Why grow beans at home? It’s easy, they’re healthy and good for the planet | gardening tips

IIt was at a food market in Oaxaca, Mexico – and after eating a particularly memorable plate of black beans with waxy yellow potatoes at the end of a day of hiking in the mountains – that Susan Young came to her found herself craving beans. She had seen them grown in the fields and sold dried, and had seen how deeply rooted the bean was in Mexican culture and cuisine. So she bought a few back home in Monmouthshire – and before she knew it a few beans had become an obsession.

Young grows beans in his garden specifically to shell them and eat them fresh, demi-sec (semi-dried, with a unique flavor) or dried. She favors varieties from Europe: cassoulet beans from France, borlotti from Italy, mongeta and alubias from Spain, brown beans from the Netherlands, marbled beauties from southern Germany and cherries from Eastern Europe. She’s so passionate about the power of beans to change our diets and help the environment that she’s written a book on the subject, guiding us from sowing to harvesting and cooking.

Greek Gigantes – harvest when the beans are developed, then boil, dress and enjoy. Photography: Susan Young

Beans are very good for health. They are an appreciable source of protein (25 to 29%, depending on the variety); they’re high in soluble and insoluble fiber, which supports digestive health, and they’re packed with vitamins and minerals, including iron and B vitamins. White beans are full of calcium, which makes them excellent for vegans. All of these things put together provide many health benefits, from preventing heart disease, colon and bowel cancer to keeping blood sugar low.

And they are also good for the planet. Bean plants work with soil bacteria to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which plants cannot access, into a form that plants can use. In short, they make their own plant food, which means they can be grown in low nitrogen soil without additional fertilizer. If you leave the roots in the ground, rather than digging them up after harvest, any remaining nitrogen will be released back into the soil.

Around the world, shelled or dried beans are an important – and ancient – ​​staple crop. Beans are thought to have been domesticated around 7,000 years ago in South America. Beans were passed down along native trade routes and transported by colonial invaders across the seas, then passed down from generation to generation to create a great diversity of legumes.

They run the gamut in size, shape and color as well as flavor and texture: beans that taste almost meaty, are spicy or delicate, hold their shape when boiled, and those that blend in soups and stews.

Beans belong to two main species: Phaseolus coccineus, which we know as runner bean; and Phaseolus vulgaris, the green bean. Traditionally in the UK we grow both, but have always stopped short of growing them to maturity, only eating the immature green bean. We don’t seem to have had a tradition of dried beans (other than broad beans and peas).

Brown Dutch Beans
Dutch brown beans have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor and are great for soup. Photography: Brian Wiltshire

Finally, they are very easy to grow. There is still time this spring: you can sow in early May with the aim of transplanting in June (later and you risk that the beans will not grow enough).

You can sow directly, but if there are mice around, they will eat the beans before they sprout. Sowing in small 9cm pots means you can keep them in a safe place until they have sprouted, by which time the mice have lost interest. Sow two seeds per pot; when both seedlings have emerged, remove the weaker one. If you’re in a cooler location, it’s worth pre-heating the ground with plastic sheeting or cloches for at least two weeks. So, after sowing seeds, cover the ground where you are going to plant.

Beans grow well in containers and pots as long as they are deep enough for their substantial root: something the size of a garbage can. Seeds germinate at 15-25°C in 8-10 days, so it is often a good idea to sow indoors if the weather is unpredictable. Plant when all danger of frost has passed and the plant has two sets of true leaves.

If you’re short on space or growing in an exposed or windy location, focus on dwarf varieties, which mature quickly. Tall beans will need something to climb on – a teepee, a row of beans, or a pergola. The spacing between plants is important for two reasons: so that the deep roots of the plants do not compete and receive adequate moisture for good swelling; and for air circulation around the beans, necessary for proper drying. Bush beans should be planted 15-30cm apart in blocks: the bigger the bean, the more space the plant needs. Climbing beans need more than 30 to 45 cm between them. All varieties need sunny locations and dislike heavy, wet soil. If you have the latter, plant in mounded soil to improve drainage.

The yin yang or orc bean
The yin yang or orca bean can be eaten in the pod or dried, and thrives in sunny locations. Photography: Wirestock/Alamy

All beans can be eaten first as green beans (although some taste better than others), then as fresh shelled beans, and finally as dried beans. Fresh shelled beans are to be savored because the flavor is exquisite: borlotti or Greek giants beans, for example, are delicious simply boiled and seasoned with lemon, salt and olive oil. Harvest when the seeds are well developed but the pods are still green. They will cook quickly, like fresh peas. Semi-dry beans occur when the pods are just beginning to change color, but are not yet dry. Beans will take a little longer to cook, but semi-dry beans freeze very well.

When the pod vibrates and is completely dry, you are well on your way to harvesting the dry beans. The beans may need to dry out more before storing (you shouldn’t be able to press your thumbnail into their skin), but they will keep for a very long time; they will need to be soaked before cooking. You will need five to seven plants per variety for two people; 10 plants if you want to store beans for the winter.

Nine Best Beans to Grow This Summer

Anellino of Trento
Anellino of Trento. Also known as dwarf borlotto, these sweet, nutty beans thrive in small spaces. Photograph: ES Cuisine/Photo Alto/Alamy

greek giants are wonderful runner beans with huge oily seeds; they need plenty of space between plants. They are also excellent fresh and dried.

Hungarian rice bean is a very small dwarf variety whose grains are not much larger than a grain of rice. Grows in a sheltered, sunny location. Can be eaten as green beans, fresh or dried. Ideal for containers.

yin who or killer whale bean, native to the Caribbean, this dwarf bean has a very good flavor and goes particularly well in stews, where it will hold its shape. Can be eaten as a green or dried bean.

Borlotto bean (“fagiolo di Lamon”) is the best of borlotti, with a sweet, nutty flavor and dense texture that can thicken soups or be eaten fresh, cooked with nothing more than herbs, oil and grape juice. lemon. It is vigorous, but needs a good, long summer to mature.

Ring from Trento is a dwarf borlotto that is best suited to small spaces or those further north. Excellent green as well as dried.

Strong and resistant herd is prolific and reliable, with a deep meaty flavor (hence its name). It is a dwarf cross between a Gaucho Bean and a Tepary. It behaves as well in dry summer as in wet summer.

Dutch Brown is a vigorous and very productive dwarf bean. It has small, oval, golden-brown beans that sweeten easily, with a delicate, slightly sweet flavor. Perfect for soups. Ideal if space is limited.

To goChestnut chestnut from Echenans comes from eastern France and is a vigorous, early vine with rich brown, green and purplish beans that have a distinct chestnut flavor.

Black tortoise is a very pretty broad bean with a dark lilac flower, originating from Mexico. There are both dwarf and climbing varieties; choose the dwarf if you live further north. Can be eaten as a green bean, but is best left to mature into ink black beans which are rich in antioxidants.

Growing Beans by Susan Young (Permanent Publications, £9.95). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

Leave a Comment