I’m constantly amazed at the startling versatility of beans in the edible landscape. What other vegetable offers so much for so little effort? Eat them as green beans (snap beans), fresh shell beans, or dry them for a dose of protein during the fall and winter.
So Many Beans, So Little Garden Space
Every summer my neighbors can count on lush teepees of beans growing in my front yard. Climbing beans are an attractive way to grow lots of food in a modest space. There are so many varieties to choose from, I always look forward to trying some new ones besides growing my favorites.
Last year I grew about 18 different varieties of beans, and you might think that they couldn’t be very different from each other. But there are different beans best suited to how you’ll be eating them. Here are some of my favorites and some new ones I’m trying this year:
The snap beans I like best are the stringless, tender, pencil-thin kind.
Emerite, a French bean, is my hands down favorite for texture and flavor. It’s a fast growing pole bean that grows very tall; it can climb 8 to 10 feet, and it’s very productive as long as you harvest the beans often. I’ve been saving Emerite seeds year-to-year for about four summers now.
Royal Burgundy is a beautiful purple podded snap bean, also stringless and tender. The pods are a beautiful deep purple, almost black, but turn green when cooked. And the bushy plants have dark green leaves with showy purple stems and flowers. This is a lovely bean for your front yard edible landscape.
My two picks for dry beans are Gigante and Italian Butter beans. I collected them from my farmer’s market. They come from Iacopi Farms in Half Moon Bay, California, and were brought over from Italy in the 1960s by the Iacopi family. These are outstanding served simply with olive oil and fresh herbs, such as basil or tarragon. Dry beans that are fresh cook in about an hour – much faster than the store bought kind that may be several years old! It’s interesting that “butter bean” usually refers to a lima bean, but these are both true runner beans.
There are three varieties that I’m growing to eat as shell beans, that is, shelling the fresh beans from the green pods before they are dry. Cranberry, Romano, and Rattlesnake beans are good this way, and Rattlesnake also doubles as a great snap bean. The fresh beans are especially tasty with fresh cut corn and basil, and they only take a few minutes to cook.
If you didn’t grow your own beans this summer look for them at your farmer’s market and enjoy this seasonal specialty while it lasts. Then start planning for next summer’s garden by choosing your favorites and getting seeds from heirloom seed producers.
Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke