More and more folks are enjoying the ecological and cultural diversity of Central America. These days
Costa Rica seems to be the place to visit with its peace-loving people, relaxed lifestyle, and ecological
attitude the country is particularly attractive to Canadian visitors. Among the first meals you are likely to
eat will be a breakfast including traditional red beans and rice. These tasty red beans are surprisingly
easy to grow in southern Canadian climates.
I received my seeds from a colleague who bought them in a Costa Rican grocery store where red beans
are widely available. Costa Rica Red bean, a variety of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), grows into a
straggling to semi-pole vining plant about 1.7m (70”) long/tall. I have left it to straggle on the ground
and over potato plants in the past. In 2022 I trained the plants up a firm framework of stucco wire
(Figure 1). The plants are much easier to manage and harvest when allowed to climb.
Costa Rica Red plants develop white flowers and pods all along the stem from near the base to growing
tips (Figure 2). The pods more or less mature at the same time. Pods are straight to curved, rounded in
cross section and end in a straight to curved tip of medium length (Figures 3,4). Average pod length is 12
cm (5”) varying from 9-14 cm (about 4-6”). Maturing pods turn an attractive reddish hue drying to dusky
purple or beige. Each pod yields about 5 (4-7) seeds.
Seeds are coloured brownish red like red kidney beans (Figure 5). Their size varies widely with an
average length of about 1 cm (0.4”) ranging 0.8-1.4 cm. The seeds are 0.5 -0.6 cm (1/4”) high, slightly
flattened and 0.3-0.4cm (1/6”) wide. The small scar is white and surrounded by a dark ring. Curiously
there is a funny bump at one end of the scar (Figure 5).
My seeds were sown on May 11,2022 under 6 mil plastic cover in a mostly sunny raised bed.
Germination occurred by May 19 (8 days post sowing) and shortly thereafter 100% of the seeds had
sprouted. The beans twined up the wire mesh support and by July 20 they were in full bloom and 1.5m
(about 5 feet) tall. The first small pods had formed by this time. The last few flowers were in bloom at
top of the vines by August 7, and there were many full-sized pods some of which had already turned red
(Figure 3). I harvested on August 28th by which time most pods were fully dry: 5% were at shattering
stage and about 5% not ripe. The time from sowing to harvest was 101 days. The vines or pods probably
could have been pulled a week earlier and hung out to dry reducing the time to harvest to about 95
days. The yield was very high compared to other varieties at 1.07kg/3.4m = 0.315kg/m (0.22 lbs/ foot).
Curiously, there were some medium brown seeds in slightly larger pods. I suspect these to be hybrids
with Kashmir bush bean which grew immediately adjacent to Costa Rica Red. No such seeds had been
observed in the previous year nor sown in 2022, so I am hoping for hybrid vigour and a new variety.
These seeds will be sown in 2023 and we’ll see what happens.
Costa Rica Red beans are delicious. I ate my first red beans and rice in a small community restaurant
north of the Capital San Jose southeast of Volcan Poas where they were served along with nicely fried
eggs. At home I simply cook the beans in a Instantpot with no need for presoaking. I then combine them
with cooked rice as is done in Costa Rica.
As we travel more widely, we develop a taste for diverse foods. The Costa Rica Red bean provides a
ready opportunity to grow a productive staple food and share the cuisine of the people of a peaceful
and environmentally inclined Central American nation.