophan and omega 3.