Friday, May 4, 2012

An article that I wrote for Florida Gardening a few years ago:

                      Bean There Done That

   Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat the more you’ve art in your landscape. But I’m not talkin’ pinto and navy beans, but some beautifully flowering exotic tropical beans that grow like crazy here from spring into fall. Their lush vines boast a blend of blooms and protein-rich bean pods for bouquets and the dinner plate. All they need is full sun, soil enriched with dog food nuggets, and an ugly fence you’d love to see transformed into a lovely flowering “trellis”.

   But beans? Yup. Remember Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) from our grandma’s flower gardens? A white mailbox looks charming swathed in those emerald leaves and ruby blooms. Imagine picking and nibbling a crisp raw pod as you reach in for the daily mail! Chop them into salads and stir fry for a taste and texture you can’t buy in the produce market. And those crisp red blooms add a sweet surprise to salads! Look for them in the garden flowers section of seed displays.

   The Yard Long Bean (Vigna sesquipedalis) is sold in Asian veggie seed displays. A staple of Chinese cooking, this relative of the Black Eyed Pea thrives just as well in our muggy summers. Expect the lovely orchid-like flowers to quickly transform into bean pods up to 3 feet long, though they are best picked when a foot long and sweetly tender. Easy and thus great for kids to grow, they also provide newly unfolded leaves excellent when chopped into soups and stir fry for extra fiber, bright green color, and healthy nutrition.

  Want to freak out friends, neighbors, passers-by and dinner guests? Grow African Jack Beans (Canavalia ensiformis) and watch jaws drop first when the vines rival those in ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’, then again when monstrous bean pods form. I use mine in soups and stir fry when 8-10 inches long and crisply tender, pods and all. No need to shuck them. Think that size DOES matter? Grow African Jack Beans!

  Prized in Filipino cuisine, the green-podded Hyacinth Bean (Dilochos lablab) is tastier and grows far more luxuriantly than the equally edible purple-podded kind sold in flower seed racks. If you don’t have a Filipino neighbor who can share seeds with you, look for them on-line or in the seed display in an Asian market. Lovely on a chain link fence, bedecked with flowers reminiscent of wisterias, Hyacinth Beans cover my henhouse each summer to provide “my girls” with shade and nutritious leaves they love to peck at and nibble. By summer you can pick the flat green pods and shuck out flat green beans that when lightly cooked taste much like edamame’ soybeans. Allowed to ripen and dry on the vines, the tan pods can be shattered to release beautiful black seeds, each with a white spot, that can be cooked like any dried bean. All summer long I treat myself to petite bouquets of the long-stemmed lavender blooms yet still end up with numbers of beans for stir fry and soups.

    All are easy to grow....just scatter dog food nuggets all along a fence  (a 20 lb. bag will do 20 feet of fence, turn them under, plant one seed every 2 feet or so, and water deeply weekly till the summer rains kick in. Then jump back out of their way!

 Got beans?


ECHONET 239-543-3246   fax 239-543-5317

EVERGREEN SEEDS   714-637-5769

John Starnes

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