The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
September 26, 2012Among the last harvests of the summer season are the Lima beans. Usually referred to as bushel or sugar beans in 18th century documents, it received the name Lima because it was thought to originate in the Peruvian town of the same name. This assumption would prove to be partially correct. The primitive Lima bean seems to be a native of Guatemala, but it migrated south and was domesticated in Peru prior to 6,000 BCE. This was the large seeded bean that was discovered at Lima by European explorers. A smaller, seeded version was domesticated at a later date in Mesoamerica, perhaps Guatemala, and moved north and east. It was this smaller, seeded bean that was being grown by Native Americans when the English first arrived. It is a long-season plant and a vigorous climber. Poles ten foot high would not be amiss and the plants will still overtop them. This requires that the gardener mount a ladder to harvest the upper most beans, but if you are adverse to heights, they may be made to run sideways much as was advised for the green bean in our earlier conversation. As the Lima is such a prodigious climber, a sturdy support is required and they tend to be somewhat confused in their ramblings if not closely managed.
Like many others of my generation, I was subjected to the large starchy Lima bean as a child and it has long prejudiced me against them. However, after the recommendation of Mr. Jefferson I have experimented with the small seeded Sieva, or White Carolina bean, which has proved to be amongst the most delectable of any bean I have ever consumed. Often called butter beans to distinguish them from their less delicate relative, these beans are truly worth your cultivation.For a full account of the Legumes and their care you may refer to Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press)