The Garden Magazine 19(2): 134, 136 (Mar 1914)
Improving Lima Beans
Archibald Rutledge,
Pennsylvania

WITHOUT doubt the most interesting feature about the careful and intensive growing of lima beans is the fact that the average gardener can, by home growing and selecting, permanently improve the type of beans that he regularly grows.

Three years ago I decided that while the so-called Giant Pole limas were undoubtedly fine, a very much larger and better bean could be produced. Having, therefore, bought from a reliable seedsman some of the Giant lima seed, I planted it with especial care, having taken double precautions to get the ground rich and mealy.

As the growing plants developed I husbanded their strength by encouraging them to take hold at once of the fence against which they were planted. I did not trim back their tips, but let them run at will. During the late spring I gave them one application of liquid manure, moderately strong. In the drought of summer I gave them several waterings with a hose-sprinkler, this water being applied late in the afternoon. As the pods developed, I searched the vines carefully, marking for seed those that showed remarkable vigor and regularity of development. All pods which were deformed in shape (however large they were), as well as those which showed traces of disease or some defect of growth, were rejected. The perfect pods were not many in number, but there were enough of them to give me a start for the next season.

The results of the first year's home selection were so encouraging, that the second season I eagerly followed the progress of the development I had begun, and was that year rewarded by having the vines yield larger, finer pods, and, most vital and interesting of all, there was a very much higher percentage of them than during the previous year. As before, I selected only the finest beans for seed.

The third year I planted 160 feet of fencerow with my specially selected and developed seed. From 160 vines I gathered 32 bushels of pods. This was an exceptional crop; but it was grown under exceptional conditions. The soil, naturally loamy and rich, was highly fertilized with barnyard manure which had been leaching on the garden all winter; the exposure was toward the south; and the support of a meshed wire fence was almost ideal.

In setting beans against a fence, there should be left (after the full stand is secured) but one plant in each hill, and these hills should be at least a foot apart. This distance is not great when one remembers the low-branching habits which the new strains of pole limas have and the prodigious tops that are produced by them.

I have never used commercial fertilizers on limas, for the vines do not seem to need it. Good stable manure that has become somewhat old is the best. Provided that it is not too strawy, so that it might lift and sift the soil to dryness, there is small danger of using too much of the right kind of manure. This may be either thoroughly mixed and incorporated with the soil, or it may be buried five or six inches below the surface, where it will prove a well of water for the bean roots.

Within the past ten years the pole lima has been developed to an astonishing size and power of yielding. These giant pods are frequently eight or more inches in length; and such growths are not abortive, but genuine bona fide beans, having perfection of size, shape, succulence, and flavor.

In growing the pole lima, a good start is of the highest importance. The sprouts of this bean are excessively tender, being intolerant of the chilly and wet conditions of early spring. The lima bean is a stickler for warmth, and for soils that are moderately dry, crumbly, free from surface-baking and from sour, tough conditions beneath the surface. The soil in which these beans are to be started must positively be light and warm, else the beans will either rot or will be snapped in their attempt to push through the surface.

For an early crop, it is often possible (in the latitude of Philadelphia) to make a planting toward the middle of April. There is a probability that the gardener may lose this planting, but a chance that he may not, in which latter case he will have a crop some time ahead of his neighbors.

For an extra-early crop I have used with success the following method. About March 25, I fill a half-dozen large flower pots with fine rich soil, and in each of these I plant three lima beans. The pots are then buried until their tops are flush with the surface of the soil in a hotbed. As the young plants come out of the ground, they are thinned so that one only is left in each pot. This method insures a stand. In a month's time from the period of planting, near May 1, the plants will have obtained a good stocky growth, and the soil in the pots will be netted with an abundant growth of fibrous roots. The plants are then set in the open garden, with a clear start of a month over those just then being planted. A few plants thus developed will supply the needs of a family until the main crop comes in. This plan cannot, of course, be followed on a large scale without entailing much labor, but it is highly recommended for the family garden.

[Editor's Note: — Samples of the two strains accompanied this note as evidence and seemed to fully bear out the writers' claims. We grew the two strains side by side last year with results like those described.]