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Asparagus beans for northern climates

July 13, 2008

This is my first year trying to grow asparagus beans. I am growing a packet of unnamed asparagus beans from Lake Valley seeds.

I understand some beans are daylight sensitive. I am in Northeastern Iowa in zone 4b. What kind of asparagus beans will grow good in my climate?



Comments (27)

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    There are two legumes that I have heard referred to as "asparagus bean"; winged beans & yardlongs.

    Winged beans (Psophocarpus tatragonolobus) are tropical, and usually daylength sensitive. There are a few sold in the U.S. that are supposedly day-neutral (such as "Hunan") but even they require a long season to produce pods... perhaps they are only less daylength sensitive. If I start them early in peat strips & the weather in late summer is warm, I can usually harvest pods for several weeks before frost... but dry seed is out of the question.

    Yardlong beans (Vigna unguiculata) are commonly called asparagus beans, because some varieties taste very similar to asparagus when lightly cooked. While there are tropical varieties that have daylength sensitivity (I have seed for two of them), most of those sold in the U.S. are day-neutral. They are heat-loving plants, but given that, most can produce pods in 70-80 days or so.

    The black-seeded yardlongs (such as "Liana") are the quickest & most cool-weather tolerant. Red-seeded varieties can take a little longer, especially the red/purple podded cultivars like "Chinese Red Noodle". I have collected a few Philippine varieties with bi-colored seed, usually brown or brick-red, with white or tan patches on the end.

    For our climate, Dean, I recommend starting yardlongs early in peat strips, especially if you intend to save dry seed. Our soil is usually too cool in late Spring / early Summer to plant them in the soil. For direct seeding, I would only recommend the pole type "Liana", and a bush variety that I grow from the Philippines.


    - For day-neutral winged beans, the non-profit E.C.H.O. (in Florida) and Baker Creek both sell seed. I have grown the one from E.C.H.O. several times; I hope to try "Hunan" next year... if we have a better Summer than this year.

    - For yardlongs, Baker Creek and Evergreen Y. H. both sell a good selection of varieties. For my part, I collect heirloom yardlongs, and offer several through SSE that are not available commercially.

  • deanriowa

    Zeedman, I was looking for Yard long bean information, I didn't realize Winged beans were called Asparagus beans as well. I just noticed my Yardlongs packet does say "Dow Gauk", 73 days, but I think that is just Chinese for Yardlong, not sure though. I did start them inside as you recommended this year, but got a late start, because of weather like you. I am using cattle panel arches to grow them this year.

    Can you give a couple commercial varieties that taste more like asparagus then others?

    Any red seeded variety you would recommend to start with?

    I plan to use them in stir fries most likely. Is there another way of using them?


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  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Dean, my yardlongs are very late this year as well, for the same reasons... everything is late, due to the flooding. There should still be time for pods, but perhaps not enough for seeds. I'm still crossing my fingers & hoping, because I am trialing two new heirloom yardlongs this year, and would like to harvest enough seed to ensure their survival. This could be a real stretch, considering the pole varieties are not even climbing yet. I held back enough seed for another attempt, should this year's fail.

    "Can you give a couple commercial varieties that taste more like asparagus then others?

    I have a black seeded, dark-green podded variety with a strong asparagus flavor. It was acquired from a Filipino friend in the 90's, who believes she got it from Jung's some years earlier. It may be "Liana", or something very similar... I believe that many seed companies still sell it labeled as "Asparagus Bean". This name seems to have been mistakenly applied to other yardlongs in general, which do not share the asparagus flavor.

    The burgundy-red podded / brown seeded "Chinese Red Noodle" is probably the best variety available commercially. I have posted about them quite often... I consider their color, flavor, & firm texture to be outstanding. They are, however, later than most yardlongs, need more heat, and do not climb as strongly. These freeze well, and maintain their burgundy color when cooked.

    One of the best pole varieties that I have collected so far is "Sierra Madre". It is a commercial variety from the Philippines. The mild-flavored pods are very slow to develop fiber, so they can be harvested at a larger size than other yardlongs I've grown.

