Friday, January 1, 2010

Wondrous Wing Beans

Last fall I received some wing beans (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), and I became an instant convert. If they’re available, I’ll take wing beans any day over plain old green beans. These were from a bumper crop in the Hawai'i Island Master Gardener demonstration garden at the UH CTAHR Hilo extension service.

Slice up the pods French style, lengthwise, and stirfry lightly with garlic, soy sauce, chicken, shrimp, tofu, or whatever protein you like. Fry only until pods are still bright green and firm – don’t overcook. The result is light, crunchy, slightly sweet and very tasty. Wing beans are popular in Thai and Filipino dishes, and they’re highly nutritious, too. The roots, leaves and flowers are also edible, but I have to admit I like the beans best. I don't eat the other parts anyway because if I do, that reduces the bean harvest.

Be it resolved that this year I will grow even more of my food. I'll plant wing beans, since they're incredibly easy to grow – they’re perfect starter plants for beginner gardeners and children who need almost guaranteed success to stay motivated. The plants are vigorous growers and extremely prolific here in East Hawai'i, which is not surprising since the plant does best in warm, humid areas with high rainfall – it's native to Papua New Guinea.

The roots fix nitrogen, and the plant needs very little fertilizer to flourish. I’ve had very few problems with insects and diseases
. Soak seeds 24 hours before planting to soften the hard coat and hasten germination. Grow them in 3-4” pots to transplant when the second set of leaves appear, or directly seed into the ground. Wing beans need at least 12-hour days and seem to produce better in late summer and fall. Plant them in full sun in well-draining soil and provide something tall for vines to climb; wing beans will easily take over a fence or trellis.