Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants across the world, adding flavor, texture, and nutrients to traditional recipes. With thousands of varieties to choose from, it is simply a matter of finding the space to grow them during the right time of the year. Not only are beans easy to cultivate, but they actually enrich rather than deplete the soil by adding nitrogen, thus serving another important role as a cover crop. Cover crops, usually planted in the winter and summer months, give the soil a chance to rest while replenishing its nutrients.
In general, there are two main bean types: shell beans, grown for their protein-rich seeds and eaten both fresh and dried; and snap beans, cultivated mainly for their edible pods. Shell bean and snap beans are further divided according to how they grow, with the main two being bush and pole types. Bush beans are generally self-supporting but need space. Pole beans have twining vines that require support from stakes, strings, wires, or trellises.
Beans are warm season crops and grow best in full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. Plant your first crop of beans a week or two after the date of the last expected frost. Plant most bush bean types 3 to 6 inches apart in rows 2 to 2½ feet apart. They will produce the bulk of their crop over a 2-week period. For a continuous harvest, stagger plantings at 2-week intervals starting in the spring, until about 2 months before the first killing frost is expected, which usually arrives Dec. 1-10 in Austin. Bush beans usually don't need any support unless planted in a windy area, in which case using twigs or a strong cord wrapped around stakes set at the row ends or corners of the bed will suffice.
Pole beans are more sensitive to cold than bush beans. They also take longer to mature (10 to 11 weeks), but they produce about three times the yield of bush beans. Plant pole beans seeds 2 inches deep and 10 inches apart, with ample room between the rows. Since pole beans like to climb, use a trellis or other vertical support at planting or when the first two leaves of the seedlings open. A teepee trellis is an especially fun project for children, and once covered by vines, the teepee provides a shady hideout!
Harvest beans daily to encourage production, since allowing pods to ripen fully will stop the plant from producing. Pinch off bush beans using your thumbnail and fingers, and use scissors for pole and runner beans. Cut off and discard overly mature beans. The more you pick, the more the vines will produce. To dry beans, leave the pods on the plants until they are brown and it’s barely possible to make a dent in the seed – pod may even rattle with the dry seed inside.
Several varieties that are tasty, easy to grow, and visually appealing are: Adzuki, Black, Fava, Garbanzo, Great Northern White, Kidney, Lima, Mung, Pinto, Bird’s Egg, Scarlet Runner, Snap, and Soldier beans. Any of these beans will surely be a hearty addition to recipes throughout the year, paired with seasonal vegetables to bring out different flavors.<
Pinto Bean Salad
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh basil, minced
- 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups pinto or other beans, cooked and cooled (or 1 15 oz can beans, drained rinsed)*
To make dressing, in a medium bowl, mix together the oil, lemon juice/vinegar, garlic, basil parsley, black pepper and salt.
Let dressing sit while chopping the tomatoes, jalapeno and onion. Add the vegetables to the dressing and mix to combine.
Add the beans and toss lightly.
For best flavor, allow salad to sit for a few hours or overnight in a refrigerator before serving.
*Dry beans are much cheaper than canned beans. To cook dry beans: rinse beans, then in a large bowl, cover with four times as much boiling water as beans. Let soak overnight. Discard water. Cover beans by two inches of fresh water in a stock pot and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for one hour or until beans can be mashed against roof of mouth easily with your tongue. Let beans cool, then put in plastic bags in the freezer in two cup portions. Use frozen beans within six months.