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Growing Lima/Butter Beans

Anne K Moore
Photograph by Linda Weiss

Whether you call them butter beans or lima beans, one thing is for sure; you either love them or hate them.  I love them, especially the small little butter beans.

As with other beans, butter/lima beans are easy to grow.  The hard part is in the picking and shelling.  They also take up a good deal of garden space in order to get a decent crop for a family.  The exceptions to space requirements are the pole beans.  Growing up is a good space saving practice in a small garden.

Pole lima beans, like the heirloom ‘Large Speckled Calico’, also do better in the hot summer areas of the country.  Hot and humid won’t slow down bean-set on pole growers as much as it does the row growers.

Plant the lima/butter bean seeds in summer after the soil warms up.  They thrive in sandy loam or any well-drained soil.  Be sure to keep them well watered during the summer dry spells.  They can take 75-100 days from sowing to picking.  Another heirloom, ‘Henderson’s Bush Lima’, is a quick bearer and tolerates drought much better than many of the other varieties.

Wait to pick until you see plumped out beans in the pods.  I like to use a small garden clipper to harvest the bean pods.  You can also use scissors.  Pinching off the pods is difficult.  Be sure to hold the plants in one hand and pinch and pull with the other or you will harvest a whole section of bean plant with the pod.

Hook yourself up to an iPod (pardon the pun), MP3 player, or set yourself down in front of a TV movie and begin shelling the beans.  It takes a mindless amount of time to get enough beans out of the pods to feed a couple.  Don’t worry about shelling enough for the kids.  They probably won’t eat them.  Although, just telling them they can’t have any could spark interest. 

Limas/butter beans are fleshy enough to stand in for meat on the menu.  These beans are delicious steamed and drenched in butter and salt.  Or, try one of Chef Linda’s butter bean recipes found elsewhere on this site.


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