Those deliciously crisp snow peas in your stir fry can be grown at home.
The story behind pea evolution is fascinating. Even more intriguing is why more people don’t grow their own snow peas at home.
Snow pea plants
Snow peas are flat-podded peas that are eaten whole while unripe. Like sugar peas, snow peas are indehiscent, which means the ripe pods do not open on their own. Shelling peas, which are grown to be dried and used in cooking, have a much tougher pod that is dehiscent.
All pea plants are legumes, which means they play host to beneficial rhizobia bacteria in their roots. These bacteria help plants fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use.
How to grow snow peas
Like fat-podded sugar peas and shelling peas, snow peas are a cool season crop. In fact, that’s how snow peas got their name, being grown in winter. Seeds should be planted 1-2” deep and 5” apart in loose, nutrient-rich soil. Snow peas use tendrils to climb supports, such as stock panels and trellising.
Harvest pods as they form to make the vines keep producing. Once plants sense that they have completed their reproductive cycle, pod production stops.
Snow peas are so easy to grow.!You can add them to your stir fry garden, salad garden, or just grow them! Did you know that the immature leaves and stems are also edible?
Now you know!
The red noodle bean plant looks spectacular, grows rapidly, and provides a bountiful harvest.
A dear friend gifted me with a packet of red noodle bean seeds a while back. As they were a type of pole bean, I planted the seeds around things they could climb and watered them regularly. At first, nothing seemed to happen, as is normal in the world of gardening. Then I went away for a few weeks. When I returned, I was delighted to find my red noodle beans had completely lived up to their reputation. [Thank you, Carol!]
How to grow red noodle beans
Red noodle bean seeds should be planted 3/4-1” deep and 4” apart. Like other legumes, red noodle beans have delicate root systems that do not recover well from transplanting. These plants need heat to grow, so be sure to install them in a sunny location after the soil has warmed from its winter nap. In fact, where other legumes succumb to scorching summers and drought, red noodle beans thrive.
Vines need a sturdy support as they can reach 8’ in length or more. Trellises, cattle panels, fences, tuteurs, old ladders and pergolas can all be used as supports. Plants will need a thorough watering every 7-10 days to develop deep roots. Because red noodle beans are legumes, they do not need nitrogen fertilizer. In fact, they generally don’t need fertilizer at all, assuming your soil is healthy. You will need a soil test to know if that is the case in your garden.
Being native to tropical rainy areas, red noodle beans need a fair bit of irrigation, just be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings to avoid many of the diseases common to legumes.
Red noodle bean pests and diseases
Red noodle bean pests include birds, gophers, rabbits, rats and squirrels, along with ants, mites, and aphids. Those aphids may also bring mosaic viruses to your red noodle bean crop, so monitor closely for those insidious pests.
Harvesting red noodle beans
Plants start producing pods within 80 days. By harvesting pods as they appear, you will stimulate the vines to continue producing. In other words, the more you take, the more they make.
Pods can be harvested when pencil thin to be used whole in stir-fry, or you can allow them to reach full size to harvest what will dry into small, red beans. Keep in mind that allowing the beans to dry on the vine will slow or halt pod production. When harvesting, be sure to leave the buds above the pods in place. These buds can produce multiple sets of pods over time.
You can also succession plant red noodle beans to make full use of your local growing season.
Give red noodle beans a try! You are going to love how they look (and taste)!
People started growing and eating soybeans three thousand years before the invention of written language. Originally from East Asia, this high protein legume is now found practically everywhere. Soy milk, tofu, and soy sauce are just a few products made from soybeans, but what about the plants themselves? Is there a place for soybeans in your summer garden?
The soybean plant
Mature soybean plants can reach 2 to 4 feet tall, and they have trifoliate leaves. This means that each leaf is made up of three leaflets. Like other legumes, soybean roots have a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria (Rhizobium) that help them use atmospheric nitrogen. They are deep rooted plants, going down 3 to 5 feet. Soybeans are photoperiodic plants. This means shortening days is what triggers them to start producing flowers. Soybean plants have small, self-fertile flowers that can be purple, pink, or white. Once flower production begins, many soybean plants drop their leaves.
Soybean fruits are 3 inch long, hairy pods that contain 2-4 seeds, called pulses. Soybean pulses can be brown, black, green, yellow, or multicolored. By 2010, 93% of soybeans grown commercially in the U.S. were genetically modified. In that same year, scientists mapped the soybean genome, the first bean to be sequenced.
Types of soybeans
There are two basic categories of soybeans: vegetable and field. Field soybeans are grown for oil production. Vegetable varieties are higher in protein, easier to cook, and taste better than field soybeans. Soybeans contain 38-45% protein and up to 19% oil.
