If you want an easy veggie to grow, try beans. Sure, green beans, pole beans and white Northern beans are all familiar to home gardeners, but let’s not forget the wonderful black bean. Sometimes known as black turtle beans, these legumes are very easy to grow in a well-prepared garden, and they’re a fiber-packed, heart-healthy staple in many ethnic dishes.

Black Beans Raw

When the bean pods have dried completely on the vine, take them out and spread them on a paper towel to dry for another day or two.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Black Beans & Rice

Black beans with tomatoes and onions are a great complement to saffron rice.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

You can buy black bean seeds from many seed companies. Like other beans, they’re larger seeds, and they benefit from soaking for two hours before planting (to rehydrate them and encourage germination). They also grow better when planted with inoculants (which can also be purchased from many mail-order seed companies).

Like most beans, black beans grow quickly in soil that’s been amended and fertilized. The trick is to plant it later than many other varieties. While bush beans profit from being planted early so the beans will mature before the insect population is at its worst, black beans grow best when planted later in spring. In fact, warm weather helps these beans grow faster, and the rains of early summer strengthen the plant. And as summer builds, the hot, dry conditions are great for drying black beans in their pods on the plant.

When it comes to planting, black beans need to be 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart. Rather than digging a series of small holes in the soil, just take your hand trowel and gently scrape a straight line in the soil that’s 1 inch deep. Then take your presoaked seed, coat them in an inoculant before planting, and place your first seed at the edge of the line. Place your next seed in the soil about 4 inches over from the first. Continue this pattern until your row is complete, then cover the seeds with soil. Repeat the process in another trough just 4 inches away (and continue until all your bean seeds have been planted).

To support your beans as they grow, offer a 3-foot-tall structure for them. When the bean pods begin to fill out, water your plants only if needed and allow the pods to dry out in the summer sun. Harvest your beans after the pods have dried completely and the beans have turned black. (If you pick a few and find the beans are still white and the pods are moist, allow them to dry further before harvesting the rest.) When they’re ready for picking, crack open the pods to remove the beans, and spread them on a flat surface to dry for another day or two. After that, place the beans in a container in a cool, dry place and use as needed.

Black beans are so versatile, you can enjoy them in many recipes in place of red or pinto beans. They’re great in chilis or stews, and are delicious in rice and bean recipes, as well as burritos and enchiladas. Just soak your black beans overnight to rehydrate them before using. (If you find an overnight soaking makes the beans mealy instead of firm, soak them just a few hours instead.)

Here’s one fantastic black bean and rice recipe that’s super simple:

  1. Bring 3-4 cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup of black beans. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.
  2. Add the following: 1 diced onion; 1 diced tomato; 1 teaspoon of chili seasoning; and, if you like hot food, ¼ teaspoon of a dried red pepper (like Jabañero). Simmer for about 2 hours or until beans are tender. Add water if necessary.
  3. Prepare rice according to directions. (I prefer saffron rice for this dish.) Serve the black beans warm on a bed of the cooked rice. (If the beans are too spicy, add sour cream or guacamole to cool the taste.) Enjoy!