This last summer, I almost thought my Chinese Red Noodle beans (Vigna unguiculata) were done before they even started.
They were late to germinate, slow to grow, and the leaves turned an unappealing yellow by the time the vines were 6 inches tall. I nearly scrapped them altogether, but other garden chores placed the beans on the back burner. Curiously, the vines continued to grow, climbing vigorously up my trellis and sprouting new leaves every week.
But all they sprouted were leaves — no flowers. And those bright green leaves, which started out so promising, would mysteriously take on a yellow-speckled appearance, almost sickly. (Too much nitrogen? Invisible pests? I was never really sure.) The more mature lower leaves were almost dead. The vines were scraggly and thin. They were, quite frankly, the ugliest plants in my garden.
So the day I happened to walk by their plot with my gloves on, ready to yank them from the ground, I spotted the first blossoms. Big, beautiful blossoms resembling orchids. Three months after the first seeds were sowed, they finally decided to come out and play!
Once those first blossoms appeared, others followed suit. Not long after, deep red pods started to grow from them. And grow. And grow. Within a couple weeks, I had vines dripping with splendid bordeaux-colored beans nearly 2 feet long.
Yardlongs really give you bang for your buck. You only need a bean or two for a salad. A small handful works for a stir-fry. A bundle makes a delicious casserole — and unlike many other non-green beans, Chinese Red Noodle beans keep their beautiful color after cooking. I’ve always eaten green yardlongs before, so this rich red variety feels a little more special.
The bold color and long length are standouts on the Chinese Red Noodle, and yardlongs are one of nature’s oddities that always fascinates me. They bring me back to the days when my parents would fry them whole in a wok, and watch me try to pick up the long pods with chopsticks and pack the entire bean in my mouth. It’s quite a feat when you’re only 10 years old. (I’d like to say I’m a bit more refined now as an adult. Maybe.)
My yardlong beans are picked when the pods reach pencil thickness (they’re usually 16 to 22 inches long at this stage). The stringless pods are tender and fleshy with a complex flavor… a little nutty, a little mushroomy, but not as earthy. They definitely don’t taste like traditional pole beans — and I like that.
I plan to grow these again next year, but will space the plants a little closer — about 3 to 4 inches apart — for a more dramatic curtain effect with these deep red beans draping down. I think they would also look beautiful climbing on an arbor. They can climb like nobody’s business, easily surpassing my 6-foot trellis before showing any blooms.
And with the decent amount of beans I harvested from my “sick” plants, I think healthy plants would be quite prolific. Fingers crossed for next year!