How to grow soybeans
Soybeans (Glycine max) are an annual bean plant that loves hot, summer weather. Pulses should be planted 1 inch deep and spaced with mature sizes in mind. To provide an ongoing harvest, you may want to use succession planting, adding new plants every week or two during the growing season. Soybeans are ready to harvest within 80-120 days after planting. Pick pods while they are still green. Once they brown, the pulses lose flavor. Of course, you can always use mature pulses to plant the next season's crop! Because of their nitrogen-fixing ability, soybeans make an excellent player in crop rotation plans.
Soybean pests and diseases
Spider mites are the most destructive pest of soybeans, followed by corn earworm moths, Mexican bean beetles, bean leaf beetles, and cyst nematodes. Fungal diseases, such as stem blight, rust, and white mold can infect soybean plants, along with bean yellow mosaic and other viral diseases. But don't let that stop you!
If you have the space, give soybeans a try in your yard!
Chickpea, gram, or garbanzo bean, these legumes have been cultivated for 7,500 years. High in protein and easy to grow, chickpeas also make an excellent green manure.
Speaking of green manure, chickpeas produce the most seeds when they are provided with plenty of sunlight and very little nitrogen. Being a legume, chickpeas are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable as plant food. If they have access to too much nitrogen in the soil, you will get plenty of vegetative growth and very few seeds.
The chickpea plant
Chickpea plants (Cicer arietinum) grow 8 to 20 inches tall and are bushy. They have feathery leaves and delicate white flowers with pink, violet, or blue veins. Like other legumes, the seeds are called pulses. Often (incorrectly) called a pod, pulses are simple fruits that develop from a single carpel, and that usually open along a seam (dehisces). Each pulse contains one or two seeds. Chickpeas have taproots that can reach 15 to 40 inches down into the soil. This makes them a good choice for reducing compacted soil and improving soil structure. [Translation: this fall, pick the worst spot in your landscape and plant chickpeas. Fava beans are another good choice.]
There are four major chickpea varieties, and over 90 genotypes. The familiar garbanzo bean (kabuli chana) is light-colored, large, and smooth-coated. Cicer reticulatum only grows in Turkey. There are two black chickpeas: Desi chana and cici neri. Ceci neri are a rare large, black chickpea grown only in southeaster Italy. Desi chana is the closest relative to ancient chickpeas. It is small, dark, and rough-coated, and can be black, green, or speckled
How to grow chickpeas
Here warm regions, chickpeas are a winter crop that is usually started around the first frost date. To speed the process, you can start chickpea seeds indoors, in pots, several weeks ahead of time, as long as you can provide them with enough sunlight and protection from summer heat. Transplant seedlings into the garden when they are 4 to 5 inches tall. Chickpeas prefer full sun. They can be grown in partial shade, but you won’t get nearly the same production.
Chickpea seeds are planted deeply, from 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep. Contrary to popular myth, do not soak chickpea seeds before planting, or water heavily after planting, as this makes them susceptible to cracking. Seeds should be planted 3 to 6 inches apart and thinned to 6 inches between plants. If you are growing chickpeas in rows, space rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Your chickpeas will be ready to harvest in approximately 100 days. Chickpeas do not handle competition from weeds very well, so you need to stay on top of them. Also, high boron levels can stunt chickpea growth, so be sure to get your soil tested. There are also a few pests and diseases you’ll need to watch for.
Chickpea pests and diseases
Fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, ascochyta blight, anthracnose, bacterial brown spot, bean mosaic, bacterial blight, cucumber mosaic, curly top, and several root rots affect chickpea plants, especially those caused by Pythium, Rhizoctonia, and Macrophomina. Charcoal root rot, white mold, and black rot may also occur, and nematodes can be a problem. Aphids, armyworms, corn earworms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, leafhoppers, leafminers, loopers, lygus bugs, spider mites, stinkbugs, thrips, weevils, and wireworms may all try feeding on your chickpeas. Luckily, these plants can produce an abundant amount of food, and crop rotation goes a long way toward interrupting the lifecycle of most of these pests and diseases.
Did you know that roasted chickpeas can be ground up and used as a coffee substitute, or that chickpea water (aquafaba) can be used as an egg substitute to make merengue?
I didn’t either.
I started my journey growing peanuts when something emerged from a planting container that I hadn’t planted. And it was unmistakably a peanut.
The only thing I could figure was that one of my local scrub jays had ‘planted’ it for later consumption. At the time, I had no bandwidth for growing peanuts. So I dug it out to take a closer look at the root system. [Now I let them grow!]
