Green gardening: growing lima beans

Like all beans, lima beans and baby lima beans (the small-seeded varieties called butter beans) belong to the highly nutritious legume family. Besides being good for you, limas have a delicious nutlike flavour and are relatively easy to grow. These guidelines will help you get started.

Green gardening: growing lima beans

Lima beans need a long, warm summer to mature and for this reason are grown mainly in warmer regions. (If your climate is not right for limas, you may want to grow fava or broad beans, which need a long, cool growing season and have the added advantage of producing well with little care.)

Limas can be grown as either bushy plants or pole plants. Pole beans give larger yields in a smaller space than do the bush varieties, but they take somewhat longer to ripen. Pole lima beans mature in about three months — about two weeks after the bush varieties begin to yield.

1. Lima bean varieties

Most seed catalogues carry at least one variety of lima bean, but you may have to search a little to find some of those listed. Seed racks in small garden centres may not contain lima beans at all; they are not as popular as snap beans but nevertheless are well worth searching for. For bush-lima-bean plants, select 'Fordhook 242', which resists high temperatures at pod-setting time. For pole varieties, take advantage of that dependable old favourite, 'King of the Garden.'

Bush type

  •  'Fordhook 242'70: The most popular variety; heat-tolerant.
  • 'Henderson'65: Smaller than 'Fordhook', with a good flavour.
  • 'Eastland'70: Mildew- and cold-tolerant; dwarf plant.

Pole type

  • 'King of the Garden'85: The most popular pole type.
  • 'Prizetaker'90: Large beans with good flavour.
  • 'Sieva'78: Small pods with 3–4 beans. Crops well.

2. Sowing lima bean seeds

  1. When preparing the soil for lima beans, work in a one-centimetre (half-inch) layer of compost.
  2. Sow the seeds at about the same time that you set out such warmth-loving plants as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
  3. Plant bush lima seeds about three centimetres (one inch) deep, spacing the seeds five to eight centimetres (two to three inches) apart, in rows 60 centimetres (25 inches) apart.
  4. Bush beans require only about 10 centimetres (four inches) between plants; so unless each seed germinates, thinning is not needed.
  5. If you are growing pole beans along a fence, sow single seeds eight to 12 centimetres (three to five inches) apart.
  6. Thin seedlings to a spacing of 15 to 25 centimetres (six to 10 inches).
  7. To grow plants on poles, stake out the supports 60 centimetres (25 inches) apart in rows 90 centimetres (35 inches) apart.
  8. Sow about six seeds around each pole, and thin to three or four plants.

3. Harvesting

When the pod is round and firm, and the shape of the beans is visible inside, it is time to harvest.

  • Pick steadily as beans ripen, as mature beans on the plant will slow the growth of new ones.
  • At season's end you can let the remaining beans dry before picking.
  • Sterilize them in a very low oven for an hour, and seal them in jars. They can be stored for several months.

4. Dealing with pests and diseases

Because limas are very sensitive to mildew and other diseases, cultivate them shallowly and only during dry weather. Water them at soil level (never from above), and always do it in the morning so that the sun will have a chance to dry off moisture that falls on the plants.

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