In Introducing the Hunan Winged Bean (June/July 2007), we asked readers to write in about their experiences growing winged beans. In the following letter, Mother Earth News reader Jeff Weyers offers tips for growing winged beans.
I have grown and enjoyed winged beans for over ten years, so I was glad to see your article by William Woys Weaver about the ‘Hunan’ variety of winged bean in your June/July issue. Although I grow a different daylength insensitive variety than ‘Hunan,’ some of my thoughts and tips on growing this crop should certainly be applicable. Hopefully new growers will not be inadvertantly disappointed in the potential of this plant when it is stated that all parts of the plant are edible, because they certainly are; you just will not be able to harvest all potentially edible parts from each plant. For example, tubers will be very small or non-existant unless all flower buds are removed, and bud removal means no pods; likewise excessive shoot and leaf harvest severely impacts pod production. In my experience nearly everyone likes the delicious pods and mushroom-flavored flower buds (stir-fried). I like the tender young shoot tips as a garden nibble. The immature seeds are OK, but rather troublesome to shell in quantity, and although the mature seeds can be eaten, I have found few people that consider them good tasting.
1. Six to seven weeks before last spring frost, nick hard seed coats and soak in several changes of hot (not scalding) water overnight, dust with garden combo bean and pea inocculant, and plant in pots.
2. Transplant to garden a week or two after last spring frost when soil has warmed. Consider placing in part of garden that gets afternoon shade if you are in an area that experiences 90 degree temperatures or higher to help prevent drop of blossoms. Also consider interplanting with a rapidly maturing crop because the young beans "stand still" for about a month before they start to send out climbing vines. Winged bean needs water, but don't overdo watering.
3. About a month after vines start to climb, the first flowers appear; however, in my climate it is usually hot enough at this time to cause blossom drop — no problem, this is when I harvest buds and blossoms. The problem of high temperature blossom drop may convey an advantage to northerly growers over southern growers for this tropical plant!
4. At the end of July or beginning of August pods will finally start to be produced (depending on weather), and continue to be produced until first frost in October (USDA Zone 7). Vines are indeed productive, with five or six of them providing a serving of pods every day; it can be a real chore to keep winged beans picked because of their productivity! As stated in the article, winged beans are as pest- and disease-free as a person could wish for, and in my experience it seems that they are good soil enrichers for subsequent crops. I have had a relative direct seed them in the garden in east-central Wisconsin and they started to form pods before first frost, but no real harvest (if they had been transplanted as I outlined above, I am confident they would have performed well). I hope others will like the winged bean as I do.