Gardeners can choose from many types of beans, the most common of which are described below. Except for the soybean (from eastern Asia) and the fava bean (from the Mediterranean region), beans are New World plants belonging to the genus Phaseolus. Most are frost-sensitive heat lovers and are easy to grow from seed. Bean flowers are edible.
For information on black-eyed peas and other popular Southern peas, see Southern Pea.
Dry bean. Grow as you would bush form of snap bean (see below). Leave pods on bush until they dry or begin to shatter; then thresh beans from pods, dry, and store to soak and cook later. 'Pinto', 'Red Kidney', and 'White Marrowfat' belong to this group.
Some types are particularly delicious when harvested at the green shelling stage and cooked like green limas. These include the flageolet bean (a French favorite) and 'French Horticultural Bean', also known as 'October Bean'. Heirloom selections such as 'Aztec Dwarf White', 'Mitla White', and 'New Mexico Appaloosa' were grown by Native Americans of the Southwest and are very well adapted to that region.
Fava bean (broad bean, horse bean). This is a cool-season bean (actually a giant vetch, Vicia faba), best known and grown in coastal climates. Cook and eat immature pods like edible-pod peas; prepare immature and mature seeds in same way as green or dry limas. Note that a very few people (mainly of Mediterranean ancestry) have an enzyme deficiency that can cause severe reactions to the beans and even the pollen.
Fava beans require different care than other types described here. In cold-winter areas, plant them as early in spring as soil can be worked; in mild climates, plant in fall for harvest in late winter or early spring. Beans mature in 120 to 150 days. Space rows 12 ft. apart. Sow seeds 1 in. deep, 45 in. apart; thin to 810 in. apart. Plants produce busy growth to 24 ft. high.
Lima bean. Like snap beans (which they resemble), lima beans come in either bush or vine (pole) form. They develop more slowly than snap beansbush types need 65 to 75 days from planting to harvest, pole kinds 78 to 95 daysand do not produce as reliably in extremely hot weather. Must be shelled before cooking, a tedious chore but worth it if you like fresh limas. Recommended bush types include 'Fordhook 242', 'Henderson', and 'Jackson Wonder'. Grow all lima beans like snap beans (see below).
Scarlet runner bean. Perennial twining vine (hardy in Coastal and Tropical South) commonly grown as annual. Showy and ornamental, with slender clusters of vivid scarlet flowers and bright green leaves divided into three roundish, 3- to 5-in.-long leaflets. Use it to cover fences, arbors, outbuildings; it provides quick shade on porches. Pink- and white-flowered selections exist.
Flowers are followed by flattened, very dark green pods that are edible and tasty when young but toughen as they reach full size. Beans from older pods can be shelled and cooked like limas. Grow as you would snap beans (see below).
Snap bean (string bean, green bean). The most widely planted bean type. Tender, fleshy pods, not stringy; may be green, yellow (wax beans), or purple (these turn green when cooked). Plants grow as self-supporting bushes (bush beans) or as climbing vines (pole beans). Bush types bear earlier, but vining sorts are more productive. Plants resemble scarlet runner bean, but their white or purple flowers are not as showy. Favorite bush beans include 'Blue Lake', 'Provider', and 'Royal Burgundy'. Among the best pole beans are 'Kentucky Wonder', 'Louisiana Purple Pod', 'Rattlesnake', and 'White Half Runner'.
Pods are ready in 50 to 70 days, depending on selection. Pick every 3 to 5 days; if pods mature, plants will stop bearing.
Soybean. Newcomers to most home gardens, soybeans are an excellent source of protein. Shelled from short, plump, fuzzy pods, the seeds are called green vegetable soybeans when harvested green and eaten raw; they are sold in grocery stores as edamame. These are also delicious cooked; prepare them as you would green shelling or lima beans. Dried ground soybeans are used in the preparation of substitutes for flour, nuts, meat, and even milk.
Soybeans grow well in the warm, humid climates of the South and Midwest, forming a bush about the size of a lima bean bush. Treat the seeds with soybean inoculant prior to planting; then plant them 1 in. deep, 46 in. apart, in rows spaced 2 ft. apart. Harvest when the seeds have reached full size but the pods are still green. Before shelling, pour boiling water over the pods to soften them. 'Butterbean' and 'Shironomai' are best eaten fresh, either raw or cooked; 'Envy' is good fresh or dried.