Tepary beans are not the same thing as common beans, though they look and grow very much the same ways.
Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and tepary beans (P. acutifolius) are both annual legumes that produce edible seeds. The real difference is that tepary beans can be grown in desert and semi-desert environments, making them an excellent choice for areas with frequent drought conditions. Tepary beans are also higher in protein than their more common cousins.
These high protein edibles nearly disappeared, but efforts to bring them back have been very successful. As global temperatures continue to rise, we may find these beans become a regular part of our gardening plans.
Cultivated for thousands of years by the Tohono O'odham desert people of the Sonoran Desert and peoples from Mexico’s Valley of Tehuacán (where corn was originally grown), tepary beans are known by several names, including Bawĭ, escomite, pavi, pawi, and yorimuni.
Types of teparies
Tepary beans are available in bush, pole, and trailing forms. Stems can reach up to thirteen feet long. Most tepary bean plants have pointed leaves. There is another form, latifolius, with broad leaves. There are white and brown tepary beans, with the white beans tasting somewhat sweeter and the brown beans have a more earthy flavor. There are nearly 100 types of tepary bean, including black, blue speckled, pink, red, tan, and yellow varieties.
Tepary beans tend to be small, which is no surprise, growing up in a desert, where they may only receive three inches of rain all year and temperatures can go as high as 118°F. Generally speaking, flowers appear after summer rains and pods ripen in autumn. Once germination occurs, very little water is needed to produce a crop. In fact, too much water interferes with pod development. How’s that for water conservation?
Rather than the plump shape of dried common beans, many tepary beans are more wrinkled and they need to be soaked overnight before cooking.
How to grow tepary beans
Traditionally, climbing tepary beans were grown along with corn and squash in the Three Sisters Method of intercropping. Broad squash leaves shade the ground, reducing evaporation and competition from weeds, corn provides the beans with something to climb, and the beans’ ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by plants adds to the mix. Of course, that nitrogen stops being available as soon as the beans start producing seeds of their own. Seed production is hard work!
When growing tepary beans, early peoples would plant three to five seeds together in hills that were six to eight feet apart. When you grow tepary beans, plant seeds one to five inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Rows should be at least 12 inches apart. Do not soak your teparies before planting.
Tepary beans do not handle clay soil very well. If you have clay, you may want to grow your teparies in containers or a raised bed.
When 80% of the mature pods are dry, cut the plant off at soil level. Allow the remaining pods to dry in a protected spot. As they dry, the pods shatter when handled, making it easy to separate the beans from the pods.
Problems with tepary beans
Unless there’s too much humidity, tepary beans are relatively disease-free. Too much moisture can lead to common mosaic virus and other fungal diseases. Tepary beans are susceptible to garden variety bean pests, including aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, leafhoppers, leaf miners, loopers, lygus bugs, spider mites, stink bugs, thrips, weevils, whiteflies, and wireworms.
Tepary beans mature in 60 to 20 days after planting, depending on your microclimate and the variety.
You can find tepary bean and other endangered seeds at Native Seeds/SEARCH.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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