Lima Beans were first grown in coastal Peru then Central America at altitudes of up to 2000 m (6500 ft). When boxes of Lima Beans were shipped to the U.S. and Europe from the large port of Lima, they were labeled “Limas – Peru” and the name Lima became common for this legume.
Lima Beans are a popular food crop because they can produce a crop in 60 days or more and many parts of the plant can be eaten, mostly the dry bean but also the green, immature seeds, leaves and sprouts. All parts of the plant contain a glucoside that produces cyanide which dissipates upon cooking. As a legume, it improves the soil by fixing nitrogen, grows rapidly, suppressing weeds and can be ploughed under as green manure.
Both bush and vine type Lima Beans should be planted when air temperatures are 32-35º C (90-95° F), directly into soil that remains at a temperature of 18° C (65º F) for 5 days. Sow the seeds about 2-3 cm (1 in) deep and 10 cm (4 in) apart in rows that are 45-50 cm (18-20 in) apart. The plant prefers a dry, frost-free growing season but it will tolerate poor dry soil as long as it has enough moisture for germination and the pH remains around 6. Lima Beans suffer if heavy rains occur during blossom set. The vine varieties can be planted in mounds and trellised or broadcast to produce a thick ground cover. Better quality beans will be obtained if trellised.
Harvesting and Seed Production
To harvest and eat fresh, pick the bright green pods when they’re plump, filled with beans. Remove the immature seeds for cooking, feed the pods to animals. Dry beans are ready for picking after 6-8 months. Bush varieties tend to mature 10-15 days earlier than pole types but pole varieties produce a greater yield over a longer time. The dry beans must be removed from the pods and thoroughly dried in the sun before storing them in airtight containers at cool temperatures (about 4-10° C / 40-50º F).
Pests and Diseases
Lima Beans are quite resistant to diseases and insects with the exception of root-knot nematodes. Rotate the crop from field to field, return the plants to the soil as organic matter and use disease resistant varieties of seeds.
Cooking and Nutrition
Dry Lima Beans can be eaten as a pulse but only after being soaked for 4-6 hours, drained, rinsed and boiled until tender in fresh water. Discard the water. Add cooked Lima Beans to other dishes, stews, bake or eat cold. The green beans, leaves and sprouts should also never be eaten raw. Dry Lima Beans are higher in protein (up to 27%), calcium and iron but when at the green stage they are good sources of vitamins A and C.