Have you planted beans yet in your garden? I haven’t and am pushing myself out the door this afternoon to plant before it’s too late.
Pole-type beans need about eight weeks to mature, although you can pick them sooner.
Bush beans are ready with their first tender crop in as little as six weeks. Southerners don’t have to worry about time pressures, but I do in my Zone 4b garden with a growing season of about 20 weeks.
Blue Lake pole beans are juicy, meaty and packed with flavor; that's why gardeners and farmers have grown them since the middle 1800's.
Beans survive and thrive in heat, drought and flood. Only a freeze is will end their production. When I lived on the Texas Gulf, south of Houston in a tropical climate, I planted beans first in late March and again crop in late August, avoiding the withering heat of the summer months.
An advantage of including any bean in gardens is the extra nitrogen plant roots produce and share with surrounding heavy feeders like cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. Rhizobia bacteria forms on bean roots that process nitrogen from the air. Don’t add manure or nitrogen fertilizer to the soil. You’ll end up with vines that climb to the heavens or gigantic bushes and no beans! By the way, tall tomato cages make great trellises for pole beans while feeding tomatoes in the cage.
My favorite pole bean for fresh eating and freezing is Kentucky Wonder, which starts producing About 65 days after seeds sprout. Pods are about 10 inches long and grow in clusters for easy picking. They’re sweet, with no fibers and freeze well. The truth be told, many in my garden don’t make it inside, because I eat them raw as I pick. Once vines or bushes start producing, pick every day so that plants produce more beans.
Another pole bean favorite is Chinese Red Noodle. Ready to pick in about 10 weeks, these extra long (up to 22 inches), thin pods are an unusual garnet red color. These sweet, tender beans lose their red color when cooked, but will retain it if stir-fried or sautéed. They’re good deep-fried and sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds.
Chinese Red Noodle beans grow up to two-feet long and have a nutty flavor. It was brought to this country by Chinese immigrants who worked building the railroads in the 1800's.
Triumph de Farcy and Dragon’s Tongue are two bush beans I plant every year. Triumph, a French heirloom, is a filet type that is ready to pick in seven weeks. They are long, thin, crunchy and juicy. Beans steam in only a few minutes, but most get eaten by me raw. Steaming a bean whole retains all its nutrients; cut beans lose up to 50 percent of their protein, vitamins and antioxidants. Plant any bush bean on 2-inch centers (2 inches apart in all directions) for the biggest crops. Plants support each other and smother sprouting weeds.
Not only are Dragon's Tongue beans gorgeous, they are also packed with flavor. Bushes are highly productive. Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
My other favorite, Dragon’s Tongue, is also an heirloom and is fast to produce, about eight weeks. These gorgeous long, flat pods are a creamy yellow and artistically streaked with vivid purple. Steam them to retain their color; if boiled, the streaks turn a fuzzy gray or disappear.
Tell me about your favorite beans. I’m always looking for something new to grow in my vegetable garden.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
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Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.