How Many Types Of Beans Can Be Grown In the UK? It’s Easy To Name At Least 23 Beans For UK Gardens, But Can We Grow Them All Here? Here Are My Bean Answers.
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The biggest problem with this question is defining what is a bean. For example is a coffee bean actually a bean? And how many Beans For UK Gardens are there?
I don’t include it in my definition of a bean, but some people might simply because it is called a bean!
What I mean by bean is different. I’m happy with the Wikipedia definition which says “A bean is the seed of several plants in the family Fabaceae, which are used as vegetables for human or animal food. They can be cooked in many different ways, including boiling, frying, and baking, and are used in many traditional dishes throughout the world. “
Another definition, a bit simpler, but still sensible is that a bean is “an edible seed, typically kidney-shaped, growing in long pods on certain leguminous plants.”
And of course that means a pea isn’t a bean. Though some people say that as they are all pulses they can be lumped together as being similar.
What these definitions really mean though is that its really hard to one sure what someone means when they talk about beans (and that’s without considering what the slang word means!)
So the answer to the question is that it is impossible to answer … but I’ll try anyway.
But first here’s a video showing a time lapse of how beans grow. It’s almost hypnotic.
Different Types of Beans?
Adzuki Beans (Vigna angularis) .. more on Vigna species later.
Adzuki beans aka azuki bean, aduki bean, red bean, or red mung bean is an annual vine that grows in East Asia. It needs warmth and is unlikely to grow outdoors in the UK except in the most sheltered spots or in greenhouses or tunnels.
Ayocote Negro Beans
Ayocote negro beans are difficult to grew in the UK .. But commercial crops have been grown in Shropshire.
Black Beans aka Black-Turtle Beans
These are sold by at least one British nursery for growing in greenhouses.
The name says it all. They are a pea and not a bean! From Nepal.
Borlotti beans aka Cranberry Beans
Borlotti beans are an easy bean to grow in the UK. I grow them up sticks to give them support and harvest them when they are dry. They store best below 16% moisture content.
Broad beans aka Fava beans
Brand beans are a standard garden crop in much of the UK. Sown in late autumn they will weather the winter very well. Alternatively sow in early spring. Beware aphids, the one known as the Black Army!
Their are several heirloom broad beans still available. Bowland beauty, Bossingham longpod, Syriah small, purple Queen (Fava mourra Reina mouz), Hsipaw, Red Bristow’s (a beautiful purple colour), Sweet Loraine, Syrian Giant Fava, Drima and Bacardi.
Cannellini Beans aka Italian kidney beans
Similar to white navy beans or haricot beans these hail from Italy. They are popular in Central and Southern Italy, particularly in Tuscany. Are cannelini beans and haricots the same? Some say yes and some say no. I hope I’m wise enough to avoid answering.
Chickpeas Aka Garbanzo Beans
Again, not a bean. But so useful I couldn’t neglect adding them just to remind us how useful they are as a peashoot crop. Plus they are now grown in the UK on a (small) commercial scale.
This is the immature bean from the soya plant. When mature it is a soya bean. Edamame are usually eaten in the pod.
Eye of Goat Beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, aka “Ojo de Cabra” Beans
These are an heirloom runner type bean related to Scarlet runner beans. They originate from Mesoamerica, the southern US states and Mexico. They are round, slightly kidney shaped with a beige-tan background and brown stripes.
There are two types of French bean, the bush type and the climbing type. Both produce copious quantities of slender stringless beans that I consider far superior to runner beans. Most varieties are green but there are coloured varieties. Cream, purple and yellow are the usual alternative pod colours, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see other colours come on to the market in future years.
They are ideal for open ground OR in containers or pots. Sowing is normally from April to July, though I’ve sowed as late as August for a greenhouse grown crop. Late crops are however prone to botrytis in damp weather .
