Sunday, 27 November 2011

Swap Your Cow for Beans

In the market, I swapped my cow for some magic beans.

Fortunately, my mother never got wind of it and I never had to go to bed without supper. In fact, with my younger brother's wedding looming, Ammi is much too busy to pay heed to my bean adventures. As for my suppers, I have indeed had many happy ones under the cool moonlight recently, admiring the gorgeously lush bean vines twining around the poles. Where will they lead me to?

And wait, I haven't even told you about the the fuzzy little babies on my Edamame plants. Yes. You heard me right. E-d-a-m-a-m-e. Envious? Well, funny enough, the variety is called Envy too. The pods are already braving the world and I am so proud of them.

Don't worry if you don't have a cow. Beans are magical anyway. Follow my simple guidelines for growing beans in containers and you'll see for yourself.

Go vertical by choosing Pole Beans 
I like growing pole beans as opposed to dwarf beans. Pole beans look almost striking, especially when grown up a tepee and are very pretty too when they flower. With their vertical growing habit, they also don't take much space in the garden. 'Pole' simply defines the way these beans grow so if you hear them referred to as green beans or snap beans, they are all actually the same thing. Pole beans do take a longer time to mature compared to bush beans but they are more prolific and only bear a small amount of fruit each day, so you can eat fresh off the plant every day. As long as you keep picking them, they will keep coming.

Choose a popular variety
Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder and Romano Italian are all varieties quite popular in home gardens, known to be prolific and reliable. They grow well in our warm UAE winters and now is a good time to sow your beans as the mild weather has just started and there is enough time for your plants to bloom and bean.

Prepare the soil
Add plenty of compost and/or organic fertiliser to your potting soil to give your plants a good headstart. A product I like is Shalimar's Neem Herbal Fertilizer which has high amount of Nitrogen in it and is good to use at planting time.

Sow the Beans
Sow directly in moist soil or small pots and transplant when first true leaves show up. Bean seedlings grow very fast and the last thing you want is to leave them struggling and losing vigour due to restricted root space.

Provide Support
Bamboo canes work like a charm. Sow up to five seeds in a 15 litre pot and stick a bamboo cane next to each seed. Tie the canes together at the top with twine to make a tepee. You can also plant a row and use any old trellis or even tree branches for your bean plants. Pinch the growing tip as the vines reach the top of the support to make them branch out.

Fertilise or not? 
There is a lot of conflicting information about whether you should or shouldn't fertilise your bean plants. See, beans have a way of fixing their own nitrogen into the soil. So in theory, if you apply a fertiliser, especially one high in Nitriogen (the N number) you risk encouraging a lot of foliage and no beans. That said, beans grown in pots will need to be fertilised at one point or the other. This is what I do to keep my beans happy.

1- Fertilise with tomato feed at half the strength once a week. If available, use organic fertilisers such Fish, Blood and Bone or Comfrey Fertiliser.
2- Top up the soil with a granular fertiliser every month to ensure a slow release of nutrients to your growing plants.

Keep a close eye on your plants
Typical problems:
  • New growth is a paler green than the older foliage > Nitrogen deficiency.
  • New growth is a pale green with darker veins  >magnesium or calcium deficiency
Using an all-purpose (10-10-10) fertiliser with trace elements added will give your plants a fast boost but will also leach out soon with watering. Therefore, use a combination of liquid and granular fertiliser to fix the problem.

The pH factor plays a role in the availability of nutrients. Beans like it between 6.0 and 7.5. If your soil is too alkaline (ph>7.5) your beans may have trouble absorbing available iron. The use of chelated iron often seems to fix the problem. However, before you proceed with amending your soil pH, I suggest you purchase an inexpensive pH testing kits from a plant shop (around 45 Dhs) and then take the required measures.

Beans are thirsty plants. Water regularly in our dry winters. If you can, mulch to retain moisture.

Beans love full sun. Place in a warm sunny position with at least 4 hours of sunlight everyday.

Grow beans with the kids
Kids can tell beans are magical. The seeds are easy to sow and the growth fast enough to keep the little ones happy. The beans are easy to pick too. My girls like them stir fried in a bit of olive oil and sea salt. They call them 'chip-beans' as they eat them like chips /french fries.

Growing Edamame
Edamame plants usually have a bush habit. In all other respects, you can treat them like pole beans. Plant them 5-6" apart in a deep container and watch them grow. Mine have proved really rewarding as the total time from sowing to flowering has been just over 45 days.


  1. I know this is NOT the point of this post, but did you draw those fab cartoons up there? I love them, and I love your intro!...and I AM SO INSANELY JEALOUS OF YOUR EDAMAME PLANTS.

  2. Lol no I photoshopped some of my bean plant photos:) As for the edamame, they are called ENVY after all!

  3. love the post... beans are fun... did you know we can eat bean leaves? we stir fry it and add some fresh grated coconut. its yummy. basically the leaves off the long string beans - dont know abt french beans though have to ask mum.

    some of your bean leaves haver leaf miner issues? even my bean leaves were showing these tracks before they got eaten up and died!

    love your post :)

  4. Holy Cow! Love your post and the pictures Shumaila..those fuzzy edamame beans are adorable.

  5. Thanks a lot Rajani and Raji - your feedback means a lot to me....Rajani, i always have leaf miners arrive as soon as i plant things but so far none of my plants have ever died because of leaf miners....they r actually harmless- unsightly i know but harmless....

  6. I'll always go for something with a fairytale beginning....

    My own edamame beans - now THAT would be a good investment!

  7. Shumaila,
    I have told you before but just in case you forgot I will say again: You are my HERO :))
    I love the pea pods, I want to plant them too. I have a 1m square balcony that's all, but turning it into a farm lol :)
    Really enjoyed this post, and love how you tied it to the story, and the pics underneath.. Brilliant!!

  8. Thanks Rapuncela, Sarah and Dima.

    Dima, do put up a picture of your balcony on the fb page!

    Sarah, I never thought edamame would do so well here...

  9. Shumaila,
    Excellent article on Beanstalks

    Can we do the same with Kidney beans and the Black-eyed beans.......

  10. It shouldn't be too different with kidney beans- you just need to let the pods dry out on the vine before you pick them. At the end of the harvest, if it gets too cold or too hot, some people pick whole plants and let the pod dry indoors. However, you will need plenty of plants to produce a reasonable quantity of beans...

    1. Hello Shumaila,

      I have a few questions on your post. Any way I could get in touch with you?