Summer beans – annuals
19 Oct 2021
Most beans do well in gardens in this area and make a great staple, both tasty and filling with next to no effort to grow. Beans are possibly the easiest plant to save seed from. They are very efficient users of space and don’t need much fertiliser. You get a lot of food from a wall of beans. Did you know the leaves are edible too? The youngest leaves are the most palatable and they are best cooked. They taste very…beany. Beans make so much nutritious food for fresh summer eating and winter hotpots that no one should be going hungry.
All beans are magic!
These articles are available directly via email, roughly weekly until mid 2022 – sign up at http://eepurl.com/hakBgT
Across the seasons
This article is going to be divided into two sections – annual and perennial beans. However, in the garden, these beans will bear in succession which is also useful to know.
If you are in a frost free spot or if you can manage to create a warm protected microclimate over winter, you will be able to grow summer beans all year round. Otherwise, your perennial beans will die down and your annuals will be killed off for good around June or July.
In July or August the established madagascar and lab lab beans will resprout. Pigeon peas will be in flower and feeding the bees.
Around August – October you will be able to harvest very young lab lab beans and pigeon peas as though they are snow peas. A bit later, madagascar beans are ready to eat as young bean seeds. This is also when you would normally sow your annual runner beans.
From mid September to October the annual beans are fruiting.
October onwards is the time to sow snake beans.
By November or certainly December the winged beans will resprout. Sow them now if growing them from seed. These are the last of the beans to germinate as they like it reliably hot and steamy.
By December you should be eating snake beans. The green beans will slow right down over the height of summer but snake beans and winged beans will take up the slack.
Around Jan you should be eating winged beans.
Pigeon peas will be ready to collect dried seeds in high summer.
As the weather cools down you will be collecting dried pods of the annual beans. The madagascar and lab lab will have dried pods throughout the season.
All mature bean seeds should be cooked before eating due to containing lectins. The amount contained varies by bean variety. Red kidney beans are well known for causing illness if not properly cooked. Lima and madagascar beans will do this too. What’s the problem? From a friend with experience, “I haven’t had vomiting and diarrhoea like that since I visited India.” To deactivate the toxin, cook for 10 minutes at boiling point (lid off!), or 30 minutes boiling to be safe. Slow cooking at lower temperatures can intensify the toxin by a factor of 5! Dried beans should be soaked for at least 5 hours before cooking with the water thrown away. Immature beans are fine to eat raw.
Leguminous plants like beans and peas are revered as they can take nitrogen from the air, use what they need and move excess into the soil. They don’t do this all themselves, they work in partnership with rhizobial microbes. If these microbes aren’t in your soil, the nitrogen fixing is greatly reduced. It is advisable though not required to inoculate your leguminous seeds with an appropriate strain of microbes the first time you grow the crop. Afterwards, as long as you keep growing these plants regularly, the microbes will be in your soil. Having said this, common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) aren’t typically inoculated as they partner too readily with any rhizobial floozy. They tend to be fertilised instead and there are low expectations of their nitrogen fixing abilities.
Runner / green beans
These are your French beans or butter beans. The common summer bean, which can actually come in flat or round, yellow, purple, brown or green, stringed or stringless podded varieties of various lengths up to 30cm. The bean seeds come in a stunning array of colours, stripes, splotches and sizes. Some are grown for eating the whole pod as an immature “green” bean. Some are grown for mature dried bean seeds for winter use. These tend to have pods that are a bit tough for eating, though not necessarily. Seeds from green-eating beans can also be dried and saved for winter.
Summer beans can grow either as bush beans or climbing beans. Some varieties have both bush and climbing types.
Bush or dwarf
Grow 20 – 60cm high. Less time is spent getting to their full height so they start creating beans sooner than climbing beans. However, bush beans make fewer beans and over a shorter period of time than climbing types. They tend to create all their beans at once and then stop. Bush beans are ready earlier (55-70 days vs 65-80 days) than climbers.
Climbing or pole
Grow 2-3m high and need a trellis from the four leaf stage onward. It takes longer to get to their full height than bush beans so they take longer to start creating beans. However climbing beans can make up to three times the number of beans than bush bean types. They create their beans over a longer period of time, with continuous picking needed to encourage more beans. They might need help at 4 – 6 weeks old to begin climbing on their support in an anti-clockwise direction.
Locally known varieties
Ziggy bean – climbing bean with tonnes of flat, stringless pods and excellent flavour, brought down from the Byron area 20 years ago. Very well adapted to this area now.
Keep an eye out for other flat podded stringless varieties. They tend to be prolific, extra hardy and have good flavour. Northeaster, Lazy Housewife and Italian Romano are examples.
Butter bean – can come in both bush and climbing form. Pale yellow, soft texture and buttery flavour. Cherokee Wax bush bean does well here.
Borlotti bean – in both bush and climbing form. This can be eaten as a young whole pod or as shelled mature beans.
Purple Climbing / Purple King – climbing bean with flattish purple pods that turn green on cooking. There are a couple of varieties locally that have been in the area for quite some time and at least one strain comes from the founders of the Australian Seed Savers Network in the Byron area many years ago. Very well adapted to this area now.
