Friday, July 29, 2011

Growing High & Low Desert Heirloom Beans

Most French, Italian and classic Mid-western heirloom beans
grow best in Kihei during the cooler months.

Looking good under the hot sun.

As the weather heats up during the spring, the intense sun, and high daytime temps create difficult growing conditions for many garden plants. In the spring and summer, rose beetles and Mexican bean beetles become active and eat lace like holes through the bean leaves, just when the leaves are needed for shading the pods.

In April, I began a trial of high and low desert beans, beans that are indigenous to the Southwest and Sonoran desert. Most of the varieties I planted were impressively heat and sun tolerant and surprisingly, there was minimal bug damage.

Hopi Black were a bushy pole bean with vines that grew around 4 ft long. The plants produced an abundance of medium length pods that were ready to start harvesting as shell beans at 2 months. Hopi Black were similar in color and size to Cherokee Trail of Tears. But CherokeeTrail of Tears wasn't heat tolerant or Kihei bug resistant.

Pinto beans are so popular and yet they're rarely offered in any of the heirloom seed catalogs. I was elated to discover a large variety of pintos at Native Seeds. Rio Bavispe was also early and ready to begin harvesting as shell beans at 2 months.

Hopi Yellow common beans were another prolific pole bean.
They were similar to a pinto in size and flavor.

Papago Cowpeas

Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are drought tolerant legumes that are native to West Africa. Not all of the varieties I've trialed have tolerated the Kihei spring climate. The emerging pods look similar to Chinese Long bean pods and they're actually part of the same classification of beans. The bugs did minimal damage to the cowpea leaves.

Cowpeas are a bush bean and they don't cross pollinate with common beans but they could cross with Chinese Long beans (also called Noodle, Yard Long or Asparagus beans). More information about cowpeas can be found here:

Tepary vines and pods look delicate but they're one of the most heat and drought tolerant beans on the planet. Most varieties of teparies are pole beans that grow about 5 to 7 ft long and produce pods that are shorter than common beans. Tepary beans are traditionally planted in late June and early July with the onset of the desert monsoons.

These ancient beans were originally grown by the Hohokam people in the Arizona desert. Teparies are low desert plants that tolerate the scorching heat and survive on less water than common beans. And, they don't cross pollinate with any other beans.

A large selection of tepary seeds are available from Native Seeds.

More information about tepary beans:

Native Seeds has a diverse collection of Native American heirlooms. They offer a good selection of of common beans, teparies and cowpeas. The immature cowpea pods and some of the common beans I trailed can be harvested as green beans.

In Kihei, early varieties of common beans and cowpeas are usually the best option for good results. I recommend planting these types of beans from October through March.

More information about growing beans in Kihei can be found in my post on growing
French and Italian Heirloom Beans.


  1. I'm so glad you've found beans that are happy in Kihei ; ) That picture of Hopi Black is really beautiful. So how do those beans taste Jane? Tell,tell!

  2. Hi Julie! The Hopi Black were really ono when cooked as shell beans. I'll definatley plant these again. I isolated the Hopi Black and saved lots of seeds - if want some let me know. I've been harvesting the pintos this week but haven't cooked them as yet. The San Ignacio teparies had a longer than normal cooking time as a shell bean and they were just average but I have other teparies that I'll trial toward the fall.

  3. I'm trialing a pinto this year. I'll see how it does. If not well then I'll look for seed there. It is hard to find pole pinto beans.

  4. Hi Daphne! I planted 3 different pole pintos - the plants and beans all look similar but Rio Bavispe and Mt. Pima were the hardiest. I have enough seeds left to send you 10 seeds of each and I have lots of Hopi Black. Send me an email if you would like seeds.

  5. First off, I love your blog. I've subscribed for over a year. Is it necessary to dry these types of beans before they are consumed? Or can these beans be cooked right after picking?

    Best regards,

  6. Hi Chris! Mahalo for your compliments! I like to harvest the mature beans when the pods turn color and soften - beans at this stage are referred to as shell beans. I think they are so tasty and it doesn't take long to cook them. Uncooked shell beans will go bad after about 2 weeks in the refrigerator. I haven't tried freezing them so I don't know if or how much it changes the fresh beans. There are lots of recipes for shell beans if you search on internet.

  7. Mahalo to you! And thank you for all the cool photos you post on your garden. I live in Southern California, near the coast, and it is neat to see and read about different kinds of vegetable gardens from around the world.

    So, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that you don't have to dry these beans first before you cook them. Neat! I have a small kitchen garden and I have avoided growing shell beans up to know for two reasons. First, I can get them rather cheap, dried, at the grocery store. And second, I wouldn't know how to dry beans. But, from what I hear you say, you don't have to dry the beans. You just wait until the pods turn the desired color and soften. Neat! I will try them next Spring.


  8. Hi Chris! You don't have to dry the beans. If you harvest them when the pods turn color and soften, the beans inside will be nice and plump. This stage is referred to as shell beans and they're considered a gourmet item and sought after by chefs. Shell beans are what makes growing beans worth the space in the garden. Dry beans are so inexpensive but shell beans are very hard to come by at farmers markets.

    There's more info and photos of shell beans in a post on my other blog

    After you harvest them make sure to keep them in the refrigerator so they don't dry or go bad. Most of the beans featured in my posts grow from seed to shell bean stage in around 2 months. The Hopi Black and the French/Italian beans in the post I linked were exceptional as shell beans.

  9. Aloha, Jane, I think I'll have to try those shellies, too. So nani! I have an off-topic question about what size of container would be ideal for fruit trees, especially if I want to try the multiple trunk plantings (simplifies the pollinator issue a bit)? 30 gallons looks just bit too snug, I think. When I uprooted some old stone fruit trunks that were in the ground, the root balls were really extensive (they were fullsize trees, not on dwarf rootstock. Citrus rootballs seem smaller by comparison. In a few weeks, I'm moving for good to Maui (at long last!), and I have so many plans to put in action.
    Mahalo for any information you can give me!

  10. Hi Pomaika'i! Wow - wonderful news that you'll be home very soon!

    The largest container I've found locally is the one from HomeDepot that's suppose to hold 30 gallons. So far it's working for Brown Turkey Fig, Black Jack Fig, Angel Red Pomegranite and Kefir Lime. It didn't work so well for White Kadota Fig and the olive trees. SmartPots has some larger pots but they're cloth and I don't know how well they would hold up a tree.

    You could cut branches and try growing them as cuttings. They sell a product for this purpose at Kula Hardware - I can't remember the name off hand but it helps get the roots started.

    The guidebooks recommend up-rooting a container planted tree every 3 years and pruning the roots. I'm going to do that with 2 of the fig trees this fall. Figs are very forgiving though - I don't know how well this would work with stone fruit trees.

  11. Have you grown Jicama? will it grow from store brought tubers and set seeds?

  12. Hi Jose! No I haven't grown jicama but I know it will grow here year round. Gardeners that I know who grow it grow it from seeds.