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Beans, the multi-talented vegetable

I love beans, and I love all the different ways you can enjoy them.  It is not too late to plant a patch of beans if you haven’t gotten to it.  I do three successions of green beans to keep eating them into the late fall.  There are lots of different types and lots of different stages that you can eat beans at so I thought I would describe them all so you might expand your bean horizons.

The first thing to know is that there are bush and pole beans.  Bush beans only grow about 16-24 inches tall and do not need support, they produce most of their beans in a relatively short period and then are done. They are great if you want to have enough at one time to freeze them. Pole beans can grow between 5 and 9 ft tall, they tend to produce smaller amounts over a longer time.  I think of pole beans being better for a small garden as you can eat them over many weeks. They need fairly tall trellising to support them.  There is actually a third type and they are called half runners- they are mostly in the dry bean category and they grow about 3 ft tall and can use a short support system or trail on the ground.

There are different colors of bean pods- green, yellow, and purple and few that have a mixture.  There are hundreds of combinations of colors in the dry bean world.

There are also many different types of green beans- really they are different types of the shape and texture of the actual bean pod.

  • The traditional green bean tends to be between 5 and 7 inches long, you harvest them for green beans before you can see or feel a bean forming inside the pod, they tend to get woody if they are older.
  • Filet beans-which are a delicacy, you harvest them when they are very thin, as soon as they get bigger they don’t taste good, they need to be picked regularly.
  • Romano beans are one of my favorites- they are flat instead of round, they tend to get quite large sometimes a ½ inch across and 8 to 9 inches long.  They taste good even when they are large which is different than the others.
  • Wax beans are yellow and have a bit of a waxy feel to them, they are picked similar to the traditional green bean.
  • Runner beans are a completely different type of bean- they are always pole (and half pole) beans and produce large flat bean pods- they are edible but not as tender as other beans.

You can also eat beans at different stages of the bean development.  Some varieties are for a specific stage – like Blue Lake Beans are for green beans and Petaluma Goldrush beans are a dry bean.  Some can be used for all stages.  The three stages are green, shelling and dry.

  • Green beans are obvious- but it is good to know how big they can get before they taste bad.
  • Shelling beans are the fresh eating stage of the actual bean not the bean pod.  You let the bean develop and harvest them when there is a substantial bean or as they begin to fade.  They can be cooked briefly in hot water or if really fresh, sautéed.
  • Dry beans are what we think of as pinto or black beans- you let the bean dry on the plant and shell them and store them for cooking later.  They need to soak and usually have a fairly long cooking time.

Almost all beans can be eaten as a dry bean, but many beans are not good as a green bean.  That means that if you have forgotten to harvest your green beans, and you have a bunch of over mature pods, shell them and use them that way.  And if you forgot to harvest them and they have dried, shell them and cook up some chili or bean salad.

I highly recommend trying some dry beans if you have space.  A small patch of pole beans can produce quite a few beans for later eating.  All beans are really beautiful when they are dry, so it is really rewarding when you shell them.  Dry beans need longer time so they can dry completely. You can still get a crop in of green beans and probably a crop of dry beans also- especially a bush variety.

What else to plant now: You can also think about planting successions of cucumbers, summer squash and basil.  I look for a cooler week and plant carrots and beets for an early fall harvest.

You should be harvesting your garlic about now if you haven’t already.  You want to pull it out as the leaves start to brown. Then find a dry, out of the sun, warm place to let it cure for a few weeks.  Then either braid it or clean it up and use it.


Enjoy the Solstice!