Nuts that are not nuts
Peanuts, also known as goobers, or groundnuts, are legumes. This means that they are able to ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen into a form they can use as food, with a little help from certain bacteria that live on or in their roots. The botanic name, Arachis hypogaea, describes a legume that produces its seeds “under the earth”, in a behavior called geocarpy. Geocarpy is rare in the plant world. It is a means of reproduction in which pollinated flowers are transformed into specialized stems, called pegs. Pegs are budding ovaries that bend downward and push their way into the soil. Seeds are produced along these pegs. Unlike other plants, which produce seeds above ground for easy dispersal, the peanuts we eat are the underground seeds of the peanut plant. And they are not nuts at all.
Parts of a peanut
If you look closely, it is easy to see how peanuts are related to peas and beans. They have very similar seed structures. Each delicious peanut has five parts:
Peanut plants come in two forms: runners and bush. Bush varieties are 18 to 22 inches tall, while runners can spread out 28 to 31 inches. Peanuts are believed to be a human construct, through artificial selection between two wild varieties. This occurred in Argentina or Bolivia, nearly 8,000 years ago. Selective breeding of this first peanut has resulted in six major and two minor landraces. A landrace is a regional, domesticated variety. These groups are:
Until the 1930s, peanuts were used predominantly as a livestock feed. That was when the USDA actively promoted peanuts as a commercial crop for human consumption.
How to grow peanuts
While it’s true that peanuts prefer the sandy loam of the southeastern U.S., peanuts can be grown in raised beds and large containers that are filled with a lightweight potting soil. You can start peanuts in a tray filled with potting soil. Make one inch deep holes by hand or with a dibble, and drop one shelled peanut into each hole, cover with soil, and water well.
In commercial peanut fields, as peanut plants begin to yellow, machinery is used to dig plants out of the ground, give them a good shake, and then flip them over and leave them on the soil surface for a few days to dry. In the home garden, you will harvest your peanuts by simply pulling the plants out of the ground, giving them a good shake to get rid of any clinging soil, and leave them, upside-down, to dry for a few days. [You may want to do your peanut drying in the garage, to protect your harvest against marauding birds and squirrels.] Next, peanuts are threshed, or removed from their stems. You may be surprised to learn just how important the drying aspect of peanut harvesting is - peanuts stored with too much moisture can become infected with a fungus (Aspergillus flavus) that produces toxic substances that can be carcinogenic. Be sure to dry your peanuts thoroughly!
Legumes are nitrogen-fixing plants that produce many of the foods we eat.
Peas and beans are common legumes. Peanuts, chickpeas, alfalfa, clover, lentils, vetch, mesquite, carob, tamarind, lupins, wisteria, and soybeans are also legumes. The unique behavior that makes legumes so valuable is that most of them are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that is usable by other plants.
Over 80% of our atmosphere is made up of nitrogen. Plants are greedy for nitrogen, but they can’t use atmospheric nitrogen. Some plants, our beloved legumes in particular, have developed mutually beneficial relationships with certain bacteria that live on or in their roots. These bacteria are able to combine atmospheric nitrogen with hydrogen to create ammonia, which is then converted into a usable form of nitrogen. This is called the Nitrogen Cycle and is what makes legumes an important part of crop rotation and cover crops. Some people claim that marigold plants interrupt the nitrogen-fixing ability of legumes, but I have not found any research to support those claims.
With so many family members, it should come as no surprise that there is plenty of variety. Some legumes grow low to the ground in a spreading habit, while others vine, and other stand upright. All legumes are dicots, which means they produce two seed leaves before true leaves appear. It also means that the seeds tend to be made up of two halves. The fruit, nut, or seed of legumes is technically called a pulse. Pulses are grain seeds held within a pod, or simple dry fruits, that develop from a single carpel. Most legume seeds have a “zipper” along one side that opens up when the seed is ripe. This behavior is called dehiscence. These seeds are often rather large and fast-growing, making them an excellent choice when gardening with children.
Legumes as soil amendment
Legumes can be used as a green manure, cover crop, or an edible harvest. When used as a green manure, plants are allowed to reach the flowering stage and are then cut and left where they fall to decompose. This returns valuable nutrients to the soil and improves soil structure. Other legumes are grown as a cover crop to prevent erosion. Most legumes have strong, deep roots that help aerate compacted soil.
Legumes as food
Legumes are a high protein, high fiber food source. Fava beans, wax beans, lentils, lima beans, and wheat are all just a few of the legumes we eat on a daily basis.
