• Annemarie Bolduc

Magic Beans

Updated: Mar 21

Discover some of the best beans that can grow successfully in a cool climate backyard garden.

Runner beans harvested at the "shelly" stage • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021

Beans, despite reputation and appearance for some people, are actually very interesting! They have three harvesting stages in which they look, are cooked and are named differently. One: When the pod is young and eaten whole, they are called snap beans, green beans, string beans or French beans (but in French we say "haricots"). Two: Shelly beans are the fresh seeds of snap beans that have reached a "teen" size where the pods get tough. The seeds are larger, removed from the pod and eaten fresh or cooked without soaking. These "shellies" are great when you live in a cool climate zone with early frost as sometimes they cannot reach the mature stage. Three: If you leave the whole pod to dry, the seeds are referred to as a legume grain and called either beans or pulses (or "fèves" in French). Some varieties are best as snap beans and some varieties, like red kidney and navy, are best as beans. There are a number of varieties around the world and the "beans" term is also used for the seeds of coffee, soy, vanilla, etc. But for us, let's go back to my magic beans. In recent years, one of the beans with which I had the most successful yield is a variety called Purple King. These stunning purple flat beans turn green after cooking, (speaking of magic!) They are delicious in all stages: raw, cooked and shelled. On top of that, the climbing plant makes a great show with its purple flowers, pods and stems!

Purple King beans at all stages • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2022

My gardener (and now a flower farmer) best friend introduced me to the runner (or butter) beans when I started to grow food. Before that, I never saw or tasted them. They are a cool climate duo of a snap bean and legume plant and you can eat the pod fresh when young or save it for the nice jumbo duotone purple seeds when they reach a matured size, either fresh or cooked. The plant can be perennial if left in the ground. It never worked in my garden, so I just re-sow seeds collected from my previous harvest and the long climbing plant can also be grown for its ornamental features. I have some scarlet and pink "sunset" varieties, both of them being similar in appearance. As it happened, I mixed them up while collecting them and just call them "Magic Runner Beans". Last year I had the most productive plant and saved many seeds for cooking, sowing and sharing in my little collection of "Give Seeds a Chance" packets.

Runner beans for the garden and kitchen • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021

Broad (or fava) beans are an early season variety, more often grown in spring in our climate. They are cultivated and used in cuisine around the world, since forever, but were not known to me before moving downunder. I was curious to try these big green beans so I've been busy sowing them. They grow pretty well here and I like their taste. The only problem I have personally is to prepare them....! I find it is so much work to shell the seeds from those thick pods, plus removing the skin, for not much food left to eat... Good thing that the whole plant brings a good nitrogen-fix in the compost. I didn't develop any recipes with this legume, yet, but they can be used like peas and beans in many sorts of dishes like soup, stews and salads. They are one of the main ingredients used in the popular Middle Eastern falafel.

Broad beans to begin the growing season • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021


Growing beans is fun as you can explore and taste varieties that are not sold commercially. Depending on the climate you live in, and other factors like weather conditions, soil, and time of sunlight may have an effect on how your beans grow. Since I started to grow veggies in the backyard garden, I tried many different varieties with differing results. So it is a trial and error situation; and then you obviously stick with the ones you prefer for their yield and of course for taste. In a small backyard, climbing types are a great choice for space saving. In cool climate regions, the summer growing season is short, and beans are hyper sensitive to frost so timing is important. My veggie patches are not large enough to grow the "three sisters" trio of beans, corn and squash. This companion planting method was taught by Native Americans: the beans feed the soil (nitrogen), the corn provided support for the beans and the squash a ground cover to keep the soil moist. I made a "two sisters" trial in our front yard patch, which we dug up for more growing space. I love the idea of diversity and productivity in any part of a yard... and less lawn to mow. The Purple King beans supported by the sweet corn looked fabulous and so happy together! But since we discovered a water leak in a ground pipe near by... we think this might have also helped!

Two sisters on my front lawn • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2022

How I use any snap beans is often boiled on the side, in a stir fry, in soup or added into my garden shepherd's pie "Harvest Parmentier" (recipe to come). Munching them freshly picked is also great! They are a great source of vitamins and protein. Snap bean pods can be stored in the fridge for a few days, blanched and frozen, pickled or dehydrated. Dried beans can be stored in a jar in a cool dark place for months. They have to be soaked overnight and boiled in water before being added to a dish to remove the toxins. In Québec, white navy beans are used in a traditional "Fèves au lards" baked beans (see Maple & Bacon Baked Beans). The Purple King makes beautiful white shelly beans and I'm currently working on some new recipes: a Two Sisters Soup and a Quick Cassoulet. Runner shelled beans are very nutritious and perfect in winter dishes. I have a Magic Chili in development also, which I'll be sharing after re-testing the recipe!

Colourful and magic beans • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019-22

Note for locals: If you want to grow these Magic Runner and Purple King beans, you can currently find them in my "Give Seeds a Chance" packets at Local at Learmonts!

Check out related posts, recipes and inspirations:

#mylittlegardenstudio #mapleandbaconbakedbeans #mysweetcorn