Plant Profile: Yard Beans (Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis)

 

I have quite the exciting plant for us to look at today…it’s the bean that goes by many names, including yard bean, yard-long bean, snake bean and asparagus bean. I was first introduced to this plant by a co-worker that hails from Trinidad. When I was discussing planting my veggie garden last year, he recommended that I give this one a try. He said that it was very popular in “the islands” and could be used like a green bean in dishes. I gave it a try and found that it is indeed like a green bean, but it’s more like a green bean on steroids.

Before we discuss the culture of the yard bean, let’s look at where it is originally from. Yard beans are known as dow gauk in China, thua chin in Thailand and sasage in Japan. It is native to southeast Asia and is popular in Asian and Mediterranean cultures and is now catching on in the U.S. as well. While it is often thought of as a “green bean on steroids” it is actually a closer relative of cowpeas, or black-eyed peas. Either way, the culture of them is the same.

Yard beans, as my Trinidadian friend calls them, are best sown directly in the ground about a month after the last frost…take a look at this post if you’re not sure when your last frost date is. Plant the seeds about 4″ apart and 3/4″ deep along a trellis. Yard beans are prolific growers so make sure that you plant them somewhere where they can grow to their hearts delight. Ten foot tall yard bean vines are not out of the question, but they will fall back down on themselves and continue to grow. Our trellis was about 6′ tall and they did just fine. They are able to tolerate a wide range of soils (except wet) so nearly everyone should be able to squeeze a few into their garden. They have a leg up on green beans in that they will produce all season if they are harvested regularly…no succession plantings are needed with yard beans which means one less thing to do in the garden.

True to their name, yard beans will grow to 36″ long but they are best harvested when the pods are 12″-15″ long. At this length, they are sweet and tender. If they are allowed to grow larger, the pods become tougher and less flavorful. If they get to this point, you can allow them to mature in the pod and use them as a dried bean. Unfortunately, many of our yard beans grew so fast that they were well beyond the 12″-15″ limit when we got around to harvesting them. You have to be diligent and harvest them every day or two to be able to use them in the same manner as a green bean.

The only issue that I had with yard beans was the aphids. Holy sweet goodness…the aphids were on the beans like white on rice last year. I’m not exactly sure why they decided all of our beans were delicious but they were certainly prolific. If we had been able to harvest the beans appropriately, the aphids could have been washed off and the beans would have still been perfectly edible. Toss them in with onions, summer squash and butter for a quick delicious side dish.

There are several varieties available including Chinese Red Noodle, Purple Podded Yard Long Bean, and Stickless Wonder which is a bushy form. I grew Bacello last year and couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. Let me know if you have grown yard beans before. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!