Pests and diseases of legume crops
While the pests and diseases of most legumes are more species specific, nearly all legumes are susceptible to Fusarium wilt. Bean mosaic and powdery mildew are common bean and pea diseases. Stinkbugs enjoy legumes and, what makes them worse is that they can also transmit tomato bacterial spot. Weevils and treehoppers are common pests of legumes.
Adding legumes to your garden or landscape can improve the soil, feed nearby plants, and they provide a delicious harvest. Give legumes a try!
Fava beans are the broad beans seen in falafel and not seen in minestrone.
One of the only beans available in Europe until the discovery of the Americas, fava beans make an excellent ground cover and a delicious meal. Being a legume, like peas and other beans, fava beans are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen to feed themselves and their neighbors (until seed development begins). Fava beans are a close cousin to vetch.
Known as broad beans, Windsor beans, field beans, bell beans, and tick beans, fava beans look similar to lima beans and have been cultivated since prehistoric times for food, as a cover crop or green manure, and the seeds can even be roasted and ground as a coffee extender! These plants are prolific producers.
Fava bean plants
Fava beans can grow to 2- to 5-feet tall on erect stems. They have a taproot and large leaves. Fava beans can tolerate temperatures as low as 20°F. The seeds can even germinate at 40°F! They will grow better if you incorporate some compost into the soil before planting, but they can tolerate our heavy clay soil. The flowers are large and fragrant, attracting many different pollinators to the garden.
How to grow fava beans
Fava beans (Vicia faba) are a cool weather crop, so you will want to start your seeds in September or November, in warm regions, for a cover crop or green manure. Crops destined to be eaten should be planted in February and March. Fava bean seeds should be sown one or two inches deep, depending on seed size, and 4- to 5-inches apart. Rows should be 2 or 3 feet apart. Seedlings should be thinned to 8- to 10-inches after germination. Regular irrigation is necessary for full pod set. If it is a wet winter, no irrigation is needed. Mulching around the plants will help keep the soil moist.
Harvesting fava beans
Fava beans are harvested when they have reached full size but are still green. They can also be left on the vine until they have dried. They take 80 to 100 days to reach maturity. Like Brussels sprouts, fava bean plants mature from the bottom up, so start harvesting from the bottom of the plant and it should keep producing for several months.
Fava beans as cover crop
As nitrogen-fixing legumes with strong taproots, fava beans are well suited for use as a cover crop or green manure crop on heavy clay soil. Allowed to grow through their complete lifecycle, fava beans can prevent erosion and improve soil structure. If used as a green manure, which means cut down and left to lie where they fall, fave bean plants add nutrients to the soil for future crops.
Fava bean sensitivity
Some people are genetically predisposed to a sensitivity to fresh fava beans because they lack a certain enzyme. These individuals are generally men from southern Mediterranean and northern African regions. This condition is called favism. Symptoms include jaundice, back and abdominal pain, and dark urine. Fava beans also contain high levels of tyramine, so individuals taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors should avoid eating them. They also contain oxalic acid, so fava beans should be avoided by those prone to urinary tract stones.
Don’t let favism (or childhood nightmares of lima beans) keep you from trying fava beans in your garden or landscape. Do you have a favorite fava bean recipe? Share it with us in the comments!
We’ve all seen those cans of yellow wax beans in grocery stores, but these plants are easy to grow, they add nitrogen to your soil, and the crisp sweetness of a freshly picked bean far surpasses anything canned.
Wax beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) actually refers to several different yellow-podded members of the common bean family. This family also includes lima beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and immature ‘green’ beans. It is believed that wax beans got their name because the yellow color looks similar to beeswax, but no one is really sure. Wax beans are available in both bush and pole varieties.
How wax beans grow
Beans are self-pollinating annuals. These plants are fun and rewarding to grow. They grow quickly enough to work well as a children’s activity, reaching maturity in only 60 days. What’s really fun about these plants is that they can be grown pretty much anywhere: on a windowsill, in a container, in a straw bale, and in partial shade. Of course, they prefer sunny raised beds or traditional garden rows, but, the point is, these plants are EASY. Like other legumes, wax beans are able to ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen, making it available not only to themselves, but to nearby plants. Of course, this only works until the plant starts producing seeds, then the free lunch is over.
