Yard-Long Chinese Red Noodle Beans
By Pat Dickey, Fairfax Master Gardener
Last winter, when I was reading through seed catalogs and trying to decide which new vegetables I wanted to grow, I became intrigued by the many international varieties. One type especially caught my attention: yard-long beans. For many summers, I have wanted to grow beans that would be plentiful and hopefully insect-free, and not attract Mexican bean beetles. From what I read, yard-long beans seemed to have these qualities, so I decided to give them a try.
Asparagus beans is another name for yard-long beans, with a similar appearance and texture of asparagus, but with a mild almost nutty taste. They look like pole snap beans but are more related to southern peas or cow peas. They originated in southeast Asia in the 11th century and are now grown in Asia, Europe and, recently, in the warmer areas of the United States. Their Latin name is Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis. In China, they are known as Dow Gauk; in Japan, they are Sasage. The sub-species name sesquipedalis means one-half yard, which is a more accurate description of their length. They are 12 to 18 inches long and grow on a twisting vine in pairs around poles. Their compound leaves are large and tropical with three heart-shaped leaflets, and their flowers have five petals and are white, pink or lavender.
When planting the beans, first soak them overnight for quicker germination. Add compost to the area before you plant. Plant the seeds ¾ inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. They need 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. They sprout quickly, and their tendrils will be looking for something to latch onto, so erect the trellis when you plant the beans. I am glad that we built a very stable trellis with bamboo poles and with extra reinforcements horizontally across the top. Thankfully it stayed upright through the recent rain and windstorms. The trellis will continue to be top-heavy with beans, so you will need to add extra poles as needed to keep it balanced. No other fertilizer is needed.The poles in my garden are covered with asparagus beans, and since they began to produce at the beginning of August, I have been picking them non-stop. Be prepared to pick them every few days and they will produce continuously. It is best to harvest the beans when they are young an