Friday, September 21, 2012

Survival Plant Profile: Snake Beans

Bean Noir.

Vigna unguiculata, also called the Yard-long Bean, the Snake Bean, the Asparagus Bean and various other weird names, is an Asian green bean that kicks tail in Florida. I mean, SERIOUS tail. This thing is a monster.

The pods aren't really a yard long, though they are quite impressive at roughly a cubit. (Yeah, I said cubit. Look it up.)

Let's talk about how crazy awesome these babies are.

The vines grow really long with little or no care. If you grow these, which you should, make sure you've got plenty of climbing room for them. Something fascinating about this plant: you can basically plant it at any warm time of the year as long as you give it enough water to get started. I planted them in mid summer and got a good crop, as well as in fall and spring. This sucker grows like a weed. I've even stuck seeds in the front yard and let them run across the grass and eat neighboring trees and shrubs. With zero care, they still bore beans. I once planted them in a spot that received only indirect light: they bore a large crop anyhow. Another time I planted them on a baking-hot  fence. Same deal. Tons of beans.

And what beans: the taste is almost nutty. A lot of green bean flavor with overtones of roasted almond and a bit of asparagus.

Snake beans take a little while to get started. For a few weeks, they're just cute little bean plants. And then they pull the Incredible Hulk routine on you and start reaching for the sky in a blinding green rush.

Force perspective, heck yeah. (BTW, that is NOT a bean in the middle with the heart-shaped leaves - it's a type of yam.)
Look how huge the vines are compared to this blonde chick and her baby (hi, honey).

The seeds are available rather widely now in a variety of cultivars. Every one I've grown has been awesome. My guess is that these are just one step removed from weeds and have had little of their vitality bred out by successive genetic manipulation. Bugs leave them alone for the most part and the vines are really, really good at climbing on whatever is handy. They also respond well to diluted urine as a fertilizer. Mix it 5-1 or so with water and spray it on the leaves. Or just pee around their bases occasionally. Relief + fertilizing = WIN.
Also, this plant is a nitrogen fixer and a good source for compost at year's end. It has no tolerance for frost, however, so don't plant it too close to frost dates.

The beans can be eaten raw or cooked and continue bearing for a few months after maturity. Pick the pods before they get too big and leathery. You'll get a feel for it quickly when you grow them. Just a few beans are enough for a good serving at dinner. And in case I didn't mention it: they're delicious.


5 Spuds!


Name: Snake bean, Yard-long bean, Asparagus bean
Latin Name: Vigna unguiculata
Type: Vining annual
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun recommended: in reality, shade too
Part Used: Leaves, small stems
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Excellent
Storability: Moderate (can or freeze as green beans)
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: High
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: Moderate

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At March 1, 2013 at 9:52 PM , Blogger Tina said...

I love these stir fried with some olive oil and garlic - yum!

At March 1, 2013 at 11:34 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Oh yeah. Unbeatable.

At May 17, 2013 at 11:36 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

If everyone planted 20 of them no one would go hungry again!
my longest bean recorded 29.5 inches long and a half inch thick on the longest vine we had est 40 ft, + or - 3 ft. Also figured out: Clip them 1/2 inch from the top of the bean(leave a small cap of bean) and it will replace them with two blossoms. Same node produced on two locations 8 sets of blossoms.
Do the math and pause, . , . , Scary huh?

At December 21, 2013 at 7:41 PM , Blogger OLOR A BOSQUE said...

Someone may tell me where I buy this bean seeds, Thank You.

At December 21, 2013 at 9:21 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has five different types for sale here:

At May 11, 2014 at 7:56 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

So, I'm finding many types of asparagus/snake/yard long beans online. Most places don't list by scientific name. Any suggestions on which I should go with?

At May 11, 2014 at 10:14 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

So far as I know they'll all do well here, though you might buy a few types then save seeds from those that do the very, very best. Good luck.

At August 3, 2014 at 9:07 PM , Anonymous L. Lockett said...

I tried growing these in South Florida this summer and have encountered serious problems with Aphids. I tried spraying the leaves daily with water, then tried a tomato spray, neem oil spray, and finally some organic insecticidal soap spray. For 3 months I have battled these bugs with no luck. They seem clean for a day only to come outside and have the entire plant covered in aphids again. They specifically attack the flowers and prevent beans from forming. I had read this would be a great vegetable to grow in the summer heat. We have had a very wet summer here. Could that be contributing to the aphid problem?

At August 3, 2014 at 10:05 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Hmm. Frustrating.

Usually when there are a lot of aphids it means that you're short on predatory insects such as ladybugs. My recommendation is to let a few good patches of random weeds grow in your yard if you haven't already. Near to the garden is good. They provide places for the aphids and the good guys that eat them... if you have a garden that's too clean, the aphids will outbreed the predators and win.

The wet summer might also be a problem. I'd also try again in a couple of months, then again next year, perhaps with a different cultivar. I had great luck in south Florida with them; however, everyone's yard and every year is different.

Good luck! I'd hate you to go without these puppies!

At January 16, 2015 at 1:09 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Are these perennial?

At January 16, 2015 at 1:32 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

No, unfortunately.

At June 17, 2015 at 9:46 AM , Blogger Trampart said...

I'm planting 30. Just doing my part to end world hunger.

At June 17, 2015 at 9:51 AM , Blogger Trampart said...

I purchased mine (organic) with free shipping on eBay.


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