How to grow wax beans
Like other beans, wax bean seeds are mostly endosperm (plant food). Plant seeds one inch deep and 2 to 4 inches apart. If you grow bush beans (not the canned barbecue product), your plants will get 18 to 24 inches tall and about a foot wide, so thin accordingly. Pole beans, however, can be trained up trellising, fences, lattice, sunflowers, trees, pretty much anything they can wrap their tendrils around, without thinning. They can also be used in the traditional Three Sisters Method, with corn and squash. Trellising pole beans on something that goes over your head looks really nice, with ripe beans hanging down, from overhead. It’s makes picking easy, too! Some people say that planting marigolds nearby can be a problem, claiming that they interrupt the nitrogen-fixing capabilities of legumes, such as peas and beans, but I don’t know if this is true.
Wax bean pests and diseases
When it comes to bean pests, it’s all the usual culprits: cutworms, bagrada bugs, cucumber beetles, weevils, thrips, wireworms, leaf miners, and dried fruit beetles. As delicious as fresh wax beans are, it’s no wonder so many critters are after your harvest. Bindweed can also choke out your bean plants. Common wax bean diseases include anthracnose, bean mosaic, and fusarium wilt. Wax beans should not be planted near soybeans to reduce the likelihood of stem blight.
Harvesting wax beans
Beans are one of those edible plants that produce more food if ripe beans are harvested regularly. In other words: the more you pick, the more you get. Once picked, you can eat them fresh, steam them, add them to stir-fry, and or can them for winter eating. Wax beans are sensitive to ethylene gas, so they should be stored away from apples, bananas, and other ‘gaseous’ produce.
Plant some wax beans today!
Lentils are packed with protein and fiber, add nitrogen to the soil, and they are easy to grow.
You see them in bags at the grocery story, but have you ever thought about growing your own lentils? People have been eating lentils for 13,000 years! These members of the pea family are called pulses because they are grown to be harvested as dried beans. Lentils are legumes that can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to plant roots. Lentils grow 18 to 24 inches tall and produce small white to light purple flowers. The pods are very small, each containing only one or two seeds, so you will need 4 to 8 lentil plants per person. You can grow lentils in containers, but it takes several plants to get a decent crop.
Lentils come in several colors, ranging from brown and black, to yellow, orange, red, pink, and green:
How to grow lentils
Being a cool season crop, lentils (Lens culinaris) can be started two weeks before the last frost date. Lentil seeds should be planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep, and 1 inch apart. Lentils prefer full sun, loose soil, and a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, so you may need to acidify alkaline soil. I grow my lentils in raised beds, so pH and compacted soil are not issues. It makes weeding one heck of a lot easier, too!
At 68°F, they will germinate in about 10 days. Seedlings should be thinned to one plant every 4 or 5 inches. Rows should be 18 to 24 inches apart. You may want to use row covers, at first, to protect young plants from pests. Be sure to keep the soil evenly moist, at first. Lentils are very drought tolerant once they get a good start. You may want to provide a low trellis, but it is not necessary. Lentils take 80 to 110 days to reach maturity, depending on weather, soil, and sunlight. Stop watering when the pods begin to dry.
Harvesting lentils is a labor of love. Allow the pods to dry out completely before using. Since each pod only holds one or two seeds, I suggest a good movie, a bowl for lentils, a towel on the floor, and a large pot between your feet to collect the discards. The job of hulling lentils becomes a rhythmic Zen sort of experience, once you find your rhythm. You can also harvest immature lentil pods the same way you would harvest green beans. Lentils can also be sprouted and added to salads.
Lentil pests & diseases
Aphids, weevils, nematodes, armyworms, cutworms, cucumber beetles, loopers, lygus bugs, leafminers, whiteflies, thrips, spider mites, stink bugs, and wireworms may try feasting on your lentils before you do. Insufficient air flow can lead to fungal diseases, such as Alternaria rot, anthracnose, root rot, Botrytis gray mold, leaf spot, collar rot, downy mildews, Fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, and rust. Lentils are also susceptible to viral diseases. These include bean leaf roll virus, bean yellow mosaic, pea seed borne mosaic, cucumber mosaic, broad bean mottle, and broad bean stain. It's a wonder that anything can survive! The best thing you can do to protect your lentils is to provide adequate air flow and monitor your lentils regularly. In spite of the number of threats, lentils are more rugged than they appear.
The rich, earthy flavor of lentils make it an excellent addition to soups, stews, and salads. How about adding some lentils to your landscape this year? Give it a try!
Jicama is my new favorite snack food. Cut like french fries, this crisp root vegetable is just sweet enough to be addictive, and without all the grease.