    "I plan to use them in stir fries most likely. Is there another way of using them?"

    Probably as many ways as green beans. The wife uses them in a sour Asian soup, along with Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, potato, and chicken in a tamarind soup base. I also enjoy them alone as a side dish, seasoned with vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic powder... the "Chinese Red Noodle" is especially good this way, and the vinegar restores its wine-red color.

    I've been wanting for years to try an Asian variation of Green Bean Casserole using yardlong beans. My main crop this year is "Sierra Madre", which is the most similar to green beans in texture & flavor; so provided that the harvest is good this year, I will post my results.

  • deanriowa

    Zeedman, thank you for all of the info.

    You have spraked my interest with the "Chinese Red Noodle" and the "Sierra Madre". I might grow the "Chinese Red Noodle", just for a color difference next year.

    That soup your wife makes sounds good. The tamarind as a soup base is something I would not have thought of doing. When I go to Mexico I drink tamarind in local drinks, on shaved ice, and in candy(like I need that), but never in a cooked hot dish. Sounds interesting.


  • booberry85

    I grew asparagus yardlongs (that was all I remember being on the package I bought) a couple years ago. They took a little longer than Kentucky Wonders, but then grew like mad & produced like mad!

    This year I'm trying Chinese Red Noodle. I'm a little concerned because the Kentucky Wonders and Cherokee Trail of Tears are climbing the poles. The Chinese Red Noodles are not. However, they are suppose to take a little longer to maturity than the other two. I'm glad to read Zeedman's description of Chinese Red Noodles.

  • deanriowa

    I think I have decided to grow the Chinese Red Noodle beans for next season.

    I want to try them partially to see if they have a flavor difference from the green ones I planted this year, and partially, because I am trying to grow some items that will get my two children(5 & 2) eating more vegetables. They really liked the Blue Lake and Rattlesnake beans I cooked the other night, because I left them whole so it was finger food for them.


  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Going back to the original topic...

    This could be another short-season variety, Dean. It is a no-name bush variety sent to me in trade last year. The seeds are originally from China. They don't really look special now, when they are just beginning... but the point is that they have young beans already, when my pole varieties have yet to flower. Hopefully, this means I will be able to save some seed this year!

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Just an update... the bush yardlong above had its first harvestable pods today, which is 60 DTM for green pods. They are light green, and just under 12" long. Can't vouch for the flavor, though, since I didn't pick them; I'm letting the first pods go for seed. After enough pods are set (probably in September), I will pick some for testing, and post the results here.

  • deanriowa

    I have been offered some Yardlong beans from a Phillipino lady I know. She gets them from the Philippines and she grows them here every year in Iowa. I guess she used to sale them at the local farmer's market. I asked her if they had a name and she only called them Sitaw, which appears to be mean Yardlong beans in a Filipino language(Tagalog).

    I wonder what variety it will be? She says she buys them by the pound, when she goes back home.


  • Macmex

    I only have experience with Georgia Long, a brick red seeded variety of yard long. The pods reach 24." When they are slightly fibrous, due to age, I've learned that it really helps to cut, rather than snap the pods, for food preparation. This really works well. Just an idea for anyone who finds their yard longs to be a little more fibrous than they'd like.

    Tahlequah, OK

  • booberry85

    Just an update on the Chinese Red Noodles I'm growing this year. They have reached the top of the poles and I saw my first flower today. I think I'll have beans in another week and a half to two weeks. I've been picking Kentucky Wonders & Cherokee Trail of Tears for 2-3 weeks now. They were all planted at the same time.

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    "I have been offered some Yardlong beans from a Phillipino lady I know."

    Which was how I obtained several of mine, Dean... take the offer. What color are the seeds? Are they perhaps bi-colored?

