One of our experimental crops this summer was Henderson’s Bush Lima Beans from Rohrer. They are described as a prolific heirloom variety with smaller 3-4″ pod.
By early August, the plants were loaded with flowers and beans and they can continue to produce for months until the first frost. Since they have a long growing season and pods can be at different stages of maturity, we weren’t sure how to decide on whether a pod was ready to pick or not.
The pods grow to about 3-inches long and seem to go through 3 stages once they reach that size:
1) relatively immature where the pod is full length, but it is still flat-ish and the beans inside are very small and difficult to shell
2) mature where the pod looks about the same size, but the girth fills out as the beans expand inside
The pods dry out on the plant surprisingly quickly, so the transition from mature to dried might happen in week or so. Some of the earliest dried pods we found had very small beans inside. It was discouraging at first because it seemed to suggest that the limas would be small, no matter how long we waited to harvest them. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case though. After a couple weeks of harvesting, the mature limas beans that we picked were larger.
With the first big lima harvest of the season, I decided to try sorting the beans as I shelled them to try to figure out what signs we could look for when deciding which beans are ready to pick. The biggest limas had a pod that felt full to the touch and I think the shell starts to turn a little paler green in color like the unshelled pods in the second column of this photo:
On the left are the dried beans. Those are easy to tell apart. In the middle are the mature beans. Most of the mature pods were plump to the touch. On the right are the less mature beans which were a deeper green on the outside. These took a lot more effort to get out of the shell and the beans inside were smaller and still a little green instead of the bright white color of the mature limas. It was tricky to tell some of these immature pods apart from the mature ones because the immature ones had also filled out, and were plump to the touch. I found the slightly yellow/pale color on the plump pods to be the best clues that the pod was mature and would shell easily.
Both the green and white limas tasted good. The main difference was the size of the bean and the effort to shell them.
Take way: Harvest pods when they are plump to the touch and the color is just starting to pale (lighter green).
In the end, I had a nice pile of shelled limas, some were big, others small; some had turned white, others were different shades of green:
I just boiled the limas and served them with salt and pepper. They all tasted pretty good, even the little green ones!
As for the dried beans, they were extremely easy to shell but there are only a few of them, so not sure how the dried ones taste yet. Interestingly enough, the dried beans seem to be a little smaller than the mature limas. Perhaps they shrink a little as they dry out?