July is National Baked Bean Month. You can celebrate by baking some beans to enjoy with your hot dogs (it’s National Hot Dog Month, too) or you can celebrate by planting some beans now to bake later.
Great news, there are many dry beans to grow and enjoy in our wonderful climate. The beans considered hot season beans include black-eyed peas (cowpeas), fava, lima, scarlet runner, Anasazi and the O’odham tepary.
The great thing about the tepary bean is that you can plant them in July. If we have good monsoons, they will survive on rainfall alone, producing a crop of tasty low carb, high protein beans with wonderful natural soluble fibers. Plus they cook quickly. They are available from Native Seeds/SEARCH.
Here are the general directions for growing dry beans in our area.
Light. Find a site that will get eight hours of sunlight. This will generally be on the south side of the home. The east side may not get enough light for beans.
Soil. Till or use a shovel to turn over your desert soil. Turn in some compost for the water holding capacity it offers. Up to 30 percent compost. Compost can be homemade or from the nursery or garden center. If your soil is of heavy clay, add some sand as well to improve drainage.
Don’t improve your soil too much. No manure or fertilizer. Members of the legume or bean family like to set up a mycorrhizal relationship with soil bacteria. They give the bacteria a home and food, and the bacteria take nitrogen out of the air and make fertilizer for the beans. Applied fertilizer can actually slow or retard bean growth.
Trellis. Beans climb towards light. Provide a trellis for them. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a wood pole for them to twine around.
Grow. Plant your seeds.Keep evenly moist as they germinate. Then water as needed until it is time to harvest. Beans are some of the easiest crops to grow.
Containers. If you don’t want to tackle the soil, use containers. Beans grow well in large containers (with a trellis). Select one deep enough (36 to 48 inches), with good drainage. Do not add stones to the bottom. You can put a window screen over the hole.
Potting soil works well. Select a brand with at least one-fifth sand or perlite to help ensure good drainage and prevent root rot. Do not fill the container to the rim with soil; leave space for watering. Water enough so that some comes out the bottom of the pot.
Do not let your pot sit in a saucer of water. It drowns the roots, plus it serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. If you are concerned about roots growing out of the pot, use “pot feet” under your pot.
Container gardening is easier than gardening in the ground. It is easier to keep weeds out, and you can move containers as needed. As the sun moves in its annual arc, you could move the pots out of excessive sun as days lengthen, then move them back to more sun after the solstice.
Incidentally, while it is a fine time to plant beans for baking, it’s not quite the right time for green beans. They are best planted in August until about Labor Day for enjoyment in the cooling days of autumn.
Once you have experienced the taste of freshly grown dry beans, you may never settle for “store-bought” beans again.
Jacqueline Soule, Ph.D., has been writing about gardening in the Southwest for close to three decades. Her latest book, “Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today,” ($14.95) is available at area nurseries or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.