French beans are delicious and easy to grow in the ground or in containers. The slender, stringless beans make great finger food for children, and come in a range of attractive colours – as well as the usual green, you can grow cream, yellow and purple-podded varieties. There are fast-cropping dwarf varieties, as well as climbing varieties that crop over a longer period – both are ideal in small spaces as they take up little ground space.
Good Mother Stallard
Named after Carrie Belle Stallard from Virginia these are an American heirloom variety that are hard to come by in the UK. They have been grown commercially by Edward Lee in Shropshire but are reputedly hard to get right.
The are a climbing variety of Phaseolus vulgaris (so many beans are of this species).
Great Northern Beans
Some people claim these are Navy beans whilst others say they are a separate type of bean. But they are both varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris (yes, that one again).
Hidatsa Shield Beans
This one is Three Sisters related and thought to be named after the Hidsdata tribe of North Dakota who grew it as one of the three crops ie maize, beans and squash in the Missouri River Valley. It’s another form of Phaseolus vulgaris .. which I’ll remind you includes borlotti, haricots and cannellini.
This is apparently a globally scarce variety and hard to grow in our UK climate. Though Edwards Lea has managed to grow a small commercial crop for Hodmedods.
Lima Beans, Phaseolus lunatus, aka butter bean, sieva bean, double bean, Madagascar bean, or wax bean
Lima beans are a better known type of bean. But what many people don’t know is that there are two types of Lima bean.
The name might make you think this is a Peruvian bean. And you’d be right. It seems it was brought into cultivation around 4000 years ago. Thats the larger bean. There is also a smaller Lima bean, aka the Silva bean.
Widely known in the US as butter beans this is a bean that is also widely grown and eaten.
There are bush and pole types, both need boiling for long enough to remove toxins from the seed before eating.
The bush varieties appear more reliable in the UK but they are a long season crop and need warmth. So don’t sow too early and expect to harvest late in the season.
Lima beans are an interesting crop and I suggest checking it out on Wikipedia if you want to know more about the history of the bean.
Mayocoba aka Canary beans
They are called canary beans because they are bright yellow! But they don’t come from the Canaries. They come from South America and Mexico and were first cultivated thousands of years ago.
They are another rare type of Phaseolus vulgaris, that have been grown commercially on a small scale in the UK by pioneer bean grower, Edward Lea.
Mung Beans, Vigna radiata, aka maash, green gram, ماش, ماش)٫ मूंग),
If you love Chinese food you will probably have eaten mung beans because they are used to produce bean sprouts so beloved of UK based Chinese restaurants.
This is a frost intolerant crop that needs warmth. It can be grown here in the UK to produce bean shoots, and this is done in large volumes for supermarkets and restaurants. But I’ve no experience of growing the vine and can’t advise on it.
Navy Beans aka haricot, pearl haricot beans, white pea bean, and Boston bean
I mentioned these previously under the Cannellini bean heading. This is the one that is used to make baked beans.
This is the bean that the Spanish call frijoles pintos, which literally means “painted bean”. Pinto is also the word used to describe the Pinto horse which is also “painted” in bold colours.
In the US they are often used to make refried beans whilst the Spanish have an annual fair dedicated to the pinto bean!
Runner beans aka Kidney Beans, Gogmagogs, Gigantes, Canadian Wonder, Flat Beans, Stick beans.
Here’s the bean I’ve grown by the ton. Literally by the ton. For a few years we grew a quarter acre of “beans”. We grew them up wigwams that consisted of four canes one yard apart, brought together at the top to form a wigwam or teepee.
Two beans were planted at each stick .. one to grow and one for the crow (though I never saw a crow ever eat one!).
Once the crop reached the top of the caners, about two metres high, we stopped the crop by removing the growing tip of the plant. This sound laborious but takes seconds if you seem yourself with a short bamboo or hazel cane and use it to flick the growing tips and break them cleanly from the plant. It applied to the small boy in me and I could complete a quarter acre plot in far less than an hour by walking up and down the rows at a steady pace whilst flicking the growing tip of every plant.