It may not look or taste like it, but jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) is a member of the bean family. It grows on vines, mostly in Central America, the Caribbean, Southern Asia, and in the Andes. Also known as yambean and Mexican turnip, jicama leaves, stems, and skin contain toxins that should not be eaten. Once you get inside, however, the flesh is delicious and versatile. Jicama can be added to salads, soups, stir-fry, and it goes equally well with fruits as it does with vegetables. While low in calories, jicama high in insoluble fiber and Vitamin C. It also contains inulin, which a form of plant sugar (fructan) that promotes calcium absorption and good gut bacteria. So let’s get growing!
How to grow jicama
Jicama prefers short days and high temperatures, so you may have to plant your jicama in a location where it receives afternoon shade (or make your own) to trick it into thinking the day is shorter than it really is. Like peppers, jicama seeds need warmth to germinate. Seeds should be soaked in warm water for 24 hours before planting 1/4 to 2 inches deep. You can wait until temperatures rise, or use can use seed heat mats to speed germination. Jicama performs better in alkaline soil. To get well shaped roots, the soil must be loose and nutrient-rich, making it a good choice for raised beds. As blue or white flowers appear, they should be removed by hand to stimulate root development.
Have you ever grown jicama? Let us know in the comments section!
Lima beans have the ability to poison their attackers, and groups of lima bean plants work together to counteract threats caused by caterpillars. The world of plants never ceases to amaze me.
The lowly lima bean, hated by many, loved by some, is a legume. These particular legumes put out chemicals that attract parasitic wasps whenever caterpillars start chewing on their leaves. The wasps lay their eggs in the caterpillars, hatch, and devour their host. Lima beans also contain certain chemicals, stored in different parts of the plant, that become activated when the seeds are chewed, creating potentially fatal cyanide poisoning.
Before the Lima Haters shout a resounding, “We told you so!”, it is important to note that cooking lima beans for at least 10 minutes eliminates those chemicals. So, in the case of lima beans, simply soaking isn’t good enough. You need to put them to the fire before eating.
Why grow lima beans?
Despite childhood trauma and potential poisoning, lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus) are actually a very sweet, high fiber source of protein, folic acid, iron, manganese, and potassium. Even better, they are easy to grow and excellent additions to balconies and windowsills, as well as standard gardens. You can select bush or pole varieties. (Sometimes the smaller bush varieties are called butter beans, if that makes them more palatable.)
How to grow lima beans
Lima bean plants will not put out pods in temperatures above 80°F or when it’s cold and wet, so spring and fall are the best times to grow lima beans. Seeds will take 60 to 90 days from planting, so plan accordingly. (Bush varieties take 60 to 80 days; pole varieties take 85 to 90 days). Lima beans prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8 and full sun, but they can handle partial shade, especially as summer temperatures rise. Surprisingly, too many nutrients in the soil will cause your lima bean plants to produce lots of vegetation, and not very many beans, so you can forego the aged compost. Also, too much water simply makes the beans split, so water sparingly. Plant seeds 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep. Bush beans can be planted 6 inches apart - the plants will actually help hold each other up. Pole beans should be planted 10 inches apart and be sure to provide them with a trellis, tomato cage, fence, or balcony to climb. Pole beans can reach 10 to 12 feet in height. If you need to thin your bean plants, simply cut them off at ground level. The roots have a symbiotic relationship with soil microbes that “fix” atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, feeding nearby plants.
Lima bean pests and diseases
Beans are commonly attacked by aphids, flea beetles, bean beetles, mites, and leafhoppers. Plus, those aphids can carry the bean mosaic virus. Other lima bean diseases include blight and anthracnose. Beans are also susceptible to many diseases found in the soil, so crop rotation is a good idea.
California is responsible for 60 to 80% of the world’s lima bean crop. You can be responsible for 100% of your lima bean crop by growing your own!
If you planted beans in fall as a cover crop, or in spring as a food crop, you may notice a problem with leaves looking pale, splotchy, and generally unhealthy. Blotchy, puckered bean leaves may indicate a bean mosaic virus.
There are several mosaic viruses that attack beans. Here are the three most common ones:
Symptoms of bean mosaic
Bean mosaic symptoms vary between types of beans, life stage, and specific virus, but you will want to keep a lookout for these symptoms in your bean patch:
Vectors of infection
Bean mosaic is spread by aphids, mealybugs, and leafhoppers. While it sounds convenient, research has shown that using insecticides is not practical because it kills the beneficial insects who would normally feed on the pests. Once a plant is infected, it becomes a vector for disease, as well, and should be completely removed from the site. Infected plants should not be added to the compost pile.
Controlling bean mosaic
Prevention is the best protection when it comes to bean mosaic. Use these handy tips to reduce the likelihood of future generations of beans becoming infected:
Bean mosaic is one of the most powerful arguments against using dried beans from the grocery store to plant in your garden. While they are perfectly safe to eat, there is no guarantee that they are safe to sow. Invest in high quality, guaranteed clean seeds from a reputable seller and then save the best seeds from your crop for replanting.
