When people hear the mention of beans, a whole array of images come to mind. Childhood rebellions of not wanting to eat them as they were supposed to be good for you. To be perfectly honest, we always have a different perspective on things as children than we do as adults. Some people will argue that we grow up, but I like to think that we remain as children and just gain a little more knowledge with time. After all, growing up is just a figure of speech.

Beans have been the longest cultivated of plants in our history. They have been around for over 6,000 years and began mainly as a vine crop. Recently, newer strains have been developed that are more commonly known as the bush variety. In the United States alone, we produce over 4,000 different cultivars. This might explain why they are so common in today’s garden for most people.

When growing up, I remember planting bean seeds in grade school to learn the different parts of the plant as they grew. Not only was it a great idea then, but I think it is a valuable tool today for teaching the basics of botany. I think it may have been one of the activities that got me so interested in the plant world today.

What makes them such a great plant? They have many great characteristics over most other plant materials. They have large seeds for handling and dissecting, they germinate after planting within five to seven days, and once they begin growing they produce large leaves and stems. When placed in full sun, they will continue to grow stronger and eventually produce the flowers that will become the bean pods. Nine times out of 10, this process is almost guaranteed to enthrall a child’s interest for an entire growing season.

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Not only are they fun to grow, but children can relate to them because of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Of course, in the story, it was the magic beans that grew the huge vining plants that reached into the clouds. What better way to stimulate learning with a little imagination, especially in today's world!

Others will relate beans to the human reaction that occurs during digestion that most of us would like to forget. Children used to learn the rhyme that was called “Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit”.Although this is a natural process in which the body breaks down the bean product, it can be embarrassing at times and you won't find adults singing a rhyme about it. Lets just put it this way, we have a product called Beano to make the situation a little more bearable.

In our family, working in the garden would be a form of punishment if we did something wrong. Usually, it came in the form of weeding but the second worse form of garden ‘punishment’ came in the process of picking the beans. Once you begin picking beans, you will find that they have to be picked every three days to make sure they are just the right tender size for eating. After the season is over, most people have been overwhelmed by all the picking and are frankly sick of them.

One time, my brother and I got into trouble and were directed into the garden to pick the beans. All is fun one or two times but when you get into trouble frequently you find yourself in the bean patch quite often. We finally came up with an ingenious idea to rip out every third plant in the row and bury them to make fewer beans to pick the next time we are in trouble. Don’t do this if you are still a kid, because the end results allow the remaining plants to become bigger and actually produce MORE beans for picking. As we realize in adulthood when we create a shortcut we usually create a longer route in the big picture.

When growing beans in the garden, the most common ones that come to mind are the green, yellow wax, lima, pinto, black and kidney varieties. Some of the market names available are the pole, Blue Lake, Goldcrop and Tenderlake selections.

We are also familiar with the highly produced soybean that is used for vegetarian diets, sold as a snack, used in many food items and even used as a biofuel. Rarely do we recognize these growing in people’s gardens, however, some people do cultivate them for personal use.

Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and complex carbohydrates. They are also a very good product for lowering bad blood cholesterol levels and keeping them at acceptable levels.

Although they have many good benefits, preparing some types raw and dried beans should be taken with care as they contain certain toxins. The best way to rid the bean of these toxins is to bring them to a boil for a minimum of ten minutes. Red and kidney beans are the highest in these toxins.

Since summer is in full swing, this is the perfect time of year to enjoy our infatuation (not "in-flatuation") with the various bean varieties on the market. Not only are they easy to grow, but they are also reliable producers until the first frost arrives in fall. With summer cookouts, what better thing to top off the meal than a pot of barbecued, baked or fresh beans for the festivities. If you don't have a garden, check out the local farmers' markets, they just might have what you need!