Cool beans

Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow.  Here are a few varieties I’ve had success with.

Pole snap beans

If you are limited for space, or want to maximize your garden’s output, you can’t go wrong with pole beans.

Blue lake stringless beans and Rattlesnake pole beans are seriously prolific.  I planted perhaps four plants of each this year, and have been getting a couple of handfuls of beans from them every night for a couple of weeks.  Both are tender and delicious; the rattlesnake beans can be eaten young or left to mature into shelling beans.


Rattlesnake pole beans
Orca beans (black and white), Rattlesnake beans (brown and white spotted), Kidney beans


Bush snap beans

Bush beans are great if you don’t want to deal with vines climbing everywhere.

If you like colourful beans, Royal burgundy beans (purple), Kinghorn wax beans (yellow), or Red swan beans (pink) are all good producers, though they can’t beat the pole bean varieties mentioned above.

Dried / shell beans

Here, for me, is where the fun starts–lots of colourful little beans that you can add to soups, chilis, veggie burgers–you name it.

  • Black turtle beans are adorable, tiny black beans.  You can see them in the photo at the top of the page.  Each plant produces many beans; each bean contains around 6-10 seeds.
  • Orca beans look like the name suggests they would–like little orcas.
  • Ojo de Tigre beans are the orangish beans in the top photo with the pink whorls on them.  They are perfect for refried beans and the like.
  • Rattlesnake beans, as mentioned above, also produce delicious brown and white spotted beans.
  • I planted kidney beans from a bag of dried beans that I bought at the grocery store.  A few generations later, they’re still going strong (though that may not be the case with all store-bought seeds).

Anyone else have some favourite bean varieties to share?

Cover crops

Cover crops, also known as green manures, are crops that are grown and then intentionally tilled into the earth.  Though they’re not harvested, they benefit gardens in multiple ways:

  • They improve the soil by drawing nutrients up to the surface, where they become accessible to later crops through the compost that results after they’re tilled.  Mowing the plants and letting the cuttings dry for a couple of days before tilling them under lengthens the time it takes for the vegetation to rot, therefore making their nutrients available longer.
  • They protect the soil when vegetable crops aren’t being grown–they limit the spread of weeds, and prevent the soil from drying out in the hot sun or eroding away nutrients in the rain.
  • Their deep roots aerate the heavy soil and make it easier for future crops to also grow deep roots and access the nutrients they need.
  • Legume crops convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into a soluble form that future crops can absorb.
  • They increase the amount of microorganisms in the soil.  These help decompose the organic material and make nutrients available to future plants.

Fall cover crops are generally sown about a month before the last frost date.  Here are a few options for cover crops to plant that do well in the cool fall weather that is on its way:

  • Alfalfa
  • Barley
  • Fava, broad, or pinto beans
  • Clover
  • Cowpeas
  • Fenugreek
  • Oats
  • Rapeseed
  • Soybeans
  • Vetches
  • Winter rye
  • Winter wheat

Ensure that you turn your cover crops under when they flower, but before they go to seed, so that the crops will not reseed themselves in the spring.

Check your… pulses

Canada is the number one exporter of pulses (dried beans, peas, lentils, etc.) in the world, yet Canadians eat very little of them.  “Per pound, they are one-fifth of the cost of meat or dairy, but the food quality is every bit as good or better. They’re a really cheap way of getting high-quality food.”  And they’re easy to grow.

Growing vegetables in hot, dry conditions

Following are some tips on how to encourage a productive garden during a hot, dry summer:

  • Choose varieties that mature quickly and produce smaller fruit.
  • Lay your garden out so that plants that need similar amounts of water are grouped together.  Raised beds retain more water than open beds.
  • Plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns rather than rows so that the leaves can provide shade.  Space plants 1.5 to 2 times further apart than usually recommended to provide plants with access to a larger area from which to draw moisture.
  • Sow tall plants, such as corn and tomatoes, on the south side of heat-intolerant plants such as leafy greens, to provide them with shade and lower the temperature.
  • Add large amounts of organic compost to the soil; this helps trap moisture and encourages deep roots.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil to prevent moisture loss and keep the soil cooler.  This will also help prevent the growth of weeds, which compete with your plants for water.  You can use natural materials such as grass clippings, straw, dried leaves, pine needles, or shredded bark.
  • Water plants heavily when they are very young, and producing blossoms or fruit.  During other times, they can do with less water. Use drip hoses, which direct water into the soil, rather than spraying the plants from overhead where it is wasted on the leaves.  Water in late evening and early morning.
  • You can place shade cloth over the south sides of eggplant, pepper, and tomato plants.  This will reduce the temperature by 5-15 degrees and may prevent sunscald.  Plants like peppers and eggplants may produce less during a drought, but they will still produce.

Avoid planting these vegetables

Vegetables like peas, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), and leafy greens like cold weather, so they won’t do well in the heat of summer.  You can try planting them in the early spring or late fall, when the heat is less extreme.

Do try these drought-tolerant vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Artichokes – Jerusalem and globe
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Chickpeas (I made the mistake of overwatering these and they started to germinate in the shell!)
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cowpeas
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Melons
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Oregano
  • Peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Squash
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon, especially the sugar baby variety

Plant of the week: Beans

Beans are high in protein, virtually fat-free, and they have more fiber than most whole grain foods. They’ve been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
They’re also reliable producers. You can enjoy them all summer long, and freeze them or dry their seeds to enjoy them in the winter too!

Ideal growing conditions

  • Beans do not tolerate being transplanted; start them directly in your garden after the threat of frost has passed.
  • Plant 1 inch deep and a few inches apart, in full sun or partial shade.
  • If you have a problems with squirrels and other animals who like to dig out seeds, consider covering the planted area with panels of chicken wire until the seeds take root.
  • Beans don’t like to get their feet wet. Ensure they are in well-drained soil, and water them during the sunny part of the day so that they don’t sit in water overnight.


There are two types of plants:
  • Bush beans grow up to 2 feet tall, and do not require support.
  • Pole or climbing beans need trellises, fences, or other supports for their vines to climb. If you’re small on horizontal garden space, you can plant pole beans and extend your garden vertically!
There are a few types of beans:
  • Snap beans are eaten whole and young, before the seeds mature. You can buy string or stringless snap beans. String beans have tough fibres that run the length of the bean; these are removed before consumption.
  • Shell beans are grown for their seeds. The shells are discarded, and the beans are dried and added to soups and similar dishes.
  • Some beans can be eaten in either form.


  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Peas
  • Rosemary
  • Strawberries
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes


  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Leaks
  • Marigolds
  • Onions
  • Peppers

Fun facts

  • Beans and other legumes can draw nitrogen out of the atmosphere and into the soil, where is an important food source for plants.
  • Beans come in a variety of colours, including green, yellow, purple, and red. If you want to add some pretty blossoms to your garden, consider planting some scarlet runners.

Try this!

Try planting a handful of the dried beans from your kitchen cupboard. That is, the beans you buy for soups and chilis, such as kidney beans and black beans.