Beans are easy to grow. They improve soil structure, provide excellent food crops, and can look lovely in a landscape, as long as they are kept healthy.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you…well, you know.
What you may not know about this nutritional powerhouse is that it is crazy easy to grow, germinates at lightening speed, adds nitrogen to the soil, and is just plain fun to watch grow.
Beans are the edible seeds of the legume family. Often, but not always, these seeds are kidney-shaped. There are over 40,000 different type of beans found in the world. Some of the more common varieties are:
How's that for a family tree?
If you have heavy clay soil, be sure you do not overwater. Clay soil can hold so much water that plants will rot or drown. Now, if you want to get really fancy, you can inoculate the seeds with a species-specific Rhizobium bacteria. This does not mean giving tiny shots to each and every seed (But it’s a funny image, right?) Beans can be dusted with, rolled in, or briefly soaked in the inoculant at planting time to help them get the most nitrogen out of the soil, for a better start. Personally, I’ve never used inoculants, but many gardeners and most farmers swear by them, especially in areas where beans have not been grown for a long time.
Bean growth habits
Generally, bean plants come in one of two growth habits: bush (determinate) or vine/pole (indeterminate). As with other crops, determinate types tend to flower and develop pods within a set time frame, whereas indeterminate types tend to continue on for longer periods of time, producing pods as they grow. Beans prefer plenty of sunlight, but they can be grown in partial shade, as well.
Nitrogen boosting beans
Many orchardists plant beans and other legumes among fruit trees as cover crops to improve soil structure and add nitrogen to the soil. You can do the same thing by intercropping beans with other garden crops. Adding beans to your garden or landscape can help fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, making it available to other plants (assuming you cut your beans down and let them decompose before they go to seed. Cowpea roots are pretty tough and deep, so they can also help improve soil structure and reduce compaction. Beans are also part of the Three Sisters method of growing used by Native Americans. The Three Sisters Method intercrops corn, squash, and beans to make the most of available growing space, soil nutrients, and water resources. The corn grows tall, the beans climb the corn, and the squash shades the ground and reduces weed competition with wide leaves.
Beans and crop rotation
If you grow beans regularly, it is a good idea to rotate the bean crop with sunflowers, tomatoes, or wheat, to interrupt the life cycle of some fungal pests, such as bean rust. Bean seedlings are susceptible to damping-off disease. UC Davis provides this extensive list of bean diseases:
Aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, leafhoppers, leaf miners, loopers, lygus bugs, spider mites, stink bugs, thrips, weevils, whiteflies, and wireworms are all attracted to bean plants. The corn maggot larvae (Delia platura) and some caterpillars may also gnaw on your planted beans, as well. It’s amazing we get any beans at all, with a list like that! The truth is, bean plants are very productive and these potential problems are all relatively manageable.
Bean seed sources
As tempting as it may be to plant beans that were bought at your local grocery store, this is a bad idea. Those beans can carry diseases that you may never be able to get out of your soil, once they arrive. These diseases are not harmful when eaten by people, but they can be devastating to baby bean plants. Instead, invest in certified bean seed, and then save seed from your harvest for next year’s planting!
As a food, beans are high in protein, fiber, iron, potassium, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid, with no cholesterol. Wikipedia has an excellent graphic that shows the protein, finer, and iron content of various beans. [Spoiler alert - lentils and kidney beans top the chart!]
And if you want to avoid the undesirable side effects of eating beans, be sure to change the water a few times during soaking and/or cooking.
Finally, according to the Smithsonian, kidney bean leaves can be used to trap bedbugs!
Now you know.
Black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck when eaten on New Years’ Day, but don’t wait that long! Put them to work in the garden for better growing all year.
Black-eyed peas are just one variety of cowpeas. Cowpeas are a type of bean. Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) make an excellent cover crop or green manure. Because they are legumes. Legumes have nitrogen-fixing nodes on their roots that transform atmospheric nitrogen, which most plants can’t use, into soil-bound nitrogen, which all plants need.
Green manures are crops that are cut and either dug back into the soil or allowed to decompose on top of the soil, before they go to seed. Cowpeas will keep adding nitrogen to the soil right up until they start producing baby cowpeas of their own. Then, that nitrogen is absorbed by the plant and put to use. The nice thing about edible cover crops is that, even if you miss the mark and the plant goes to seed, you still get food!