  • ydur07

    its nice to read all this thread about yard long beans, I myself grow them and i only have the black seeded ones, now I'm starting to harvest my winged beans (sigarillas in Filipino) my yarlong beans are just about finish for the season.as Zeedman says they are good for Tamarind soup with chicken or ribs and add some bok choi with it also. yardlong beans are in their best taste when you harvest them young before they seeded.

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Just an update...

    The bush yardlongs that I mentioned above have matured, and I've been harvesting dry seed for several days now... so I will have seed to share. This is a photo of the mature plants:

  • deanriowa

    Those bush yardlongs look nice Zeedman and would work out nice for my garden.

    Do you plan to list them in SSE yearbook(What name) or maybe we can work out a trade somehow?

    I still plan on planting some beans from my friend from the Philippines and I would like to trail the Chinese Red Noodle as well.


  • newgardener_tx

    Thank you so much for growing those beans out. I think I gave you those seeds this spring. Your plants are so beautiful and beans are bigger than mine. You should change your name to seedman!
    When you cook the beans add a little bit of soy sauce and crushed garlic it will taste really good. Also you can add some cooked pasta and let them sim for 10 minutes togather.

    New gardener in tx

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Dean, I will be listing the bush yardlong with SSE next year; I'll have to consult with the original source regarding the name to be used. I'd be happy to send you some seed... perhaps in exchange for some of the Filipino yardlong that you mentioned, if you have any to spare.

    Newgardener, thank you so much for the seed!!! This was a bad year, when everything in my garden was planted late due to heavy Spring flooding. My other yardlongs were late to bear, only now beginning to produce in quantity. The bush yardlong proved that it can not only bear in a short season, but produce seed.

    Yours was the second bush yardlong that I have tried. This was the other, a variety developed in the Philippines:

    As you can see, while this variety was a "bush", it spread out quite a bit. In comparison, the bean I grew this year has longer pods, and a more restrained bush habit. Either of them would do well in a short-season garden.

    By the way, I tried to choose "seedman" as my screen name when I joined Gardenweb; it was already taken. ;-)

  • P POD

    These very interesting posts and pics trigger many questions.

    It seems, at least to the uninitiated, that the bush varieties of asparagus yardlongs and Southern peas are quite similar.
    Â Are the leaves similar?
    Â Is the taste of the seeds similar?

    I wished someone would post pics of bush yardlong asparagus bean plants side-by-side with pics of bush Southern peas to illustrate similarities and differences between these legumes.

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    "It seems, at least to the uninitiated, that the bush varieties of asparagus yardlongs and Southern peas are quite similar."

    Ppod, yardlongs (bush & pole) & Southern peas are not only similar, they are all cowpeas, Vigna unguiculata. Yardlongs are just a subspecies (sesquipedalis).

    As with common beans, there are varieties of cowpeas grown for their seeds, and others grown for their edible pods. Rodger mentioned on another thread that some peas are long & kidney-shaped... the edible-podded peas usually fall in that category.

    The lines can get blurry sometimes; just as you can eat the seeds of any snap bean, you can eat the mature seeds of yardlongs & edible-podded peas. They may - or may not - be as tasty as those grown for seed (such as crowders & eyed peas). Furthermore, some yardlongs are very difficult to shell, due to clinging membranes.

    I've eaten the mature beans of several yardlongs, both as shellies, and as dry beans. Those of the black-seeded "asparagus bean" were somewhat sweet & fairly good, but I had to deal with the membranes. I shook the dry seeds vigorously in a closed container to remove the membranes, then winnowed to get clean seed. The red seeds of "Chinese Red Noodle" were nothing to write home about, with a taste similar to blackeyes.

    The "bush yardlong" in the last photo proved to be multi-purpose; it had both edible pods, and seeds that were tasty when dry.

  • P POD

    Zeedman, I'm so very grateful to you for the knowledge you share on this forum and for the time you devote to writing posts. Your information, that: "yardlongs (bush & pole) & Southern peas" all are "cowpeas, Vigna unguiculata," and that "yardlongs are just a subspecies (sesquipedalis)," is simply fascinating.
    (Sorry, can't get the italics to work....)

