How to Grow Shell Beans

Pick up some tips for growing, harvesting, and storing beans from your garden, including black beans, soybeans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and more; plus three recipes.

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    With such a wide variety of flavors, it's easy to find a shell bean for almost any kind of recipe and taste.

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The world has been blessed with beans. There are more than 500 cultivated varieties, with origins as diverse as Japan, India, Central America, and the Mediterranean. Botanically speaking, the greatest number of bean varieties belong to the genus Phaseolus, which includes green and wax beans (covered in Growing Green Beans, Wax Beans and More), as well as kidney, pinto, and lima beans. Mung beans and adzuki beans, however, belong to the genus Vigna; fava beans are classed as Vicia faba, garbanzos as Cicer arietinum; and the soybean has the botanical name of Glycine max. A shell bean can be considered as any bean grown for the bean itself—the seed—rather than the pod.

What Shell Beans to Grow

With such diverse choices, it can be exceedingly rewarding to grow shell beans you might not have tried before. (Check with your county extension agent to find out if a particular variety will do well in your area.) Here are a few favorites:

Adzuki beans, natives of Japan, feature small plants with long, thin pods that when young can be eaten like snap beans. Each pod contains seven to 10 small, nutty-tasting, maroon-colored seeds, which require a lot of shelling but are extremely high in protein and are excellent fresh or dried. (In Asia, they are often used in desserts.) Adzukis require a three-month growing season, but they are resistant to pests, even Mexican bean beetles.

Black beans (also called black turtle beans) were a staple of the Inca and Aztec diets and—combined with rice—are still a favorite in parts of Central and South America. Because black beans need 85 to 105 warm, frost-free days to mature, they are popular in the South, where they are eaten mainly in soups and stews. These jet black seeds come from sprawling half-runner-type plants, but some newer varieties, such as Johnny's Midnight Black Turtle Soup, have more upright growth habits.

Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) are nutty-tasting dry beans that can be baked, though I prefer them cooked and chilled for use in salads. Unfortunately, these bushy plants, which need 65 to 100 days to produce a harvest, don't do well in cooler climates.

Fava beans (also called broad, English, Windsor, horse, or cattle beans) are among our oldest cultivated vegetables, having been found in archaeological sites in Europe, North Africa, and China. As a source of vegetable protein, they are second only to soybeans. In addition, like other beans, they are rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. It's said this nutritious legume was an ingredient in the hardtack recipe given by God to Ezekiel when warning of the disasters awaiting Jerusalem. Egyptian priests, though, regarded the beans as unclean, and the ancient philosopher Pythagoras blamed them for insomnia and bad dreams. (Perhaps the Greek suffered from favism, a rare inherited allergy to broad beans that occurs mostly in males of Mediterranean descent.) Nevertheless, broad beans remained a European favorite and helped many peasants of medieval England to survive. In this country, however, they're grown mostly for fodder. For this reason, there's a limited number of the more delicately flavored garden varieties available here, but you'll find that the types you do locate are very easy to grow. Favas, which generally take 75 days to mature, actually thrive in cold, damp weather. They should, in fact, be planted around the same time as peas, since production fades in summer's heat.

9/9/2009 4:51:36 PM

You can find seeds, plants, organic pest control products and garden products in our search engine:

Barbara McCann
9/9/2009 2:33:17 PM

So where do I find the bean seeds? I have been looking for navy bean seeds and others but can't find any.



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