All About Beans

All About Beans

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Dr. Stephenie Slahor – Even in prehistoric times, our ancestors were enjoying the flavor and nutrition of beans. For thousands of years, beans have served us as a source of good nutrition, especially in protein, B vitamins, and fiber.  

Grown in many areas and gardens of America, beans are a popular favorite for flavor and versatility for casseroles, chili, side dishes, soups, and stews. Pole beans grow tall and get their name because they need support poles as they grow. Runner beans also grow fairly tall and may also need support to prevent them from falling over, but they tolerate cooler temperatures than most pole beans. Bush beans grow like a bush, of course, so they won’t need support poles. But they may need protection from strong winds or too much sunlight. Figure on about six hours of sunshine or a site with partial shade for most bean plants.    

To decide which beans might be right for your garden and table, here is a list of some of the varieties, their characteristics, and their best uses. While you can use some beans like green beans in their fresh-picked state, many, if not most, beans need to be dried before you harvest them. Most beans to be dried should be left alone until the beans in the individual pod dry and “rattle” inside.  

For better results in sprouting, soak the beans overnight before planting. When planting beans, put the bean’s “eye” downward, about two inches deep. Beans do better when planted directly into the soil so they have room to spread, rather than being confined to a pot. If the soil is particularly saturated with moisture, wait a few days so the beans don’t rot. Choose a balanced fertilizer for a once-a-month dose, but one with not too much nitrogen. Your bean plants’ neighbors should NOT be onions, garlic, peppers, basil, fennel, or sunflowers.  And next year, use the “bean area” for a different vegetable because the beans that were there will have fixed the nitrogen in the soil. In other words, rotate your crops!  

Now, which ones?  


These have a firm, meaty texture and a distinctive flavor. Because of their deep black color, they add “looks” as well as flavor to meals. The Condor black bean resists disease well. Zorro black beans are often canned. Zenith black beans hold their black color well, even after they’ve been boiled or canned.  


These are a fleshy tan color with a central black spot that gives them their name. They are particularly popular in Southern cooking. Tradition says that black-eyed beans or “peas” should be eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck through the New Year.  


Sometimes called broad beans, these need about five months to mature fully. Ianto fava beans have tall vines. Masterpiece fava beans are shorter but have large pods. Windsor favas only need about two-and-a-half months to mature.    


Sometimes called a chickpea, this bean is round with a pointy end. Tan in color, it has a nut-like flavor, making it an ideal addition to bean salad. Garbanzos, bean sprouts, and Italian dressing or oil and vinegar dressing make a tasty treat as a change from a lettuce-based salad.  


Bush or pole, these popular beans are a favorite for the kids to cultivate because the beans sprout easily in about 10 days and grow quickly. Green beans are usually eaten fresh but can be canned, frozen, or pickled.   


These take about 60 to 90 days to mature, but both the Matterhorn variety and the Powderhorn variety are disease resistant. They are dried after harvest and will store well.    


The color and shape of this type of bean give it its name. It’s widely used for chili, bean salads, and casseroles. High in good fiber, these grow bushy and have pretty white flowers to boot! They mature after about 80 to 100 days, depending on the variety.    


Large or small, lima beans are versatile and maybe that’s why they make up about one-tenth of the total production of America’s bean farms. Large limas keep their shape well when cooked for long periods. Small limas cook quickly and can be mashed easily. They can be eaten fresh or after drying. Two varieties are Christmas and Fordhook and both do well in hot climates.  


These need to be dried but are ready to harvest after about 100 days. They are compact plants — something to consider if your garden space for beans is limited. 


These go well with tomato-based sauces so they’re favorites in chili or barbecue-style dishes.  


These striped and colorful beans are much associated with Mexican fare.  They can be eaten like a green bean after about 85 days, or harvested after about 150 days when the individual beans are ready to be dried.  


In China and Japan, they are long-standing favorites, but they are relative newcomers to American gardens and dinner tables. Soybeans are about 35% protein and can be cooked, or used roasted and salted as a snack.  


These are especially good for long, slow cooking in soups or other long-simmering main dishes because they hold their shape well.  

Whatever the variety, beans are a good addition to the garden and the table!     

Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.         


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