Lima Beans Into November


Bad weather almost always brings a few good results, something to hang on to in the time of adversity. After the extremely dry summer, rain came here again in September and October and nature reacted with a tremendous spurt of new growth. Sometimes I wonder if during drought the soil doesn’t store up energy that is then unleashed when moisture returns. Anyway, among various good effects of this spurting green revival, our pole lima beans decided to come alive with new growth and blossoms.  Aiding that spurt of growth, we suffered no killing frost going into November.  (The photo shows the pole beans after the last harvest, after frost did come on Nov. 5.)

So on October 27, with the “storm of the century” bearing down on us (seems like every year now we have the storm of the century), Carol and I were out in the cold wind harvesting the last of these late beans. We picked even the ones that we normally might leave to mature another day or two. The advantage of pole limas is that you can hold a pod up to the sky light without picking it and ascertain the size of the beans inside. The secret of a really tasty lima bean is to harvest it when it is just a little bigger than a man’s thumbnail which is difficult to determine any other way. By the time the bean is plump enough to feel with your fingers, it has past its tenderest, tastiest stage.

Shivering in the wind and with fingers turning blue, we rushed back to the warm kitchen with our treasure and shelled out the beans. This is a tedious job when the beans are so small and thin yet— true “baby” limas. Not many gardeners will go to the trouble. (Regular baby bush limas are not very palatable to our tastes because when they are at this size they are already mature and starting to get tough.) We almost have to shred the pods into pieces to get these immature beans out. But we know how awesomely tasty they will be, cooked for five minutes in a little water, salt and butter. Besides it is nice to have a good excuse for not being out in those gale winds, cleaning up the garden for the winter.  An hour later, we were eating these crunchy, nutty little nuggets of beans, every bit as tasty as fresh peas in May.

Pole beans aren’t as popular as bush beans. Pole limas are even less popular than pole string beans.  I guess most gardeners don’t want the extra work of putting up the poles. We think it is worth it because we are convinced that pole beans taste better and because we have a whole woodlot from which to get dead tree saplings and branches that we can use for poles. Also there is not nearly as much stooping and bending involved in harvesting the beans compared to bush beans.  We stand up four poles in a teepee shape, tie them together at the top and thrust the butt ends into the ground a bit. Then do another teepee and then a third for three successive plantings. I link the teepees together with horizontal poles running from one teepee top to another and then to fence posts at either end of the planting. It would take quite a storm wind to blow them over.

I used to plant bean seeds six inches apart in two rows right along the inside of the poles.  Carol and I got in a huge argument about this. She insists that planting the seeds in a little ring around each pole will allow the vines to grow up around the poles better— as every oldtimer in Kentucky knows, she says.  I laughed at such superstition. But this spring I let her have her way, snickering all the while. Guess what.  When planted my way, the vines often crawl irritatingly along the ground and I have to manually get them started up the poles.  With Carol’s method, the vines almost always go right up the poles with no help. I can’t believe it but then neither do I believe that pole beans climb the poles clockwise north of the equator and counter-clockwise south of the equator. But that’s supposed to be fact.

9 Comments November 10, 2012 at 7:38 am

I gave up growing Lima beans because I could NEVER get the right size to pick. Either too small or too big … never juuuussst right. Then I watched Carol hold them to the light! Means I’d have to grow pole beans … too lazy to do it, I guess. Makes me want to try again, though. Andy’ll love that…. we’re cutting back, you know…

    Yes, Jan, I know about cutting back. We have been cutting back for five years now and for some reason the garden just keeps getting bigger. Gene

Isn’t it wonderful that every year in farming is a surprise? What does good this year is a dismal failure next year and what tanked last year flourishes this year? We guess and ponder but never know quite why this is so. Gives me hope though, that I am not smart enough to out-guess mother nature–she’ll go on without me. Just need to heed her lead (how alliterative and poetic).

My Seminole pumpkins were a hit this year! other things weren’t. My siblings and I get together every Tuesday for what we call “Red-neck Tuesday.” This Tuesday we fished in a friends farm pond for bluegill, came back here to cook them up. Sides were from the garden: pumpkin soup, pumpkin dip, and pumpkin pie–it was a good year for Seminole pumpkins–ha!

Another great post Gene. And I love Deb’s idea of taking the vines inside.

I really like this one, Gene. Your ode to the lima bean. Your ode to food, to the comfort of food, to the value and importance of growing food, of knowing food. If the face of storms and elections and mass anxiety generally, you send up a song from the garden, the kitchen, and so comfort us all. May Barack and Mitt both read this and better lead, and the washed away be dry and warm.

Ooh, Deb, what a great suggestion! I, too, prefer pole beans because they are so much more productive, and love Rattlesnake; I think it tastes the best of all the green beans. I have trellises that my husband built from old metal fence posts that were broken or so rusted and battered they were no good for anything else. Each end is shaped like a letter A with a wide peak and cross-members on the side for stability. He welds them at all the joints. Then we take a chunk of used open mesh fencing and attach it over the top of the A and down to the bottom on each side with pieces of baling wire or any other used wire that is too short for anything else. They are about 3 1/2 feet wide and 6 feet tall. Plant the beans in a row along the bottom wire and stand back! I’ve never had to attach them to the trellises, they just scramble right up. The broad base gives stability and can handle plenty of weight, but the trellises are still light enough to pick up and move around as necessary. They can also be used for cucumbers or gourds.

Gene, I hope you didn’t get too badly trounced by Hurricane Sandy!

I’m stealing your idea for setting up my bean poles next summer, Gene. Could see it in my minds’ eye as you described, and already my mouth is watering. Love my pole beans.

I’ve always used Carol’s method.

Another suggestion. Instead of staying out in the cold, why not take a nippers and just clip the vines and pop ’em in a bag and take in the house to pick? It’s not like you are going to get more crop in November…..

I’m trying Carol’s method next year. We harvested the last of our shelling beans before the storm. Unfortunately most of them refused to climb the poles, tangling themselves in a rampaging patch of tomatillos, making picking pretty interesting.

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