How to Grow Lima Beans

Lima beans are sometimes stigmatized as one of the vegetables most loathed by children. However, homegrown lima beans are a delicious, extremely nutritious addition to the family diet. Learning the proper conditions and techniques on how to grow lima beans is not difficult and these tips can get you started right away.

Lima beans come in both bush and pole (vine) varieties (often labeled determinate or indeterminate). Bush varieties tend to mature faster and yield all of their beans at once. Vine varieties take a bit longer but produce a better yield over time. Some pole lima beans can grow 10 feet tall or more.

Grow 4-8 lima bean plants per household member.

Lima beans need 60-90 days to mature. In shorter growing seasons, you may want to get a head start by planting them indoors 3-4 weeks before the last frost. Otherwise, wait until the danger of frost has passed before planting lima beans. Soil temperatures needs to be at least 65° F for proper germination. If necessary, use plastic mulch to warm your soil and extend the growing season.

Lima beans do best in climates where air temperatures range from 60° F – 70° F throughout the growing season. They will not set pods if temperatures exceed 80° F or get too cold for too long. They should be grown somewhere they will receive lots of direct sunlight. Avoid high nitrogen soil or garden patches where other legumes have recently grown.

Companion plant lima beans with corn, cucumbers, celery, potatoes and summer savory. Avoid planting them with onions, beets and kohlrabi.

Lima beans can grow well in containers, but bush varieties tend to be best and they’ll need a little extra fertilizer.

Lima beans do best in loose, fertile soil. Enrich your soil with lots of mature compost before planting. Do not add any nitrogen or use fertilizer that contains nitrogen. Test your soil pH to be sure it lands between 6.0 and 6.8.

Sow seeds 1-2 inches deep in very loose soil. Do not pack the soil down as lima beans have trouble breaking through heavy, thick soil. Germination takes 4-7 days. Seedlings can be sensitive to transplanting, so use biodegradable pots if starting your plants indoors. Space bush varieties 4-6 inches apart and vine varieties 8-10 inches apart. Rows can be spaced about 2-3 feet apart.

Water lima beans regularly. Keep the soil moist but do not overwater; it should never be soggy. Water at the base of the plants as overhead watering can foster mildew and disease in the foliage. As pods develop, water diligently to avoid cracking beans.

Use mulch to keep the soil moist and to keep weeds down.

Indeterminate varieties of lima beans will need a pole or trellis on which to grow their vines. Place your support structure before you plant or transplant to avoid damaging the roots later on.

Lima beans do not need much feeding if planted in fertile soil but they may benefit from a side dressing of compost tea at mid season. Avoid using fresh manure or fertilizers that contain nitrogen.

Most bush varieties mature in 60-80 days. Pole varieties take 85-90 days. The pods should be plump and firm. Harvest regularly to encourage continual production. Do not leave lima beans on the vine too long or they may become mealy.

Do not eat raw lima beans, which can be toxic.

Lima beans are susceptible to disease. Practice strict crop rotation and companion planting. Plant disease resistant-varieties and remove any diseased plants immediately (but do not compost these). Handling wet plants can also spread fungal spores.

Watch out for aphids, beetles, leafhoppers and mites, which can all wreck havoc on your lima bean crop. Keep your garden clean and clear of debris. Handpick pests as you see them and use organic sprays to keep them at bay.

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