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Getting to Know Beans

Johnny's

Bean Basics

Bush Beans • Pole Beans • Snap Beans • Shell Beans • Dry Beans • Filet Beans • Soybeans • Fava Beans • Lima Beans

Thoreau's Bean Row"I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer… What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day's work. It is a fine broad leaf to look on."

– H.D. Thoreau, Walden

Beans are a mainstay of the summer vegetable garden, and a standard at every farm stand. They are an easy-to-grow, multiuse crop with many types and varieties available.

Introductions from bean breeders in recent years offer greater color, yield, and, importantly, disease resistance — but best of all, the eating quality of our bean offerings today is better than ever.

One of the most nutrient-dense of all foods, beans are a dietary staple around the world, and deeply rooted in our culinary traditions since ancient times.

In short, we cannot imagine life — even, for many of us, a single growing season — without beans.

Windsor & Vroma Fava Beans
'Windsor' (L) & 'Vroma' (R)
Fava Beans
Johnny's offers dozens of bean varieties of many different types that originate from around the world.
View All Our Beans  »

Because of their tremendous diversity, beans can be categorized in many different ways.

Two convenient ways to divide them up are either on the basis of their plant habit

  • Bush Beans are mounding types that are low-growing, with a compact, 1–2-foot-high habit.
  • Pole Beans are runner or vining types that can grow very tall, typically requiring some form of trellising.

Or, according to the stage at which they're eaten

  • Snap Beans or String Beans are eaten fresh, pod and all.
  • Fresh Shell Beans are intended to be eaten when the seeds are still young, just full-sized and sweet and starchy, before they start to dry down.
  • Dry Beans are eaten after the seeds in the pod have matured and dried out. Shell beans can be allowed to dry on the plant to become dry beans.

Here are some definitions and additional details regarding common subtypes of beans.

Tongue of Fire - Snap Bean or Shell Bean
Harvest Now & Harvest Later
Snap Bean to Shell Bean. A particularly fine bean that can be eaten both at the snap stage, when young, and as a fresh shell bean is Tongue of Fire. It's easy to tell when Tongue of Fire pods are ready to harvest as snap beans — they become a striking variegated red. The shell-bean stage is ready when the beans plump up inside the pod. Outstanding variety on the farmstand at either stage.

Shell Bean to Dry Bean. Our Italian Cannellini is a large white kidney bean variety that offers excellent eating quality both when picked early, at the shell-bean stage, and at the dry-bean stage. Slightly nutty with mild earthiness, they are a relatively thin-skinned bean with tender, creamy flesh that holds its shape well — a superb choice for traditional dishes such as minestrone, ragoûts, and pasta y fagioli.
  • Snap Beans
    Snap beans include both bush bean types and pole beans. They are eaten pod and all, when immature, while the pods still have some "snap" to them. Some snap beans are also known as string beans and green beans, but they are not always stringy anymore, thanks to recent breeding developments, and not always green, but may have green or purple pods. (To compare the bushy, mounding types of snap beans, see our Bush Bean Comparison Chart » )
  • Filet Beans
    Commonly grown in France and now widely known as haricots verts, filet beans are a subgroup of bush snap beans harvested when young and succulent. Reaching peak flavor at ⅛–¼-inch diameter, they are prized for slender pods with a crisp, yet delicate texture. Filet beans are also known as fine beans by the British, and are widely regarded as a fancy, gourmet, or specialty produce item. While they do require frequent picking to maintain a continuous yield of extra-fine-grade pods, they are not otherwise difficult to grow.
  • Wax Beans
    Wax beans are snap beans — bush or pole — with pods that are yellow in color, including those that are yellow variegated with purple, and with a matte or satiny finish and a faint waxiness to the texture.
  • Soybeans
    These are Asian native fresh shell and dry beans in the genus and species Glycine max. Soybeans are highly regarded worldwide for yield, protein, and oil content, and a multitude of uses — including green and dry cooking, flour, soy milk, tofu, soy sauce, and miso. Our selection is focused on early-maturing, vegetable types.

Some Lesser-Known Bean Types

  • Fava Beans
    The only bean that likes cool weather, fava beans are suitable for early spring plantings for early summer crops and late summer plantings for fall crops. In mild areas, fall plantings can be used to produce spring crops. Also known as broad beans, favas are good both as fresh shell and dry beans. Windsor is a classic English heirloom variety with a large plant. Our newer variety Vroma is sturdy, less prone to lodging, and more heat tolerant than other favas.
  • Lima Beans
    Lima beans are a different species (Phaseolus lunatus) from snap beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). Because they need warm soil to germinate and a long, hot summer to produce good crops, lima beans grow best in hotter regions. Given adequate warmth and protection for enough time, however, they will perform at more temperate latitudes. The early-maturing Fordhook 242 is our standard all-time favorite. Tip: The smaller types of baby limas that grow particularly well in the South are often referred to as butter beans. Our Johnny's-bred organic variety Butterbeans is a soybean named for its extra-buttery texture, however — not a lima bean.
  • Edamame
    These are soybean varieties bred to be consumed at the green shell stage, when the seeds are just full-sized, before they become starchy and begin to dry down. Typically boiled or steamed, edamame are often served sprinkled with sea salt, in the pod. Long popular in East Asia, edamame are commonly served nowadays in stateside Asian restaurants.


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