To be honest, I have never grown lima beans before. Of course, I heard about them and even tried them several times, but they have never been a part of my garden, until now.
I will show you how to grow lima beans so that you can try enriching your kitchen with these beautiful green beads. They have a lot to offer, and raising them is not such a difficult task. Since I know that you are impatient to grab the trowel and start seeding, let’s get down to business!
Why Lima In The First Place?
Although lima beans are grown mostly in warm conditions, they can thrive both in containers and in gardens. They are best used in traditional Mexican or Spanish dishes, such as world-known Valencian paella.
In case that you are wondering, here are some general facts about these little guys:
Bush Or Vine?
There are two major varieties of lima beans. They grow differently, and the harvest is also unlike. To choose which suits you better, here they are:
Bush lima beans grow as the name suggests, like a bush. They are also named “determinate,” since they bear all the beans at once.
Those are ideal for pot and container growing due to small area they occupy, and in general will grow faster. Varieties which you can choose include Fordhook and Henderson.
Vine varieties are recognized for their long stems which require support. Although they have longer growth cycle, harvest from those is wealthier, and are known for a more extended period of harvesting.
Often called “indeterminate,” these varieties are more resistant to diseases.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines! (Seeds, Actually)
Since lima beans have distinct needs when it comes to temperature, I did my best to avoid the summer heat. Therefore, spring is the best time to grow lima, but since they have quite long growth cycle which can vary from 70 to 95 days depending on variety, I wanted to start as soon as possible.
Starting seeds in containers is one of the options which can be used, but I have turned to faster and more economical way. Namely, I have taken a wet paper towel, wrapped about ten beans with it and put it into a ziplock bag. After a few days in the sun, tender stems appeared, and my seeds were ready.
Now, if spring is extremely short in your region, you can turn to starting limas in a pot. You could begin about 3-4 weeks before the last frost, which is usually in March. Germinate the seeds in a way described above, and once the stem appears, transfer them to pot. Keep in mind that these plants are susceptible, so clay or plastic pots are not recommended. Instead, go with paper or biodegradable containers. These can be planted together with the plant and will decompose after some time.
Preparation Of The Soil
Usually, I start preparing my garden at least three weeks before sowing. Since lima beans are not so nutrient hungry, I have started a week before, about a day after I put them to germinate.
Preparation includes standard procedures such as manuring and tilling. However, manuring should be light, because too much of fertilizer will burn the plants. Also, using old manure can do the trick just fine. It will provide enough organic matter, with only a whim of nutrients; soil prepared like this is excellent for lima beans.
In case that you are not sure how much of each nutrient there is in the ground, obtain a field test kit. These are quite affordable, and you can use them in the garden to improve the quality of the soil. Many of them also measure pH value, and since lima has narrow values (6.0 to 6.8) multiple tests and constant monitoring are essential.
The location where the plants will be is crucial. Lima beans require full sun, but not its warmth. The Andes are the place of origin of this plant. There is a lot of sun, but the temperature is not so high. Imitating these conditions is my goal. Therefore, full sun, but in spring.
With location set, ground prepared, seeds sprouting, it is time to sow lima beans. The depth of the line where seeds are planted should be about 1-2 inches, with a spacing of 5” between seeds for bush varieties and 9” for vine ones.
Keep in mind that tiny spot (called “the eye”) on the seed should be put downwards. This way the stem will grow longer and stronger as it pushes through the ground. As for the spacing between rows, it should be at least 25”, since they are covering a lot of space.
An important note on vine varieties; it is a good idea to provide support for them right after sowing. Nailing poles or other forms of support may damage the roots of the plant. Therefore, you can put support even before sowing. The pole shouldn’t be thicker than an inch in diameter. As the plant grows, you will need to guide it up the support. Once it is firmly wrapped around it, it can manage on its own.
Cover the seeds with soil and water lightly. Keep in mind that you must mark where the lines are; you don’t want to step on one of these tender plants, it will inevitably break the stem, thus killing it.
How To Care And Water Lima Beans?
In general, lima beans are thirsty when it comes to water. At least an inch of water is required either from rain or watering. If the weather is too hot, watering twice a day might be needed. If you can’t provide enough water due to obligations, you can always call your good friend mulch to the rescue. Straw is my favorite for mulching; it gives a fantastic temperature protection, keeps the weeds away and also makes the water stay within the ground instead of evaporating.
As always, keep in mind that too much water can cause rot, especially at the beginning when the roots are still fragile and weak. Also, cold soil will improve the chances of making roots rotten. Watering should be done at the base of the plant. If there is water on leaves all the time, it can lead to the development of mildew and mold, so avoid this situation.
Lima beans have few archenemies when it comes to pests. The most significant threat comes from mites and aphids; these critters feed on juices of the plant, which leads to stunted growth and lousy harvest. These can be easily removed by diatomaceous earth, soap or other kinds of pest control methods.
When And How To Harvest Pods?
Once the flowers develop, know that harvesting time is near. For bush varieties, harvesting is usually done after 60-70 days after planting, while vine ones will be ready in about 80-90 days. Keep in mind that this is just an evaluation; it depends from variety to variety.
What will not fail you as the indicator is the plant itself. Once the flowers fall off, and pods develop, and when you think that the beans are suitable for harvesting, try to pick one pod from the plant. If it is picked quickly, it means that you can continue with the harvest. On the other hand, if picking is hard, and the pod is tightly attached to the plant, wait a bit more.
A good rule of thumb is to pick lima beans before they are completely ripe. This may trick the plant into growing another batch of pods. If the beans are completely mature, it will signal the plant that the growth cycle is over, and the plant will continue toward withering and dying.
How Can I Store Lima Beans?
There are two approaches to this matter, depending on your plans. After harvesting, you can put them in a bowl or bag and put into the freezer for soon to be used. This way they can last about a week before spoiling.
The second approach is to blanch and freeze them. To do so, boil the beans for a few minutes. A lot of people are making a mistake by leaving them to cool off, this way many of the nutrients and flavors are lost. Instead, I have prepared a bucket of ice. After separating the water, I have poured ice over the beans. This way they are cooled much faster, and the taste remained.
Before freezing them, I have also dried the beans with a cloth, so that no ice will form on the surface. A standard ziplock bag is fantastic for this; it will keep the air out, and the interference from other smells in the freezer will be minimal.
And just another thing, if you plan to cook beans, leave them in water overnight; after this, they will be doubled in size and cooking will be much shorter. The starch inside beans will absorb water, thus quicker cooking.
So, there it is! Knowledge about how to grow lima beans is at your disposal, so I hope that it will help you to improve your recipes and meals. Lima beans have a distinctive taste, so without a doubt, you will benefit from this article.
As always, feel free to leave a comment, opinion or advice in the comment section below.