Cover crops are grown for several reasons. They prevent erosion, add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, reduce weeds and deter some soil borne pests.
Cowpeas are drought tolerant, germinate rapidly, and don’t seem to be bothered by heavy clay soil. In fact, these garden workhorses can be used to break up compacted soil with little to no effort on your part! While these beans prefer sun, they can also be incorporated into shade gardens. Fusarium wilt, aphids, weevils, and pod borers are the most common pests.
Beans have long been used in companion planting or intercropping. Native Americans used the Three Sisters method of growing beans, squash and corn together. The squash shaded the ground, the beans climbed the corn and the corn soared skyward with the shaded ground and nitrogen-rich soil.
How to grow cowpeas
If you have areas of compacted or bare soil, it is simple enough to poke holes in the soil and drop in a cowpea. Cowpeas are not particular. The hole can be 1-4 inches deep. Plants should be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart and protected from birds until they sprout, which can happen in as little as 4 days!
If you are feeling particularly creative or ambitious, you can plant cowpeas into patterns around trees, walkways, or other landscape features. As the plants come up, they will add a new texture to the garden, along with improving the soil structure and nutrient content!
Peas have received a bad reputation from those forced to eat the canned spheres of mush that claim to be peas. As any gardener knows, plucking a fresh pea from the vine and eating it whole offers a crisp, sweet flavor that shares nothing with its canned (or even frozen) cousins.
Peas (Pisum sativum) are legumes, which means they have a tidy little business arrangement with certain soil bacteria, called rhizobia, which allow them to use atmospheric nitrogen. Pea seeds develop in pods, making them a pod fruit. Peas are either green or yellow and pods can be green, brown, or purple.
Peas are annual plants that can be low-growing bush varieties, but vining cultivars are the most commonly grown. Pea plants are self-pollinating, but the more plants you have, the better the pollination rates will be and the bigger your harvests will be.
Modern peas are generally described as either edible pod or shelling varieties, but the story behind pea evolution may surprise you. Wild peas have been around for thousands of years. They were being cultivated back in the 3rd century BC. These early cultivated peas were shelling peas, or field peas. Field peas have a tough, dehiscent pod that is not eaten. Dehiscent means the pods unzip themselves when the peas are ripe and dry. Of course, dried peas are pretty tough eating, unless you cook them. As a rule, shelling peas are grown to be dried for later use in pea soup and pease porridge. [Pease porridge is a thicker version of pea soup, more of a pudding, often made with a ham hock or bacon.] These were dietary staples in medieval times.
Sometime around the 15th century, somebody figured out that immature pea pods could be eaten whole. These “garden peas” or “sugar peas” were a decadent luxury back then. Over time, cultivars were developed that retained that tenderness. These sugar peas, or “English peas”, gained in popularity, especially after canning was developed.
Edible pod peas are indehiscent, which means the pods do not open themselves. Rounded edible pod varieties ultimately became known as sugar peas while the flat-podded varieties were named snow peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum)
In 1952, sugar peas were crossed with a mutant shelling pea in an effort to counteract some pod distortions that were occurring at that time. The offspring of that cross turned out to be a delicious new class of snow pea, and it was named snap pea (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon). Snap peas, also known as sugar snap peas, are now the pea workhorse of modern gardens.
How to grow peas
Peas are very easy to grow. They prefer cooler weather, making them excellent winter crops. While peas grow best in full sun, they can also work well for shade gardening and container gardening. Many birds love pea seeds, so you may have to protect your crop with netting until the seeds germinate.
Seeds should be planted 5” apart and 1" deep in rich, loose, moist soil. As they grow, vining pea plants will use tendrils to grasp and climb, so you will want to provide stock panels, tuteurs, or trellising for them to climb. As tempting as it may be to let your peas climb up netting, don’t do it. You’ll have a mess on your hands at the end of the growing season. Take my word for it. If peas are being grown in a container, a tomato cage works well.
Water regularly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings, and be sure to harvest pods as soon as they are ready. This will keep the plant producing. Peas left of the vine will become too tough and starchy to eat, but they can be saved for planting or cooking. Succession planting can provide many months of harvestable peas.
Pests and diseases of peas
Fungal diseases, such as Ascochyta blight, basal stem rots, damping off, downy mildews, Fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, and root rot cause lesions and blackened areas on stems, roots, and leaves. Viral diseases include pea enation mosaic and pea streak, both transmitted by aphids. These diseases cause distorted pods and leaves. Pests include aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, leaf miners, nematodes, pea leaf weevils, pea moths, spider mites and thrips.
Forget the mushy peas of your childhood. Grow your own peas for a delicious treat!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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