Bean beans, that magical fruit…
… but enough fart jokes.
There are many reasons that people grow certain crops in their personal gardens here in the United States. To be honest with ourselves, most backyard gardens are about the convenience of growing something you enjoy eating during the gardening season.
With Covid hitting, hobby gardening (or backyard gardening) EXPLODED… a constricting of the food supply chain really freaked people out and many raced out to try to supplement some favorite items with a quick garden. Seed companies ran out or could barely keep up with shipping demands from the sheer volume of orders… people started harvesting seeds from store-bought produce… people bought pre-fab garden boxes (or made them) in droves… ALL GOOD THINGS! But there is a dark side to this boom unfortunately…
All you need to do to see proof of how much the pandemic pushed gardening over the top, is to go to your local big box home store. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen so many plants at a garden center… or, since the pandemic is now winding down, restrictions are lifted and people are vaccinated and eager to travel again…
..how many plants are being left to die.
My homesteader heart just breaks every time I see how many seedlings are going to just end up in the open top behind the store.
A true homesteader looks beyond the convenience of having a tomato in your yard versus driving to the store and sees a year, two, TEN (!!!) down the road with their crops.
Can I enjoy it fresh?
Can I preserve it?
Will it serve more than one purpose or end in our kitchen?
Take the tomato. Tomatoes are extremely diverse in their uses… hundreds of recipes and when canned properly, years of shelf life. Tomatoes are a great example of a crop worth growing well and consistently.
Beans, I would argue, might beat them out, though.
As one of the longest cultivated crops in history, beans have been documented as being grown and used in Thailand as early as 7th millennium BCE (!!!) and predates their earliest pottery. As an important ancient source of protein, this crop in it’s natural state was gathered in the Middle East, collected on the gentle, lower portions of the Himalayas, entombed with royalty in Eqypt and even finds it’s way onto the pages of Homer with a casual mention of them with chickpeas. (References in THIS WIKI link along with tons of bean knowledge for my veggie nerds out there!)
The earliest known cultivated beans in the Americas, were found in Peru in a cave which held a seed store ranging from common beans (aka green beans) and one commonly now known as the Scarlet Runner Bean all the way to an acient version of habanero and winter quash. The store was dated to the Second Millenium BCE.
Beans travelled extensively across the oceans. As most cultivars here in the United States, their history is rich and steeped in both the thrill of exploration and discovery but also colonialism and conquest. Yes, even the history of our favorite veggies has blood on it. Honoring our food’s roots is important, as are maintaining heritage and heirloom cultivars. I try to grow as many heirloom beans as possible.
THIS is an amazing article that goes into a little history of beans from the aspect of cultivating, appropriating and renaming to re-introduce the cultivars back as ‘settler’s own variety’. Renaming happens all the time in the gardening world, but most of us in modern times don’t really know where things started. Gaining this knowledge helps us to understand how conquest and discovery can strip origin stories away and helps bring our ancestors impact out of the shadows. Knowledge, friends, is power. As the author states, we can honor history by sharing the food and the stories, just as was originally intended.
I LOVE a good, snappy green bean, but I CRAVE to have our own dried beans on hand more. Why? While you can pickle, can and freeze green beans when fresh, I feel the shelf life (and possibilities) are quite limited for them versus dried beans.
Growing beans is fairly simple and pretty much a no brainer, in my opinion. A good amount of first time gardeners, however, simply think of growing beans meaning to grow for snap (or fresh) green beans. And while that is a perfectly fine reason to grow them, DBF’s reasoning is more intentional:
#1 – the growing bean plant offers soil regenerative properties when grown in a rotational plan. These plants push nitrogen into the ground, y’all! A very important nutrient that is generally depleted by other veggies, this amazing plant produces it at the root and helps restore the soil health naturally.
#2 – it is a great companion plant for several other crops. Yeah yeah, I know I said that growing corn isn’t easy, but one great way to grow a small crop of corn is to use the “Three Sister’s Method” which you can read about HERE. Interesting fact:
Or you can check out more about companion planting HERE. Generally, beans are great companions for: cabbage family (including broccoli and cauliflower), carrot, celery, chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, pea, potatoes, radish, strawberry.
