Monday, July 16, 2012

Magical Beans

Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat, the more fiber and protein you’ll get! OK, so it doesn’t have the same ring as the grade school chant. But those kids were on to something. Beans are good for your heart, and you body too. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein.

I’m going to confess right up front that I am not a bean eater. Never have been. For some reason the pasty texture of a cooked bean, provokes my gag reflex. I can eat green beans (love ‘em), soy beans (they’re fine) and rattlesnake beans (taste like a cross between a sugar snap pea and a green bean and they look like tiny rattlesnakes), but please don’t ever offer me lentil soup or black bean salad. I’ll force it down, but it won’t be pretty. And I want to eat beans. They are one of the power foods. 

My oldest son likes beans so much he eats them cold right out of the can for an after school snack. When he was little he loved kidney beans. He refused most types of meat (except hot dogs, but they don’t really count), so we loaded him up with beans. They were perfect for his little fingers and I didn’t have to cut them in two like his grapes to avoid the “oh-my-god-is-he-gonna-choke” element of feeding small food to small people. 

I love growing beans in my garden. First off, they are crazy-easy to grow. So there’s a great rate of return on your investment. That’s why kindergarten teachers plop them in to the Dixie cups every spring. They’re pretty much a sure thing. This also makes beans an easy organic crop. The price of organic beans isn't that much higher than conventionally grown beans.

You can plant them in the spring, early summer and again in the late summer for a fall crop. I’ve never had much luck with the late summer because the beetles and bugs have laid claim to most of my garden by September. Still, it’s worth trying.

I plant skinny, delicate French filet green beans. Delish. They’ll provide an ample harvest for two or three weeks. They’re low maintenance too. A few runs through weeding as they get started and then they will shade themselves well and deter other weeds.

My other favorite beans to plant are Rattlesnake beans which are runner beans. The difference between “bush” beans and “runner” beans is that you need to provide some kind of climbing structure for your runner beans. I have a neighbor who ties neat vertical strings for her beans to climb. I make a teepee. I make this teepee myself, even though on pretty much every other construction project I defer to my handy husband. This happened quite by accident a few years ago. He never seemed to get around to my building my teepee. So one day I said, "to heck with him," trooped out to the woods, and chose several sturdy fallen branches I tied them together with baling twine I had in the barn. It looks very rustic and real-gardener-like. I love my teepees. The beans are pretty good too.

Once I planted black beans and dried them, but the time it took for them to ripen and then dry, plus the effort it took to shell them was truly too much for me. Besides, beans are cheap. Dried they cost only pennies per serving, and canned, they are still a great deal.

If you’re eating beans for fiber, you’re best bet is navy beans with 9.6g of fiber in a half a cup. Wow. And soybeans are the best for iron with 4.5mg per half cup. Lentils provide nearly half your daily dose of folate, so they’re a good choice too.

One last great bean fact – they last for years when stored in air-tight containers. Archaeologists have even found viable beans while digging, so if you’ve got some beans you bought a year ago when you were on a “health kick”, don’t toss them. And if you never got around to a garden this summer, consider popping a few bean seeds in a pot. You’ve got nothing to lose. Beans grow amazingly quick, certainly that was the inspiration for Jack and the Beanstalk. Kids will enjoy their progress and who knows, maybe they’ll eat one too. Especially if you spin a tale of your own magical beans.

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