Gene Logsdon: Lima Beans Into November

The Contrary Farmer

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.