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Lima Beans- Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

Lima Beans- Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

Lima (or LEma) – beans named for a city in Peru!
It is full on summertime now and the vegetables (and the gardeners) that can take the heat are the ones that will be doing best. Lima beans are exhibit A for thriving in these really warm conditions.  The Lima bean also called butter bean , Phaseolus lunatus, is a New World native originating in South America and was already in broad cultivation by native Americans in South, Central and North America before the arrival of Europeans. Many beans were being exported to Europe from Peru in the 1500’s and got named after the capital of Peru – Lima. Somewhere along the line the pronunciation changed from “lee-ma” to “lie-ma” – sounds better that way with a southern accent. Lima beans come in a large number of varieties with different seed sizes, colors and growth habit. Small seeded Lima’s tend have a more delicate texture while the large seeded varieties are more starchy and earthy. Seed colors can be white, green, yellow and some varieties are speckled with maroon or black markings. Most older varieties are vines (pole beans) and will grow best with support while some newer cultivars are lower growing bush forms.

Lima beans are an annual warm season crop with different varieties requiring from 60 to 90 days to mature. Bush cultivars usually mature a bit earlier than pole types. Limas can be planted in the spring a couple of weeks after the last frost and consecutively until late summer. The plants grow best in well drained garden soil with moderate fertility. Being a legume, they can extract most of the nitrogen they need from the air. Even moisture is needed in the really warm days to ensure good pod set and plump beans. The plants can have fungal issues, like downy mildew, which may need treatment particularly in rainy conditions. In our garden, the plants only occasionally have had pest problems warranting treatment – mostly for spider mites and/or stink bugs. I primarily grow the bush types now and plant them on six inch centers. We harvest our Limas for fresh eating when the beans are full sized but still tender. Beans can also be left in the pods until they dry and then used and stored as other dried beans. Limas set with 2 to 6 beans per pod and are a bit more difficult to shell than Southern peas. Shelling Limas is still a great way to spend time on the back porch – particularly if the children or grandchildren are helping.

Bush varieties of beans include Fordhook 242, Jackson Wonder and Dixie Butterpea. Pole cultivars include Christmas, King of the Garden and Willow Leaf. The pole beans can vine 10 feet or more and will need suitable supports – generally 5 to 6 feet tall. Fordhook 242 is the variety I plant most often now. It is an All American Selection winner from the 1940’s and produces fairly large white to pale green beans on sturdy bushes.

Lima beans are a good source of fiber and high-quality protein. Native Americans often grew the beans in combination with maize (corn). The maize provided carbohydrates and the beans provided protein which the maize lacked. Cooked together the preparation was called sohquttahhash (which I cannot pronounce) meaning “broken corn kernels.” We now know this dish as succotash. Besides protein, the beans are also a good source of a number of minerals and vitamin B-6. Raw Lima beans (and many other raw beans) contain toxins that can be harmful and so they should always be cooked completely which neutralizes the toxins.

Lima beans can be substituted for other beans in practically any recipe like soups, stews, chilies and baked beans. Growing up, my family often had lima beans cooked with ham or other smoked pork as a main dish served over rice. Indeed, many southern recipes call for Limas to be prepared with smoked meats. The beans are also a key ingredient in Spanish Paella Valenciana and is wonderful prepared Peruvian style with peppers and tomatoes. Pureed with a bit of lemon and olive oil, the mild Lima beans also make a tasty dip. Cooked and drained, the beans are a great addition to salads and can replace other proteins. Limas are particularly good with the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers coming out of the garden right now.

With its long history in the Americas and so many varieties to choose from, Lima beans fit right into our warm season vegetable garden.

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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