  • deanriowa

    Zeedman said in reference to his bush yardlongs, "I will be listing the bush yardlong with SSE next year".

    I missed your listing this spring and while reviewing ideas for next year, I saw a listing for your "Bush Sitao Var. BS-3".

    Is this the Bush Yardlong discussed above?

    Will, you be listing them again this next year?


  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Wow, I never did come back to this post with the name... thanks for reminding me.

    Dean, the "Bush Sitao Var. BS-3" is listed by me as a cowpea, because that is how it was previously listed by SSE. The bush yardlong pictured above was listed in the 2009 SSE Yearbook under the category of "Misc. Legumes", as the variety "Yardlong, Yancheng Bush".

    I don't like that yardlongs are listed in the "Misc. Legume" section, since they are botanically cowpeas & should be listed there... but that is where yardlongs were listed when I began collecting, so I've followed suit.

    I didn't grow "Yancheng Bush" this year... and regret it. I tried "Stickless Wonder" instead, thinking that it might be the same bean. It is not. SW is semi-vining & much later. I am harvesting dry seed from two of my cowpeas right now ("MN 13" and "Green Dixie"), and SW only began flowering last week!!! I can't begin to express my disappointment... glad other things are doing well. (More on that later, in another thread.)

    Fortunately, the seed crop of "Yancheng Bush" did very well last year, so I will still be offering seed in 2010.

  • deanriowa

    Zeedman, thank you for the information.

    After doing some searching yesterday, I was wondering if the "Stickless Wonder", might be the same as your bush yardlong. Sounds like yours is a better variety though. I will be ordering some "Yancheng Bush", next season.

    I still need to get you some of the yardlong seeds as well that I received from my Filipino friend. I planted some, but they were a total loss after some rabbit attacks while I was on vacation.


  • deanriowa

    I did end up requesting via the SSE Yearbook the yardlongs, "Yancheng Bush" and the pole Chinese Red Noodle from Zeedman. They both have done quite well started producing, even with the second most wetest summer ever here in Iowa. I am also growing "Thai Suranaree" a bush yardlong from Baker Creek, it is semi vining and are beautiful plants but still no pods. My first meal of the Chinese Red noodle and Yancheng Bush will be this evening.

    How do the "Yancheng Bush" and "Bush Sitao Var. BS-3" compare for you Zeedman?


  • aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

    I have a few chinese red noodles growing in the greenhouse, they look healthy enough but no flowers yet I'm hoping with the days getting shorter and being in the greenhouse where it is definitely warmer than outside I still have a chance of a few beans to taste. The few pretzel beans I planted at the same time in the greenhouse are now flowering. Both of these were just an experiment to see whether I could grow them or not.


  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Dean, the pods for the "Bush Sitao" and "Yancheng Bush" are very similar in color, and in their firm texture. However, the "Bush Sitao" pods needed to be picked very young. The pods of "Yancheng Bush" can be allowed to get larger, even a little beyond pencil width, if the plants are well watered. They develop very little fiber. Even when dry, the pods have a thin paper-like consistency. Only one other yardlong I have grown has had so little fiber, the variety "Sierra Madre", from the Philippines.

    This year, I grew my black-seeded variety, "Chinese Red Noodle", "Yancheng Bush", and "Galante". I'll post a comparative photo in this thread once I have downloaded it from my camera.

    I generally grow a total of 6-7 yardlongs & cowpeas per year. Last year was heavy in cowpeas; this year all but one were yardlongs. This was driven mainly by the need to replenish seed stocks... but it was a fortunate choice, because it has been a great year for yardlongs, especially "Yancheng Bush" & "Red Noodle". I've been enjoying them mixed in several dishes. This was the first year I grew "Yancheng Bush" in quantity, and it is impressive.

  • aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

    Those Chinese Red Noodles sure are sneaky, I looked a couple of days ago and couldn't see any flowers, today I looked found quite a few flowers and one bean about 4 inches long so I guess we're going to get a few after all.


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