There are many different types of beans, but the fresh ones most often found in Canadian grocery stores and farmers’ markets are green (snap) beans or yellow (wax) beans. Purple beans are also grown in Canada, but are much less common. The majority of Canadian fresh beans are grown in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces.
Green and yellow beans are part of the haricot category which includes any bean plant that produces small white seeds, like navy beans, but in this case we eat the whole pod and with navy beans we consume the mature dry seed.
Beans have been cultivated as far back as 7000 BC in the Americas where they were a central to the diet of Aboriginal peoples. There are over 200 different types of beans, originating in various parts of Central and South America that have been adapted for growth in both tropical and temperate climates. Today, green beans are eaten around the world and sold in fresh, canned and frozen options.
The best known types of green bean are string type, stringless type and runner beans. ‘String’ refers to their fibrous pods that are either rounded or flat. The first stringless green beans were bred in 1894 by Calvin Keeney, the “Father of the Stringless Beans,” and are known for easy-cooking pods without the fibrous strings. Runner types grow in the form of a vine.
Dry beans (or baking beans) are the mature seeds of legumes planted in large acres as field crops instead of small acre vegetable crops. Dry beans are an important pulse crop rich in protein that are grown in warmer regions of Canada and exported internationally. Some Canadian grown dry bean varieties, including pinto beans, black beans, navy (white pea bean), kidney and cranberry beans, pink beans, adzuki beans, otebo beans, yellow-eye beans and faba (or fava) beans. If you want to learn more about dry beans, visit https://ontariobeans.on.ca/
How to buy:
Choose green and yellow beans with smooth pods. Bumpy pods indicate that the seeds are enlarged and may have lost their tenderness. Avoid limp pods as they may have dried out and become tough as well. The ideal bean should be bright in colour and snap cleanly in half with a pleasant pop.
Canned and frozen options are convenient and healthy choices to add more green beans to your diet. Canned beans are made with no added preservatives and are cooked quickly at high temperatures to ensure a minimal loss of nutrients. Frozen green beans are blanched at their peak of freshness and flash frozen to ensure nutrients are not lost in the process.
How to store:
Refrigerate: Store dry, unwashed beans in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to one week.
Freeze: Blanch and flash freeze beans so you can enjoy them year-round.
How to Prepare:
Green beans contain vitamins A and C, potassium, manganese, folacin and fibre. One cup contains only 35 calories.
How They Are Grown:
Green snap beans and yellow wax beans are a member of the Leguminosae (legume family). The species also includes dried beans which are harvested for baking beans.
Bean plants generally fall into three categories: pole bean, a half runner or a bush. Pole and runner types grow in the form of a long vine. However, the majority of Canadian fresh bean production is from bush beans that grow up to 61cm (2 feet) tall in compact rows called bean planten.
In the spring, farmers work the ground to make sure the soil is fertilized and fluffy and then use a miniature seeding machine to drop dry bean seeds into the ground. The planten are then covered with a row cover made of a mesh material that traps heat to keep the rows warm and protects the seeds from late spring frosts.
The row covers are removed 2 to 3 times during the growing season to cultivate the soil and loosen it around the plants to help them absorb nutrients. Beans prefer dry, warm weather for optimal growth.
The beans grow on a small plant about 38 cm (15 inches) tall with big flat leaves and produce small white flowers with yellow specks. As they bloom, each pollinated flower turns into a long bean pod that is ready to harvest approximately two weeks after it blooms.
Green bean pods are 10 – 12 cm (4 to 5 inches) long and bright green. They grow in clusters that are easy to pick. Yellow beans are 12 – 14 cm (5 to 5.5 inches) long and start off green then turn a light green/yellow colour.
Many vegetable farmers employ a large labour force of local and temporary foreign workers to hand pick their vegetable crops and beans are no exception. Farmers stagger the seeding of their bean planten over the course of several weeks to ensure they continually have beans maturing during the growing season. This allows them to manage their workers and spread out the picking so that consumers have access to fresh green beans throughout the summer.
Workers hand pick the beans and put them in a bucket, the buckets are weighed and the workers are paid by the pound picked. It can take 3 to 4 days to pick 40 rows of beans, which means they can go back up to 4 times to pick the entire crop from one planten. It takes 1 – 2 days after picking for beans to be sorted, graded, packed and shipped to the grocery store or processor.
Fresh beans are an important crop in the Atlantic region but relatively few are grown for fresh market use because they have a strong processing industry. Yellow (wax) beans are more popular there and most of their crop is picked by hand. After harvest, the extra beans are given to the pickers, family and friends and the plants are rototilled into the dirt to decompose and provide nutrients to the next year’s crop.
Ontario and Quebec grow more green beans than yellow and some farmers have mechanical harvesting machines they use to help bring in their beans.
Fresh beans are available from late July to late September for both the fresh and processing markets.
Canadian Crop is Available: June through October
Grown in: Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes