One my favorite vegetables to plant, harvest and eat from my garden are beans. There are many varieties of beans available to plant in a vegetable garden, and beans are also one of the easiest crops to grow from seed.
All beans are members of the legume family—the same family that peas are from. There are lima and kidney beans, two very different species. Fava and broad beans come from Europe, but they are also vastly different from each other. Soybeans, an Oriental bean, also provide a much different type of bean. Probably the most common beans are green beans—referred to in the garden as “string” or “snap” beans.
String and snap beans have edible pods. Sometimes this type of green bean has a “string” along the pod of the bean that should be removed prior to eating. It can be removed by simply pulling on it.
Edible pod beans, with or without a string, are also referred to as snap beans because some gardeners like to snap the bean in half or in thirds prior to cooking. The firm pod of the bean makes a snapping sound when broken. However, it is not necessary to snap beans prior to cooking.
Beans are also classified as “climbing” or “bush”. Climbing beans need a trellis system; the plants grow four to five feet tall with beans growing on the entire length of the plant. Climbing beans are also referred to as “pole” beans, and they will produce for a longer period of time than bush beans.
Bush beans are low growing beans. Most bush beans are only about a foot or two tall, and they will begin to produce beans a week or two earlier than climbing beans. Bush beans are sometimes referred to as “dwarf” due to the size of the plant, but the beans on bush and climbing bean plants are all long and slender.
Snap or string beans should be harvested while the pod is still flat. The entire bean—the pod and the seed inside—will be very tender when eaten.
As beans start to mature, the pod will bulge out around the beans. These more mature beans are known as shell beans. They should be harvested when the pod feels rubbery, but before the seeds harden. The soft bean seeds can be removed from the pod at harvest and eaten.
Shell beans can also be harvested as dried beans after the plant foliage turns yellow and the bean inside the pod is as hard as a stone. These naturally dried beans can be picked, placed in a fabric bag and beaten until the pod and foliage disintegrates, leaving just the whole dried bean inside.
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