Long Beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis) are delicious super productive Summer vegetables that add interest to the garden and dinner plates. They are called a bean, but they don’t taste like green beans. They are closer kin to the Southern/Cow Pea, but people don’t usually shell them for their peas. They actually taste more like asparagus than beans or peas. These weird noodle beans are unique, definitely a little strange looking, and incredibly rewarding.
Long Beans are a great choice for areas with hot and humid summers. If you live in an area where cow peas can be grown, you should try growing Red-Seeded Long Beans. There are other varieties in the same family available, including Red Noodle Beans. But, I am not as fond of them. The Red-Seeded green podded “Yard-Long” variety is the Long Bean that is most delicious.
They are a slow crop to get started in the Spring, because much like their black-eyed cousins, they love the heat. When the days start heating up, these vines will suddenly take off. So, you better have your stakes or trellises in place. These beans are fast climbers and they will quickly find something to grab on to when they get ready to reach for the sky. I kept these several years in large pots on 5 foot bean teepees. They performed well in pots. But, this year I have them in ground on those teepees as center pieces in our front yard vegetable gardens.
They are a lovely crop in addition to being delicious. The long cascading pods are quite eye-catching, and the purple blossoms of Long Beans are as pretty as any sweet pea flower. The ants seem to agree with me about the blooms.
Tiny ants join the assorted winged pollinators that tend the Long Bean blossoms. These vines, blooms, and pods seem to attract an interesting array of bugs–both good and bad. Every year we have grown them, they have attracted aphids. I don’t blame the aphids for latching on to them, because they are so tasty. The smart little aphids have at times covered all of the new growth and young beans on our vines. The first year I grew long beans, I sprayed them regularly with insecticidal soap. This method worked, but it was time consuming and expensive. The second year I grew them, I released lady bugs next to the vines. The lady bugs stuck around all season dining on any aphids that showed up. This will be my method for aphid management on our beans from now on. In addition to eating the bad bugs, the lady bugs provided entertainment and education for our kid when they decided to lay eggs on our long bean leaves. Watching the eggs hatch and the tiny “alligators” grow was really fun for the kid and for me, as well.
I have read that Kudzu beetles can and will destroy Long Bean crops. If you live right next to a Kudzu patch, you might have this problem. I have not. If you do have a Kudzu beetle problem in your area, you probably won’t find a simple solution like ladybugs. From my understanding, they are as hard to get rid of as Kudzu.
Other than minor buggy problems, growing long beans is a breeze. They seem to have two flushes of growth and blooms every summer. The first is actually a fairly short period of production; and, then they take a break. Don’t pull the plants at this point! Top dress with compost or fertilize with organic fertilizer and just wait 2 to 3 weeks for round two. The second flush of blooms and beans last pretty much all Summer, right up until the first frost. I have thought it was strange that my Long Beans seemed to take a break mid-season. But, I have heard from several other gardeners that have experienced the same thing. Apparently, this is just what Long Beans do.
Once they start producing the second crop, Red-Seeded Long Beans are plentiful. Plan on picking every day and sharing with friends. The two teepees that we grew in pots produced enough beans for our family to eat them 2 times a week for most of the Summer, and we shared some with friends. That much food produced from two potted plantings was mind blowing to me. These plants produce massive amounts of pods that grow insanely fast. Our long beans feed us often, and they feed us well.
Our favorite ways to enjoy Red Seeded Long Beans are: grilled, sautéed with garlic and pecans, roasted with a bit of olive oil, or stir-fried. Unlike green beans, they do not taste great when cooked in water or steam. The flavor and texture of Long Beans is best when cooked dry or with a bit of oil. If we grill them, we keep them long and place them directly on the grill. If we are cooking them in any other way, we cut them into reasonably sized pieces.
I prepared a huge pile of grilled long beans for our 4th of July family gathering a few years ago. I wanted to introduce my new favorite vegetable to everyone and I wanted the presentation to be fun and interesting, So I kept them all really long. It was highly entertaining to see everyone struggling to keep the 2-foot-long beans on their plates. It was even funnier watching them try to eat them. It seems to be natural to want to slurp them like noodles. But, they aren’t really flexible enough for slurping. So, be kind and make sure people have knives on hand if you plan on serving them whole.
If your Long Bean pods start filling out and get too large to eat, you can harvest them as peas for shelling. Last year, after going on a short vacation, we came home to plenty of over-grown pods filled with plump peas. I shelled them and cooked them like I would any other Southern Pea; slow and low simmered in chicken stock with smoked bones. They were fabulous peas, probably better than Purple Hull peas.
However you cook them or serve them, Red Seeded Long Beans are as fun to eat as they are to grow. When the first frost hits, I will be sad to see them go away. So, I shall eat as many of them as I can before the first frost rolls in.
I will soon be trying to dry Long Beans “Leather Britches” style to preserve them for the winter and I’m looking forward to enjoying them in spicy saucy Asian dishes. I will share recipes if they are a success. A friend of mine recently canned Red-Seeded Long Bean pickles with her abundant harvests. Hopefully she will share a jar of those real soon. She was kind enough to share pictures of her beans for use in this post, including this one. That is a lot of Long Beans!
Try growing long beans next year, and you will want to grow them every year. Just keep in mind, that they produce a ton of food. So, if you plant plenty of them, you may need a roadside stand to sell your extras.
- Plant in full sun 2 weeks after your last Spring frost.
- If planted in pots, only use very large pots.
- Provide a large trellis, teepee, fence, or tomato cage for Long Beans to climb.
- When production slows mid-season, top dress with compost or fertilize with organic Fertilizer.
- Pick often. Beans grow in pairs. Be careful to not damage the bud where the pair of beans is attached.
- Harvest when beans are the diameter of a pencil. If the peas are visible through the pods, the beans will not be tender.
- If the pods do fill out, harvest for the tasty peas inside.
- In warmer regions, plan on huge production from your long beans. 5-7 seeds planted will provide enough long beans to regularly feed one family member throughout the growing season.