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For the most tender green beans, pick them when young

August 16, 2017

We have all heard of Indians using fish as fertilizer. So it isn't surprising that fish from the garden play a role in Peixinhos da horta, a traditional Portuguese food whose name means "vegetable garden fishes" because it looks like colorful pieces of cooked fish. In fact, it is green beans dipped in batter and then deep fried. 

You can grow a quick crop of green beans for your own Peixinhos da horta in under two months. These compact plants grow and produce well without support. Plant the seeds in full sun in well-drained soil. For quicker germination, try soaking the bean seeds overnight in lukewarm water. 

Bush green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), like all legumes, help fix nitrogen into the soil, increasing fertility for next year's garden.

Nitrogen fixing is helped by adding a legume inoculant bacteria, Rhizobium leguminosarum. These bacteria cause the green bean plants to grow the nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots. 

Green bean seeds will sprout in days and begin flowering in just four to six weeks after planting. You will pick tender green beans a week or two after the flowers bloom.

When watering beans, keep the water at ground level so you don’t dampen the leaves, which can lead to disease. A soaker hose or drip irrigation system works well.

Avoid walking around your bush green bean plants if they are wet, which can also spread disease.

You can fertilize with organic fertilizers such as liquid fish emulsion or compost tea, but beans do fine in average soil. Too much fertilizer will grow lots of leaves and few beans. 

For the most tender green beans, pick them when young. By keeping the plants constantly picked, you encourage them to produce more. 

There are lots of different green or yellow bush beans, but look for quick maturity. Try E-Z Pick, whose beans tend to ripen all at once for easier harvest. E-Z Pick was so named because the five- to six-inch-long beans are held up above the foliage for easier picking. 

The Provider green bean is one of the earliest, so it makes a good choice for summer sowing. Provider is very resistant to many diseases, including bean mosaic virus and powdery mildew. 

The bush bean Jade has very tender, long pods, up to seven inches long, that grow on large upright bushes.

Jade takes hot summers and less-than-ideal growing conditions in stride. 

For some added color, grow a yellow bean such as Capitano. This is a flat-podded Italian-style bush bean with a deep, rich flavor. 

Peixinhos da Horta was first cooked on Portuguese ships to keep fresh beans from going bad on long voyages.

The Portuguese brought these delicious fried beans to Japan centuries ago. The Japanese loved them, and this launched what is today known as Japanese Tempura cooking. 

Now that is something, an American bean prepared by Portuguese and introduced to Japan. 

Cultivate some fast-growing beans for your own Peixinhos da horta, and you will be eating a taste of history.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.