All About Limas

Lima beans, or butter beans as they are known in the South, are one of those vegetables that taste noticeably better when harvested fresh. If you've always turned up your nose at lima beans in succotash or other dishes, try growing your own. Not only will your limas have a livelier and sweeter taste than processed limas you find in the store, they lose very little of that fresh flavor when frozen.

Lima Varieties

Lima beans are considered a shell bean. You can eat the beans when young like a snap bean by harvesting when the seeds are still green and fresh. Or you can let the pods dry and harvest the beans like a mature shell bean. The color of the seeds goes from green or mottled when harvested as a green shell bean to white or pinkish brown when harvested as a mature shell bean.

Limas are available in bush and pole varieties. The bush varieties grow 1 to 2 feet tall and produce 10 to 20 days earlier than pole varieties. There are large- and small-seeded varieties of lima beans. Large seeded varieties, such as 'Fordhook 242' , produce more beans and are easier to shell. 'Fordhook 242' is also heat resistant and a good variety for canning or freezing. Small-seeded, or "baby" limas, such as 'Early Thorogreen', produce smaller pods on dwarf plants that take up less space than other bush limas. Some bush varieties, such as 'Jackson Wonder', feature mottled purple seeds that add a bit more color to your dishes.

If you're tight on space in your garden, try growing pole limas. They'll produce 10 to 20 days later than most bush varieties, so they're best grown in warm climates. 'Christmas' pole limas produce large, flat seeds that are mottled green and red. 'Sieva' produces medium-sized beans.

Growing Limas

Limas love heat and well-drained soil. Wait until the soil is above 70? F before planting. Often this will be 1 to 2 weeks after sowing snap beans. In cold climate areas, soak the seeds in warm (70° F) water overnight before planting to hasten germination. On all but sandy soils, create a raised bed that's 8 to 10 inches tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Sow two rows of bush limas on the top of the bed. For pole varieties, plant 2 to 3 seeds around an individual pole or teepee structure.

Lima beans fix their own nitrogen, so they need little fertilization beyond the addition of compost in spring. Watch the plants for signs of damage from rabbits, woodchucks, and Mexican bean beetles. Fence or live trap rabbits and woodchucks. Check on the undersides of leaves for bright yellows eggs of the Mexican bean beetles. Crush the yellow eggs as you see them to reduce the population.

Harvesting Limas

Limas are sensitive to frost, so harvest before cold weather sets in. When harvesting limas at the green shell stage, pick the beans when pods are plump and bright green. Remove beans from pods by pressing firmly on the seam with your thumb. The beans can be eaten fresh or frozen. For harvesting at the mature shell stage, let the pods mature until they begin to break open naturally. The dry beans are normally used in soups and stews.

For more on growing lima beans, go to the Virtual Vegetable Guides at

Question of the Week

Sweet Corn Ears Lack Kernels

Q. Even though my sweet corn plants look healthy, the kernels on the mature corn ears are spaced far apart. Why haven't the ears filled out well?

A. Your problem is most likely poor pollination. Pollen grains from the tassel need to pollinate each kernel silk in order for all the kernels to grow and fill out. If pollination is disrupted, then some of the kernels won't develop, leaving spaces in the corn ear.

Poor pollination can be due to rainy weather when the pollen was ready, insects attacking the tassel or ear, or corn stalks planted too far apart. Plant different varieties of corn that have different maturity times to insure that some corn develops in spite of rainy weather. Check the tassel and ear for insect damage and control as needed. In the future, plant your corn in blocks, not rows. Since corn depends primarily on wind to transfer the pollen to the silks, corn planted in blocks is more likely to be properly pollinated. A clump of 5 stalks per hill or a block 4 feet square is usually the required to ensure proper pollination.

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