News release: Peas and Beans, Part I

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: April 30, 2015

Headline: Peas and Beans, Part I

The legume family of plants is an interesting one.  It includes everything from common beans and peas to soybeans to peanuts to kudzu.  It even includes larger species such as mimosa, redbud, carob, and locust trees.  Some legumes are toxic to humans, but many food crops come from this family.

The peas and beans are widely varied in size, shape, taste, and color.  For my next two columns, I will describe several of them.  You may want to try one or more of these in your garden this year, if you have the space and want to experiment.

English peas or garden peas.  These are cool-weather plants that should be doing well right now.  If you haven’t planted them yet, it’s probably too late.  They don’t like hot weather at all, and won’t last long when the temperatures warm up.  Many varieties need some support to do well, although there are a few compact types that may get by without it.  They are used fresh or dried.  Split pea soup comes from dried English peas.

Southern peas.  These are also called cowpeas, and include pink-eye, purple hull and black-eye peas.  They are not the same as the pea described above.  They love hot weather, and thrive throughout all the South.  I’ve seen some varieties that were rather viney, but others have a compact bush and hold their pods high.  Those are a lot easier to deal with.

Green beans.  These come in both bush and pole varieties.  The bush types are better if you don’t have much space, but a lot of folks still plant the pole types.  Newer varieties are often referred to as “snap beans.”  Some older varieties are called “string beans.”  The reason is that they had a tough “string” associated with them.  That has pretty well been eliminated by plant breeders in the newer varieties.

Lima and butter beans.  These are similar in appearance.  Butter beans are smaller, but will take more heat.  Some limas adapted to cooler climates have pods up to 5 inches long with very large seeds.  Some bush types are available.  Lima and butter beans with speckled seeds generally have stronger flavor compared to the white or green-seeded varieties.

Scarlet runner beans.  These beans have gorgeous, red blossoms and long, dark-green pods.  You better have lots of space for these, since vines may climb up to 12 feet.  The seeds are edible, and are good in stews.  The flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.

Shelly beans.  These are sometimes referred to as “horticultural beans.”  The seeds are usually shelled out of the pods while they are moist and tender.  At this point, you can cook them without soaking.  The pods have red stripes, and the mature seeds have red splotches.  Both bush and climbing varieties are available.

In my next column, I will continue my study of this fascinating plant family.