Snake Beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis)syn: yardlong beans, long-podded cowpea, asparagus bean, pea bean, or Chinese long bean and many many more local names in so many languages.
My summer bean of choice is the definitely snake bean. I don’t even try to grow any other bean at this time of year.
Growing plants like this makes gardening a joy and creating an abundance of produce a simple task. The snake bean is prolific - a hardy, resilient annual plant that is just ideal for the Australian subtropics. While other beans struggle with the heat and humidity, these tough vines thrive and produce so many delicious and interesting pods.
Food markets in southern Asia are filled with bundles of the wonderful snake beans, tied up in bunches. They are a hugely popular food in many parts of the world, but often overlooked here in Australia - except in specialty grocery stores.
Snake bean vines produce delicious stringless pods that are eaten like green beans - but they are up to a metre long. The kids love helping me to harvest these. All you need is a vine or two for each person in your household.
Not only are snake beans prolific croppers, they produce over a long period of time too. This makes them a fabulous choice for a household that wants their harvest to be spread, not coming all at once in a glut. Also, since just one of these giant beans is equivalent to 5 normal beans, a handful of freshly plucked beans is all you need for dinner.
EAT THE YOUNG PODS
The best idea is to harvest the young pods every day to ensure that they are at their best and also to encourage new pods to form (they start forming around 60 days after planting). Slice them into soup, eat them raw in salads, steam them , story fry them, alive them finely into an omelet
EAT THE SEEDS
Once the pods get a bit long and fibrous, they are not so delicious as a bean, but you can leave them until they go fully dry on the vine then de-shell the beans and cook them up as a pulse. Keep in mind though that the pods are the most abundant part - rather than the seeds.
Another way to eat the seeds is to sprout them.
EAT THE LEAVES
Don’t forget the leaves - they are edible too. This is a popular leafy green vegetable in southern Asia where this plant originates. If you add compost, comfrey tea or worm liquid to the soil around snake bean vines, the leaves will be more dark green and abundant. From my experience, this does not affect the amount of pods but definitely increases the leafy green availability.
Eat the young shoots too.
WHERE TO GROW SNAKE BEANS
Snake beans a are a warm season plant in a warm climate - tropics and subtropics. But don’t worry if you are not in a tropical or subtropical regions. Many of my gardener friends from mediterranean/temperate climatic zones like Sydney and Melbourne can grow them too - just with a shorter growing period.
Snake beans don’t mind poor soil, but will take off with a bit of compost. Full sun is best, but they also grow in half shade - particularly in the warmer climates.
Make a tall trellis for them to grow up. They are good climbers and will easily crawl over shrubs, trellises, fences and sheds.
SNAKE BEANS IMPROVE THE SOIL
Snake beans produce a lot of biomass that can be composted or used as a chop and drop much at the end of the season. They are a legume, so they are also improving the soil with their capacity to fix nitrogen.
SAVE YOUR SEEDS
Even though one of the names for these beans is the yard long bean, it usually doesn't get that long in my garden because we eat them when they are young and tender.
But, I always leave several pods from the healthiest few plants to go to seed and use these to plant for the next season.
To save the seeds, simply allow the pods to go fully dry on the vine then de- shell. Store seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dark place (the opposite of what seeds need to grow - light, water, air, warmth).
I think this tough, abundant, drought resilient and delicious plant deserves a lot more attention. It is such a brilliant plant in an edible landscape. Do you use it? What is your favourite way of preparing it?