Blue Lake – climbing bean with rounded green pods, known to do well in warmer areas and popular in this area.
Don’t let this small list put you off trying other varieties. Annual beans do very well here. It’s a great idea to sow different varieties in succession every few weeks to get new flavours across the season and hedge your bets on what the weather will do this year!
Sow from August after frost. Wet cold soil will result in rotted seeds. They germinate best at 24°C, or within the range of 15° – 35°C. Soil should be well drained and loose and fertile. pH of 5.5 – 7.0. Add losts of compost and / or 10-20-10 fertiliser. They like a bit of potassium. Plant the seeds 2 – 4 cm deep in either moist soil or water well once after sowing. Either way do not water again until seedlings appear, after 4 – 10 days. Once they are growing keep their soil moist.
Space 10-15 cm apart for climbers, 50-75 cm for bush beans. They like full sun, to the point that bush beans can change into climbers if they aren’t getting enough! Hill the soil up around the base of the plants, to 10cm deep. This gives a more solid base against wind, and the bean fly (Ophiomyia phaseoli) who likes to bore into the stem near the base weakening the plant. Plant them in a sheltered spot as wind wrecks the flowers (no beans!) and deforms the beans that do grow. A note for those near the sea, beans have a rather low tolerance for salt.
Do not over water or over fertilise. Continuous moist soil, not waterlogged. Too much water in their first month just grows a lot of leaves. Too much fertiliser generally does the same. Just feed a bit of extra compost once they start flowering. Being more generous with water from two weeks before flowering to two weeks after flowering is recommended. Keep them weeded especially during the first 4 (climbing) – 6 (bush) weeks.
Beans will be ready to harvest about 7 – 11 weeks after sowing. They are happiest growing between 16° to 30°C. Temperatures above 35°C in the height of summer equal poor flower pollination and only a few low quality beans. As it cools down again, the climbing beans will get going again. As the nights get cooler, below 10°C, the beans will start to grow curly instead of straight. Frost will kill the plants entirely. The recommendation is to pick green beans early in the morning for the best flavour. You may need to do this daily. Picked beans only last about a week in the fridge.
Beans don’t tend to cross with each other, but it’s still a good idea to keep different varieties about 2m apart to be sure to keep each variety pure, if that’s what you want. Try and save seeds from about 6 plants of each variety to keep the genetics strong. It’s easy to tell when beans are mature for seed saving as the pods brown off and the seeds harden. Pick and leave to fully dry for another couple of weeks in a warm breezy place. Freeze seeds for storage for 48 hours to kill weevils and eggs otherwise they will eat your seed stash.
The main trouble you will have with runner beans is bower birds. For inexplicable reasons bower birds delight in having demolition parties in vege gardens. One of their favourite games is to shred beans and leaves and flowers from runner bean plants – and fling them to the ground uneaten. Until there’s basically nothing left. Reciting a recipe for bowerbird pie out loud to the wrecking party can work. Or bird netting.
Vigna unguiculata var. sesquipedalis
Thankfully, bower birds are not interested in snake beans. Also thankfully they have nothing to do with snakes. They are just very long snake-like beans. Another name is yard long beans. They can be up to 1.2m long depending on the variety and are prolific. Usually the pods are green, sometimes red. The seeds are red to brown to black.
Strangely, ants love these beans. They’re not farming aphids. They’re actually one of the pollinators so leave them be. They’re just a bit annoying when you’re trying to pick the beans. You may find various Pod Sucking Bugs take a fancy to snake beans but generally they are pest-free.
The beans are made in pairs or more on the end of a long stem. When picking beans, twist them off or snip them so the growing buds of the stem aren’t damaged. You will get many pairs of beans from each stem. These plants are incredible bean makers. Cut and come again. The more you pick, the more beans are created. You may well find yourself picking every day. If you stop picking, bean creation slows down. Some pods got away? Leave them to go puffy and yellow then pick them off to dry properly. Don’t leave them sitting on the plant. They slow down the beanmaking and can go mouldy.
Snake bean pods are a bit tougher skinned than runner bean pods. They are better stir fried. Boiling makes them tougher. They are also edible raw. As with most vegetables, pick them young for the most tender eating. Obviously they will be shorter and skinnier at this stage. Use snake beans whole, like you would for runner beans. Or let them mature, pop out the seeds inside and dry them as a soup bean for winter. The green bean doesn’t keep that long once picked, about 7-10 days, and needs to be cooled asap after picking to last.
This a hardy plant. Snake beans love the heat and the wet and grow fast under these conditions when many other vegetables are struggling. In fact they require temperatures above 25°C to reach their full potential and temperatures lower than 15°C will really throw the brakes on their growing. The arrival of frost is the absolute end of snake bean season. Although they looove water, grow them on a mound to avoid waterlogging which they can’t bear. Also note that dry spells slow them right down too. They may not cope with drought.
These beans can be sown in August and they will germinate and grow but they won’t really do much until the weather gets hot and steamy. Probably sowing in October is more sensible so they are ready to take off with bean creation by November / December when the heat and the wet really arrives. Inoculate with inoculant group I, also used for cowpeas, which snake beans were bred from.
Any soil will do, from sand to clay. Snake beans aren’t fussy. pH between 5.5 and 7.5. Sow them 2cm deep in damp soil and hold off watering for 3-4 days. Don’t pre soak these beans. Immediate watering can mean seed-rot developing due to water being taken up too fast.
You will need some sort of trellis for snake beans. The tall varieties will go about 2m up. The short or dwarf ones still make long beans over a long period of time but the plant only stands about 2 foot tall and sometimes only stands up if gently woven through a trellis.
The first beans will be ready for picking 6 -10 weeks after sowing if the weather is warm and wet enough. They will continue to make many beans for many weeks until the weather cools down. Commercially snake beans are given a complete fertiliser once a month to help keep them going.
Big thanks to
Paul Hoske of Barefoot Fruit and Veg
Shaun Robinson of Thora Veg
John Vernon, Phil and Carole Helman, Jeff Alcott, Michele Morozumi, Kathleen Hannah, Donella Bryce, Sue Lennox, Pete Bufo, Susan Doyle
Supported by Bellingen Shire Council via the Bellingen Shire Disaster Recovery and Resilience Grant Program Funding
1. Fanton M& J. The Seed Savers Handbook. The Seed Savers’ Network; 2008.
2. GoodBadBug-FINALscreen22Feb3.pdf [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://thebeatsheet.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/GoodBadBug-FINALscreen22Feb3.pdf
3. Legume-Inoculant-Selection-Chart-green-rhiz.pdf [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 19]. Available from: http://greenmicrobes.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Legume-Inoculant-Selection-Chart-green-rhiz.pdf
1. Fisheries A and. Bean fly [Internet]. corporateName=The State of Queensland; 2018 [cited 2021 Oct 19]. Available from: https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/crop-growing/pests-field-crops/bean-fly
2. Kellman AW, Hill GD, McKenzie BA. Is it worth inoculating common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)? 2006;12.
3. Ossowski P. Growing Beans [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/?name=Gardening-Article&blogposturl=growing-beans
4. Pastor-Bueis R, Sánchez-Cañizares C, James EK, González-Andrés F. Formulation of a Highly Effective Inoculant for Common Bean Based on an Autochthonous Elite Strain of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli, and Genomic-Based Insights Into Its Agronomic Performance. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2019;10:2724.
5. Green bean. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Green_bean&oldid=1046268664
6. Phaseolus vulgaris. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Phaseolus_vulgaris&oldid=1047411220
7. BEAN “NORTHEASTER” ORGANIC | The Diggers Club [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.diggers.com.au/shop/certified-organic-seeds-and-more/bean-northeaster-organic/s0282/
8. BEAN “PURPLE KING” CLIMBING | The Diggers Club [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.diggers.com.au/shop/edibles/bean-purple-king-climbing/s021/
9. Bean, Bush – Blue Lake [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 19]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/Product-Info-Seeds?product=bean-bush-blue-lake
10. Bean, Bush – Cherokee Wax [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 19]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/Product-Info-Seeds?product=bean-bush-cherokee-wax
11. Bean, Bush – Gourmet Delight [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/Product-Info-Seeds?product=bean-bush-gourmet-delight
12. Bean, Bush – Provider [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/Product-Info-Seeds?product=bean-bush-provider
13. Bean, Climbing – Blue Lake [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/Product-Info-Seeds?product=bean-climbing-blue-lake
14. Bean, Climbing – Kentucky Wonder [Internet]. Eden Seeds. [cited 2021 Oct 19]. Available from: https://www.edenseeds.com.au/Product-Info-Seeds?product=bean-climbing-kentucky-wonder
15. Growing fresh runner and dwarf beans in Western Australia [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/beans/growing-fresh-runner-and-dwarf-beans-western-australia?nopaging=1
16. How to Grow Green Beans in a Garden – growing green beans in backyard [Internet]. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. [cited 2021 Oct 19]. Available from: https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/green-beans/
17. Organic Vegetable Seeds Online – Beans [Internet]. Green Harvest. [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://greenharvest.com.au/SeedOrganic/VegetableSeeds/Beans.html
1.Fisheries A and. Brown bean bug [Internet]. corporateName=The State of Queensland; 2019 [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/crop-growing/pests-field-crops/brown-bean-bug
2. Poffley M, Owens G, Dpifm F. Growing Snake Beans in the Top End. :3.
3. Podsucking bug species | The Beatsheet [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://thebeatsheet.com.au/resources/insect-identification/podsucking-bugs/
4. Plant Profile- Snake Bean [Internet]. Zero Input Agriculture. 2020 [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://zeroinputagriculture.wordpress.com/2020/01/10/plant-profile-snake-bean/
5. Asparagus bean. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Asparagus_bean&oldid=1040405789
6. Snake bean [Internet]. AgriFutures Australia. [cited 2021 Oct 13]. Available from: https://agrifutures.com.au/farm-diversity/snake-bean/