#3 – Dried beans can be stored… basically for a ridiculous amount of time. While the USDA states they are best within 1-2 years, using proper storage and rehydration techniques, you can store and use beans upwards of 15-20+ years! THAT is a crop that has worth, friends! I came across THIS article recently and look forward to trying a few new methods of rehydration and storage in the coming years.
How to grow beans from seed:
- First you need to determine your variety: bush or pole. Bush type beans generally do not need supports, but put out all their pods at the same time, so a great ONE and DONE crop (and is what is generally used in monocultural farming practices for it’s convenience of harvest…aka, why it’s so easy to find black beans or pinto or navy beans in the dried sections of the grocery store versus heritage or heirloom varieties which can tend to be pole varietals.) Pole type beans do require supports (trellises or teepees…) and put out pods as they grow vertically, causing you to harvest continually, BUT generally allows you to get slightly more yield per plant. I like pole varieties as they allow me to choose – do I want green beans tonight or will I let these new pods dry?
- Starting beans is easy peasy: you can soak the dried beans (seed beans) overnight to help speed up germination, OR just pop them into the ground. Planting will depend on the variety you have chosen: bush are more usually planted in rows spaced 12 inches apart with the seed beans 4-6 inches from each other, pole varieties are spaced the same, but planted based on the trellising/support system you have. We utilize teepees and plant around each leg, in a line between legs and a few in the middle up the central support that we add.
- Once germinated, you water and feed with a good general fertilizer or cooled compost (but due to their nitrogen production, they require much less feeding than other plants) every few weeks. With pole varieties, you will need to train them up the supports, but once they start, they are pretty self-sufficient in their climbing!
- Harvesting will depend on how you like your beans: Snap? get them when they are green and firm and full. Dried? Let them grow and as hard as it is to think this is appropriate, wither on the plant once the plant has lived its full life.
- Preserving methods are quite varied, and generally based on the form you harvested them in.
- You can blanch and freeze fresh green beans, simply sealing them in a freezer bag if you plan on eating them within a month or so. Or use a vacuum seal to have them last a longer in their green form. Typically, frozen veggies (untreated) begin to break down due to the moisture that is inside their ‘green’ forms. Think about it: water freezes and expands. It does the same thing whether inside a veggie or in an ice cube tray, friends. That water will eventually break down the structural integrity of your frozen ‘fresh’ veggie. Green Beans are best eaten quickly, even if blanched and frozen. It’s why if you thaw old frozen beans, they are mushy. Not fun. Understanding the science however should help you understand that frozen fresh beans (again, untreated with preservatives… most items in the store frozen food section have some sort of preservative) are amazing, but need to not forgotten about!
- You can pickle or water can green beans too… I love a good pickled green bean. I prefer them as a quick pickle (to be used and eaten from the fridge quickly… within 30 days) because again, their structure does tend to break down and get mushy if left stored too long. I don’t prefer my green beans like that, but many people do! If you like softer green beans (aka preferred canned over fresh) then water canning is a great way to get to that same texture that you like!
- With dried beans, I feel like the preservation options get blown WAY open. You can leave them dry and store in cool, dry place in an airtight container for YEARS and they can be rehydrated for whatever you are planning on making… OR you can cook them into whatever form you want (refried beans, chili, soup, stew) and water bath/pressure can them, or you can water bath can them just in water in a ball jar and have you own canned beans at your disposal that do not need rehydration.
Personally, learning about growing beans for the purposes of storing as dry beans changed the game for me. I now grow dried beans ever season. EVERY season. And I add new locations and beds to accommodate more plants each year!
SO yes, beans, beans… that magical fruit. Beyond the tooting, they are pretty incredible plants. From their nutritional value …
…to their regenerative properties for the Earth, their range (there’s over 40,000 varieties in the world gene bank!), to their storage and usability… They easily are on the Top 5 Grows list for our farm.
What are we growing this year?
- Barlotti Beans (bush)
- Black Turtle (bush)
- Pinto (bush)
- 1500 Year Old Cave Beans (pole)
- Mother Stollard’s (pole)
- Hidatsa Shield Bean (pole)
- Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean (pole)
Man, I can’t WAIT for this Fall’s soups, stews, chilis and refried beans!
Or being able to shell them in front of a fireplace as the Summer’s heat makes way for Autumn’s chill… *sigh*
Follow DBF for more bean based goodness as we approach harvest… recipes will be coming!
And if you might be planting beans in the future? Bookmark or share this to your wall as a great reference for your gardens to come!