Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2004
Regional Report

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Tepary bean foliage adds a bright splash of green.

Growing Tepary Beans

Aided by a few recent summer thundershowers, tepary beans are showing off their bright green, late-summer foliage now. Native to the arid Southwest and Mexico, tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) were being cultivated before the Spanish arrived in the New World.

In Arizona the Hohokom Indians sowed the seeds just in time to germinate with precious summer monsoon rains, usually mid-June to mid-July. Teparies are fast maturing, as they need to germinate, grow, flower, and set seed while conditions are favorable. Plan about 60 days until maturity, but that can vary considerably depending on weather and growing conditions.

These plants are extremely drought tolerant and can actually get along well with limited water and unimproved soil, thriving in summer heat and alkalinity. What they don't like is overwatering, so wait until plants appear wilted or stressed to apply water. Flowers are usually white or lilac in color.

Colorful Varieties
Tepary beans are available in solid whites, tans, and browns, but the many colorful or speckled varieties are more fun to try. 'Colonia Morelos Speckled' has blue, yellow, beige, brown, and tan specks on a tan background. 'Paiute Mixed' has burnt orange, chocolate brown, and and speckled tan colors. 'Cocopah Brown' has orange speckles. All of these varieties are suitable for both low- and high-desert elevations.

The beans are usually smaller than pinto beans but still pack an important nutritional punch. They are an excellent source of calcium for a region that traditionally had few options to supply this element to the diet.

Harvest the bean pods as they start to dry. Don't wait too long: If left on the plant, pods will burst open and disperse the seeds. However, if the critters don't get them, they will lie in wait to germinate with next year's monsoons.

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