Stick beans respond well to irrigation and regular picking. Keep picking a they keep growing.
I have to say that when you’ve spent the morning picking a pallet of beans they don’t appeal as a veg that evening .. or any other evening. I much prefer French beans to eat.
Soldier Beans aka Red-Eye Bean
Soldier beans are another scarce bean from the P. vulgaris stable. They are an American heirloom bean that has been grown since before 1800. Their name comes from the distinctive red mark on the bean that makes them look like a toy soldier! the red mark is retained after cooking.
Soldier beans are a bush variety and are grown commercially in Maine by at least one farm, Green Thumb is the name that comes to mind.
In the UK I know of only one commercial grower of soldier beans. But, as there is one, then it is possible to grow them here. Let me know if you’ve tried them.
Endamame beans were mentioned earlier. And soy beans are the mature beans from the same plant. These are the beans used to produce tofu, soy sauce, soy milk, tempeh, fermented bean paste and natto.
Though an Asian bean it is now grown in many parts of the world. The Portuguese first grew it in Portugal in 1880 at the Botanical Gardens in Coimbra. But they had known about it since 1603 when it appeared in a Portuguese/Japanese dictionary.
The Italians also grew it in their Botanic Garden in Turin as early as 1760.
In Australia wild soybeans were discovered by Banks and Solander in 1770.
Commercial processing of soy in Europe started around 1910 when Li Yu-ying started a tofu factory in France.
Soy beans can be grown in the UK, but I question if it is worth bothering.
Swedish Brown Beans aka Bruna Bönor
Linnaeus mentioned bean production just off the ‘Swedish coast, on the island of Öland, in 1741. They were another form of P. vulgaris and are probably the forebears of the brown beans grown today!
Again this is a bean that is scarce in the UK but grown on. very limited commercial basis in Shropshire. They might be worth trying in a UK garden or allotment.
Polyanthus beans aka P. polyanthus
At last, a bean that isn’t P. vulgaris. This one is P. polyanthus.
Sadl,y though I’ve heard of this bean, I have no experience of growing this bean and can find few references to it.
Tepary Bean, Phaseolus acutifolius, aka Tepari,, Pawi, Pavi, Yori mui, Yorimuni, Yori mun & Escomite
Acutifolius means pointed leaf. There is also a similar bean called latiofolius which means broad leafed, and a narrow leafed type called tenuifolius. All three are more drought resistant than P. vulgaris.
To further improve drought resistance Sheffield University has been working on Tepary beans and have improved the plants stomata.
Several U.K. seed companies sell tepary beans. They’ve become popular.
Velvet Bean, Mucuna pruriens, DON’T TRY THIS ONE AT HOME
I thought it worth adding a few words on beans that might not be considered for growing, just to demonstrate their many properties. Velvet beans sound good, smooth and silky.. But in reality the pods have fine hairs that cause severe itching.
However, it is being investigated as a possible cure of Parkinson’s Disease and for snakebite.
Snake Beans aka Yard Long Beans, Asparagus Bean or Chinese Long Bean
Now for snake beans, which have nothing to do with the snakes mentioned above.
Snake beans are those very long beans, up to 90cm long and the thickness of a pencil that can be grown in greenhouses and tunnels in the UK. I suspect they will also thrive in food forests in the right location. Sow them in April /May and harvest from July until the frosts get them.
Best harvested when about 30cm long when they are more tender.
Some UK seed houses sell Snake Beans. I get mine from Sow Seeds.
Other Beans Of Note
When I’ve time I’ll write more about some other bean favourites … Dalmatian Bush Bean, Lablab beans, Canadian wonder beans, Cave bean, Pea beans (a strange name I know, but they’ve been around since the 1600s), Black valentine beans, Sword beans( Canavalia ensiformis), Flagolet beans, etc
Want To See Some Of These Beans?
Here’s a short video from Canada. It shows examples of many of the usual and unusual beans grown there.
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