Beans. I know I say this every time, but beans are possibly my new favorite vegetable to grow. How is it that I’m constantly surprised by how fun it is to grow things? I planted beans for the first time this year, throwing 5-6 varieties I’d been storing for years around my gazebo in the hopes of creating a bean-covered wonderland. Unfortunately a lot of my beans were several years old and my sprinklers weren’t yet set up, so for various reasons my first beans were unimpressive at best.
Luckily I was able to hit up a gardening friend for new beans and I will be forever grateful to her for introducing me to heirloom Scarlet Emperor Pole Beans. They are beautiful, vigorous, prolific producers of gigantic beans. Not only that, the pretty red flowers attract hummingbirds, so if I’m very quiet I can hunker down in the gazebo and watch my little hummers flit from flower to flower. It’s pretty cool.
As I mentioned, Scarlet Emperors grow to be huge, about 16″ long, but for cooking I like to pick them at 8-10″ before they get tough. Once they reach 10″, which it seems like happens the second you turn your back, they’re better allowed to dry on the vine and either cooked as dry beans or saved for planting. No matter when you pick them, they have a slightly fuzzy skin that took some getting used to, but I discovered that sauteeing them with garlic and olive oil is an excellent solution. A squeeze of citrus and a sprinkling of flake sea salt and it is over. A pat of butter doesn’t hurt. Basically I used my go-to “when in doubt” recipe and, of course, a pat of butter, which everyone knows takes the sting out of life’s most pressing problems.
I have some stringless green beans intertwined with the Emperors too, but since I just kept throwing different beans at the gazebo and hoping they’d stick I don’t actually know which ones are growing. Kentucky Wonder maybe? Blue Lake Pole? Could be. No matter, it’s nice to have a crunchy stringless bean we can eat raw.
Speaking of crunchy raw beans, check out these heirloom White Half-Runner Bush Beans! Bush beans is kind of a misleading term as these suckers are running up and down and all around the sculptures I planted them near. They started innocently enough…
… but soon took off and took over! They are also pumping out beans like nobody’s business. I have even stopped keeping track of my bean harvest since my first few weigh-ins. Just knowing I can go out and pick a handful or two every other day is good enough for me.
It’s hard to believe that I was not excited about growing beans, even as the vines took off. Mainly it was because I couldn’t think of that many uses for them. Then my dad bought me a book called Flight Behavior, written by Barbara Kingsolver. It has nothing to do with beans. It is all about monarch butterflies – risks they face, changing migratory patterns, life cycles – so he knew I would find it fascinating. Little did he know that a very minor passage about beans would grab my attention.
The main character had some folks living on her property while they studied the monarchs and she happened to mention that they devoured an entire jar of her dilly beans. Which left me wondering… what on earth are dilly beans? Looking back it’s obvious, but at the time it was a mystery that required research! If you know me at all you know I love googling, so I set to it and discovered that dilly beans are just pickled beans, “dilly” being a cute colloquialism used in many parts of the country. Well duh.
I found this very simple recipe online and within an hour had my first batch of pickled beans. Needless to say they are delicious and totally addictive!
Beyond looking good and tasting good, beans are well-loved and used by gardeners for their ability to absorb nitrogen from the air and transfer this nitrogen through their roots and into the soil. For this reason, beans are often used as a cover crop, helping to create a healthy, nutrient-filled environment for the following season’s plants. They require just light feedings of potassium and phosphorus throughout the growing season and grow in nearly any soil. Looking at my Scarlet Emperors, for instance, would you ever guess they are planted three to a container, and the container is filled with the sandy, nutrient-deficient soil from our yard?
And so I will happily continue to grow beans. I’ve got a handful of Scarlet Emperors and White Half-Runners drying on the vine and am already looking forward to next spring when I can stick them in dirt and watch them do their thing. I’ve got spots staked out on the side fence where I hope to grow a towering barrier between us and the neighbor’s jacuzzi. The pinto beans and corn I planted this year didn’t quite do the job, much to my eyeballs’ dismay.
If you’ve got any favorite recipes for beans please share them as I’ve got a fridge full of beans that need eating and a freezer collection growing fast!
Notes on beans:
Scarlet Emperor on north fence
Dragon Tongue, Haricot Vert
Containers okay, feed monthly K, P
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