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Beans and Pulses

Bean is a common name for large plant seeds of several genera of leguminosae (English: leguminous, legumes), used for food or feed.

The term "beans" can also apply to the related species of peas, lentils, vetches and lupins[?].

Soybeans and peanuts, although leguminous species, are excluded from this article as they are mainly grown for oil extraction.
In English usage beans sometimes also refer to seeds or other organs of non leguminosae for example coffee beans, vanilla beans and cocoa beans[?].

Vegetables or Pulses Leguminous crops harvested green for food like snap beans, green peas etc. are classified as vegetable crops. The term "pulses" is usually reserved for those leguminous crops which are harvested for their dry grain. Pulses exclude those crops mainly used for oil extraction like soybean and peanut) or those used exclusively for sowing purposes (clover and alfalfa).

Of economic importance are the beans of the following genera of leguminosae

  • Phaseolus
  • Vigna
  • Vicia
  • Dolichos
  • Pisum
  • Lens
  • Lupinus

Phaseolus spp
The genus Phaseolus contains 55 species, 5 of which have been domesticated. All Phaseolus species originate in Meso America and have been cultivated for thousands of years by pre-Columbian civilizations[?].

Today, Phaseolus species are cultivated worldwide in both tropical, semi tropical and temperate climates.

    • Phaseolus vulgaris Grown as dry beans or as green beans.
P. vulgaris exists in many forms and colours. There are bushy types, climbing types, green, yellow or speckled pods, black, green, red, and speckled seeds. This enormous variety in forms and colours of the different plant parts has given rise to a great variation in names.
P. vulgaris grown for dried bean production are known as pinto, kidney, navy, black turtle bean.
P. vulgaris grown for fresh consumption is known as snap, french, green, wax (yellow pods), pole or runner (climbing) beans.

    • Phaseolus coccineus Scarlet runner beans have been grown extensively in Meso America, Europe and parts of Africa (Ethiopia).
P. coccineus is normally a pluriannual plant whith stems that can reach several metres. The main uses are the green pods or the white dried seeds. The seeds are large. P. coccineus has large flowers which are scarlet or white in colour. Due to its flowers, scarlet runner beans are also grown as ornamental plants in the USA and Europe. P.coccineus is often grown in association with maize or sorghum whereby the maize or sorghum acts as support for the semi climbing runner beans.

    • Phaseolus acutifolius Tepary bean
P. acutifolius is a very drought reistant bean which is grown in (semi)desert conditions from Arizona through Mexico to Costa Rica. The water requirements are low and the crop will grow in areas where annual rainfall is less than 400 mm.

    • Phaseolus lunatis Lima bean, butter bean, duffin bean, rangoon bean, burma bean.
P. lunatis is well adapted to the drier climates.

Vigna spp
The genus Vigna includes a number of important food crops grown in tropical and semi tropical regions.

    • Vigna angularis Adzuki bean
    • Vigna radiata Mung bean
    • Vigna sinensis Cowpea, balckeye pea/bean
    • Vigna sesquipedalis Yardlong bean

Vicia spp

    • Vicia faba horse bean, broad bean, field bean
    • Vicia sativa common vetch

Dolichos spp

    • Dolichos lablab Lablab bean, Hyacinth bean

Pisum spp Pisum sativum Garden pea Pisum arvense Field pea, protein pea

Lens esculata Lentil

Lupinus spp

Other beans

  • Cicer arietinum Chick pea, Garbanzo bean, Bengal gram
  • Canavalia ensiformis Jack bean, Sword bean
  • Pachyrhizus spp Yam bean
  • Psophocarpus tetragonolobus Winged bean
  • Stizolobium spp Velvet bean
  • Cyamopsis tetragonoloba Guar bean
  • Cajanus cajan Pigeon pea, cajan pea, Congo bean

Cultivating beans

From the 1881 Household Cyclopedia

Beans naturally succeed a culmiferous crop, and we believe it is not of much importance which of the varieties is followed, provided the ground be in decent order, and not worn out by the previous crop. The furrow ought to be given early in winter, and as deep as possible, that the earth may be sufficiently loosened, and room afforded for the roots of the plant to search for the requisite nourishment. The first furrow is usually given across the field, which is the best method when only one spring furrow is intended; but as it is now ascertained that two spring furrows are highly advantageous, the one in winter ought to be given in length, which lays the ground in a better situation for resisting the rains, and renders it sooner dry in spring than can be the case when ploughed across. On the supposition that three furrows are to be given, one in winter and two in spring, the following is the most eligible preparation:


The land being ploughed in length as early in winter as is practicable, and the gaw and headland furrows sufficiently digged out, take the second furrow across the first as soon as the ground is dry enough in spring to undergo the operation; water-furrow it immediately, and dig again the gaw and headland furrows, otherwise the benefit of the second furrow may be lost. This being done, leave the field for some days, till it is sufficiently dry, when a cast of the harrows becomes necessary, so that the surface may be levelled. Then enter with the ploughs and form the drills, which are generally made up with an internal of twenty-seven inches. In the hollow of this interval deposit the seed by a drill-barrow, and reverse or slit out the drills to cover the seed, which finishes the process for the time. In ten or twelve days afterwards, according to the state of the weather, cross-harrow the drills, thereby levelling the field for the hoeing process. Water-furrow the whole in a neat manner, and spade and shovel the gaw and the headland furrows, which concludes the whole process.

This is the most approved way of drilling beans. The next best is to give only one spring furrow, and to run the drill-barrow after every third plough, in which way the intervals are nearly of the same extent as already mentioned. Harrowing is afterwards required before the young plants reach the surface, and water-furrowing, etc., as above described.

Dung is often given to beans, especially when they succeed wheat which has not received manure. The best way is to apply the dung on the stubble before the winter furrow is given, which greatly facilitates the after process. Used in this way, a fore stock must be in hand; but where the farmer is not so well provided spring dunging becomes necessary, though evidently of less advantage. At that season it may either be put into the drills before the seed is sown or spread upon the surface and ploughed down, according to the nature of the drilling process which is meant to be adopted. Land dunged to beans, if duly hoed, is always in high order for carrying a crop of wheat in succession. Perhaps better wheat, both in respect to quantity and quality, may be cultivated in this way than in any other mode of sowing.

Different machines have been invented for drilling beans, but the most common and handy is one of the narrow form. This hand drill is pushed forward by a man or woman, and will, according as the brush or director is lowered or heightened, sow thicker or thinner, as may be expedient and necessary. Another machine; drawn by a horse, and sowing three drills at a time, has been constructed, and upon flat lands will certainly distribute the seed with the most minute exactness. Upon unequal fields, and even on those laid out in high ridges, the use of this machine is attended with a degree of inconvenience sufficient to balance its advantages. The hand-drill, therefore, in all probability, will be retained for general use, though the other is capable of performing the work with minuter regularity.


Less than four bushels ought not to be hazarded if a full crop is expected. We seldom have seen thin beans turn out well, unless the soil is particularly rich; nay, unless the rows close, weeds will get away after the cleaning process is finished, thereby disappointing the object of drilling and rendering the system of little avail towards keeping the ground in good condition.


Beans are cleaned in various ways: 1st. By the handhoe. 2nd. By the scraper, or Dutch hoe. 3d. By a plough of small domensions, but constructed upon the principles of the approved swing plough. Ploughs with double mould-boards are likewise used to earth them up, and with all good managers the weeds in the drills which cannot be touched by the hoe are pulled out by the hand; otherwise no field can be considered as fully cleaned.

In treating of the cleaning process we shall confine ourselves to the one most suited to the generality of bean soils. About ten or twelve days after the young plants have appeared above the surface, enter with the scraper, and loosen any weeds that may have vegetated. At this time the wings or cutters of the implement ought to be particularly sharp, so that the scraper may not run too deep and throw the earth upon the plants. In about ten days after the ground is scraped, according to the state of the weather, and other circumstances, use the small swing plough to lay the earth away from the sides of the rows, and in doing so go as near to the plants as possible, taking care at the same time not to loosen their roots. If any weeds stand in the rows pull them out with the hand, afterwards earth-up the plants with the small swing plough, or run the scraper in the intervals, as may seem expedient.

Cultural aspects In ancient Greece and Rome, beans were used in voting (a white bean meant yes and a black bean meant no) and as a food for the dead, such as during the annual Lemuria festival. In some folk legends, such as in Estonia and the common Jack and the Beanstalk story, magical beans grow tall enough to bring the hero to the clouds. The Grimm Brothers[?] collected a story in which a bean splits its sides laughing at the failure of others. Dreaming of a bean is sometimes said to be a sign of impending conflict, though others said they caused bad dreams. Pliny claimed they acted as a laxative. European folklore also claims that planting beans on Good Friday or during the night-time is good luck.

In Java, Bean is a resuable software component. See JavaBean[?]

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