Beans – Easy to Grow, Good for the Heart!

Red beans, black beans, Lima beans, Garbanzo beans (reminds me of Dr. Seuss), boy, do we have beans!  Healthy beans, especially black beans and kidneys.  Add them to soup, chili, or try my recipe for black beans, best served with chicken and yellow rice.  And be prepared to try a variety of recipes, because not only are these good for you, they’re probably one of the easiest plants to grow.  Top of my list in importance.

While growing, you can tell them apart by their blossoms and bush formation.  Black beans have beautiful purple blossoms. 

Kidney beans have white.

Limas also have white flowers, but their growth habit is more bush — less vine — fanning out from the ground in a nice stable “triangle” of sorts.  No need to stake or trellis Lima beans, but a must for kidney and black beans.

Garbanzo beans are wholly different.  They have petite flowers and large oval-shaped pods (the others are long, traditional style pods).  Garbanzo leaves also form small ovals, while the others tend toward the heart-shaped.

Harvesting beans is simple, performed when the pods turn color from green to tan – lavender in the case of black beans.  Coincidence their blossoms are purple?  Normally I would pluck ready pods from the bush, encouraging more growth, but in the case of my kidney beans, I pulled the entire plant from the ground.  They hit a dry patch in the watering schedule (corn was too tall for my sprinkler to reach over). 

Next up, the business of shelling.   When done in batches it’s an easy task, best performed poolside with a glass of ice-cold rosemary lemonade while watching the kids swim.  I’m an avid multi-tasker.  You can allow them to dry in pod (even while still on plant), or shell them at once.  Just pinch the ends, split open the pod, and remove the beans.

Once shelled, set the beans on a plate or shallow dish and allow to dry completely before closing in an air-tight container for storage.  If you don’t give them ample time to dry out, they will become moldy and icky.  Gross, really.  And totally ruined. 

We learned this the hard way last fall.  Very sad day when your entire batch of black beans is lost.   So be sure to let them dry.   Give them a few days and you’ll see them shrink and “seal” themselves with a nice hard coating for dry storage.

Limas are a different story.  For long-term storage, you’ll need to freeze them.  To do this, you have to blanch them first.  Toss them into a pot of boiling water for about two minutes (a minute if they’re small) then immediately submerse them in a bowl of ice water.  After about a minute or so, remove them from the water, pat dry (or set between paper towels) and pop them into a freezer container.  Finito!

Now you have beans to last you through next season’s harvest.  Provided you planted enough.  That calculation is a trick in itself!

To give you an idea, I planted one row of each bean, two plants wide, about 40 feet long.  While it sounds like a lot, it’ll probably yield about 20-30 servings of beans.  I’m approximating, mind you, but it’s within the ball park.  But since my family loves beans, come fall, I already have plans to expand.  Chili, soup, you name it, they’ll eat it!

P.S.  Don’t forget that beans contain lectin phytohaemagglutinin.   It’s a toxic compound, most concentrated in the kidney bean.  When eaten raw, soaked for an insufficient amount of time, or even cooked for long hours on too low a heat setting, it can cause some bad things to happen to your body, ie. stomach pains, cramps — perhaps even more severe abdominal issues — so beware and be safe!