Farm to Table: Ontario beans, summer harvest overflows with so much to choose from!


The Canadian land base is well-known as being ideally suited for the growing of beans with an abundant harvest concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. In fact, 80-90% of the beans grown by those 1,200 Ontario farms that specialize in this crop are exported. Green/wax beans rate among the top four vegetables grown in Canada, and the estimated annual harvest worth ranges between $25-30 million.

Many may not be aware, but beans have long been considered a stable food in the traditional diet of Anishinaabe peoples, and were a mainstay of Woodlands agriculture. Many First Nations utilized an agricultural system that used a combination of three plants, known as the “Three Sisters,” corn (maize), beans and squash. Planted in an inter-dependent manner, the beans would grow up the stalk of corn, whereas the squash spread out at the base of these two plants and provided support for the root systems. A very practical combination, these three foods supported each other: the corn stalk provided a trellis for the beans, and the beans provided nitrogen and increased fertility of the soil, while the squash leaves acted in a similar manner like a mulch that kept the soil moist.

For today’s gardener, beans are generally sorted as coloured or white, and are either a bush or pole variety. White or pea beans are also known as navy beans. White kidney beans have been successfully grown in Ontario since the early 1900’s, and are also known as Cannellini or Alubia beans, which can be either white or cream-coloured. When puréed, they are similar to creamy mashed potatoes and make a perfect low-fat base for dips and spreads.

Some gardeners try their hand at growing Black Turtle beans, or Pretos, which have a nut-like flavour. Dark and light red kidney beans are popular in home-made chili recipes and tend to also do well in our climate. There is also a variety called Cranberry beans, known as Romano or Speckled Sugar, Cranberry beans are very popular in Italian cuisine, and have the highest folate count of all beans. They are also great beans to use in chili.

For the home gardener, there are at least six classes of green beans to choose from, and for the most part, the bush varieties tend to do well in areas of temperate Ontario climate. Most common are the “snap” bean or wax green beans, being versatile they are most often used as a side dish or in salads, soups, stews, stir-fries and casseroles and are a source of vitamin C and fibre. Being either quick-growing bush types or pole types, beans require a long growing season. Essentially, the bush varieties are low growing, self-supporting and nonclimbing. The pole types, with their never-ending stem elongation, must be supported by string or posts.

When planning the garden, consideration of a wind shelter is important, as beans tend to be shallow-rooted and require adequate moisture. The bush-bean pods mature in a concentrated manner and successive plantings every 14 days are necessary for a continuous harvest. When fortunate to have been grown in optimum conditions, they are harvested 45-65 days after seeding. Pole-bean pods begin maturing 55-75 days after seeding and one planting will generally give continuous podding.

Enjoy your garden and summer’s harvest.