The Grocery Store Gardener: Beans
Those of you that enjoy finding new plants in the grocery store while shopping should consider the extensive bean collection every store contains. There are many different types of Beans that can be found in the Dry Goods Department. There are bags of dried Kidney, Lima, Red, Cannellini and Pinto to name just a few. Still, one can find more exotic beans like Garbanzo, Fava, Adzuki, and Lentil. The list of the various beans one can buy to grow from food is extensive.
I for one am going to plant some Soy this year. Soy Beans are grown for either human or animal consumption. Those grown for animal consumption are generally not types digestible by humans. Since the Beans sold at my local food coop are organic and for human consumption I plan to grow some for a nice batch of Edamame this summer. Edamame is a Japanese procedure where the pod and immature Soy Beans are steamed and flavored. My grocery began selling fresh Edamame pods some time back. I feel that right off the plant and in the steamer 2 minutes after picking will be considerably better.
Some of course will be difficult to find like normal everyday Green Beans or a newly rediscovered Scarlet Runner Bean. Green Beans will be hard to find because the ripened Bean is not the desired way they are eaten. We eat the immature pod and not the mature Beans. Scarlet Runners are typically grown for the flower and not as a food. Some restaurants have begun serving Scarlet Runner Beans. Scarlet Runner Beans like common Green Beans may never be available in a grocery store because it is the fresh pods that are eaten. Even considering what you may want to grow may be unavailable; there will be a considerable choice to consider both for dinner as well as a row in the garden.
Because Beans have extensive historical roots in both the old and new world we have some fairly well understood cultural development for these plants. Old world beans include the Fava, Lentil and Garbonzo. New world beans include our standard Green Bean, Lima Bean, Kidney Bean and many others. There is evidence in ancient human history that Beans played an important role in both the New and Old World earlier than the first recorded purposeful planting of this crop. Confirmed Bean cultivation is very ancient. There is considerable evidence that we actively cultivated beans 5,000 or more years ago.
Like most plants man collects and grow from the wild, Beans began with more humble beginnings. Fava Beans were quite small, about the size of your small fingernail, when they were first collected in the wild. It took considerable time and selective seed saving before they became the large juicy Beans we enjoy today.
Beans have a redundant genetic code. They rarely cross pollinate because of the closed flower structure. This means that seed phenotype and genotype becomes rather stagnant. That is why you can buy a pack of Great Lakes Green Beans from a seed vendor for just a couple of dollars. All the vendor had to do was collect, clean and sort harvested seed. An expensive hybridizer wasn’t required. Once a new cultivar is hybridized it only takes a few generations of selective seed saving to produce sizable quantities of seed to plant for harvest. Then it only takes selective seed saving and time until larger or smaller standard size can be continuously produced.
The primary difference between Beans and Peas is the season of cultivation. Even though both Beans and Peas are closely related in the Legume Family, Peas are understood to be those vegetables that grow in the spring. Beans are those cultivars that grow during the summer and are harvested in the summer when immature and in the fall when mature. We grow Beans for both the immature pod as well as the mature Bean itself.
Container growing is not generally recommended. This is mostly because of the number of plants necessary to produce food. Still, for educational purposes or to experiment with a new Bean before devoting a full row to production it may be a good idea to try a container the first season. Some Beans need a long season to mature like the Fava. Others like Garbonzo and Adzuki need a cool long season to bloom and produce Beans. There are other environmental factors that contribute to crop production too such as rainfall and temperature you may wish to verify for your own growing conditions.
It may be helpful to Google the Bean you wish to experiment growing. Find out where primary world production is harvested. This will help you determine length of growing season and other habitat concerns. In general, Burma followed closely by India is the world’s largest producers of Beans. This was a surprising fact to discover having grown up in the Midwest where most of civilization is islands surrounded by a sea of Soy Beans. Clearly the environment of Burma is quite a bit different from the Midwestern US. Beans grown in Burma may or may not grow here.
Be sure to use larger containers to grow Beans. The depth of the container is more important than the diameter. Beans can grow fairly close together. They can grow as close as 4 inches apart. The roots will grow down as deep as the plant is tall. A 5 gallon container should be large enough for a few mature plants. Enough Beans may be harvested for a meal as well as the experience growing them.
Beans collected for food redistribution are often subjected to high heat to reduce the water content. Grocery store shelf life depends on water content. If it is too high the beans will spoil through bacterial and fungal activity. High heat will affect seed viability. Another problem that still exists is irradiation. This is used to sterilize any pest or their eggs contaminating the Beans. This is a major concern especially for imported Beans. Irradiation is inexpensive. It doesn’t alter the taste or quality of the bean. It will of course interfere with the seeds ability to sprout.
It may be necessary to test your Beans prior to planting in the garden. Fortunately, Beans have a fast germination rate and don’t require any special stratification prior to planting. Your test is easy. Count out 20 Beans. Wet, soak and drain these in a small jar just as you would for sprouts. Within a week you will know if the batch of Beans you are testing will be appropriate for planting. If you get 75% to sprout or at least 15 then this batch is probably going to work well in your garden. If you get less than half or 50% then it will be worth the money to buy another package. Simply try another store or brand of the same Bean. Low germination will mean that if you did plant them you could end up with a very poor harvest in addition to a waste of money on the planting seed. Turn these into a soup instead.
Treating with a nitrogen fixing bacteria is recommended especially if you do choose to grow in a container. Beans grown in the soil would benefit with the addition of these bacterial blends you can purchase at your favorite hydroponic gardening store. Normally the nitrogen fixing bacteria will naturally be present in the soil though they may be in a low concentration. It is highly recommended to add these when planting or shortly after the seed sprouts in your container. The bacteria metabolize gaseous nitrogen in the atmosphere and make it available for the Bean as nodules on the root. The Bean uses this for plant and Bean production.
That is why Beans have such high nitrogen content. That is also the reason Native Americans learned to interplant Beans with their Corn and Squash. Beans help supply nitrogen to the surrounding Corn. Beans used to be considered poor man’s meat without knowing that mixing beans with grains provides nearly or complete protein. Perhaps it was just observation that Beans and grain could sustain healthy living for the poor. Modern scientific understanding verified this belief.
Table of some Bean harvest times from planting
How Bean is eaten
Number of days
for immature pods
Pole or Trailing
for immature pods
for ripe but not dry Beans
for ripe through dry storage
for dry Beans
for ripe through dry Beans
for dry Beans
Check out all the various Beans available in your grocery store. I plan to grow some Soy, Lentil, Adzuki and Garbonzo this summer as my experimental new grocery store Beans. I will be growing them in small amounts in a container to make sure I have the right season length, temperature range and moisture for a full fledged production effort for my location. I want to better understand how the Beans grow before devoting a full row to them in my vegetable garden. I have some concerns about the Adzuki and Garbonzo because my summer temperatures frequently exceed tolerable conditions for bloom and Bean production in these varieties.
I also plan to shop at my local food coop because they have a large organic selection. It is more than a concern for GMO that leads me to using the organic choices. It is often the case that organic choices will not have been irradiated or dried at high temperatures. Organic packaged foods tend to be processed in more friendly manners. The chances of germination rates being high are greatly improved.
And, as a grocery store gardener I have a wide selection to choose from both for planting and eating. For the price I would spend on a pack of seed from a vendor I will be able to have dinner as well as enough to plant out for a harvest. I hope you too will consider choosing your Beans from your local grocer.