How to Grow Black Beans

Black or turtle beans are a type of kidney bean that dates back at least 7,000 years. Also known as caviar beans and frijoles negros, these beans once fed the natives in Central and South America. Easy to grow, they are productive, nutritious, tasty and store for a long time once dried.


Black Turtle Beans

The original black bean native to South America is a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris, a group that includes string or snap beans and many dried beans. Although black beans are a type of kidney bean, they are more rounded than distinctly kidney-shaped. The glossy black beans have a white center with a creamy white color and slightly sweet texture, and are very high in protein.

Black Turtle Bean Varieties

True black turtle beans are only available as bush varieties. Here are some that are readily available:

  • Midnight – open-pollinated, 104 days to maturity.
  • Black Turtle – open-pollinated, purple-black, 94 days to maturity.
  • Domino – open-pollinated, disease resistant, 98 days to maturity.
  • Zorro – open-pollinated, high-yielding, 95 days to maturity.
  • Raven – hybrid, slightly lower yield, disease resistant, 90 days to maturity.

Other Black-Seeded Beans

In addition to the black turtle varieties, other beans have black seeds and can be used in much the same way. The Cherokee Trail of Tears is a pole bean that can be used as a snap bean and dry bean. Pencil Pod Black Wax is another string/dry variety. A half-runner, it’s best with support. Black Magic is a runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) with vigorous vines and very large black seeds.

Soil Preparation

Beans need fertile soil but it must not be too high in nitrogen. Since beans can fix their own nitrogen in their roots, high-nitrogen soil just encourages leaf growth rather than flowers and bean pods. Soil should be well-drained, as beans are susceptible to molds and mildew in damp or water-logged soil. Add bean inoculant (beneficial bacteria) to the soil.

Planting Black Beans

All forms of black beans are warm-season plants. They should be planted about two weeks after the last frost when soil has warmed. In optimum conditions, beans will germinate within a week. Space seeds about four inches apart. Pole varieties need a trellis or other support. Runner beans like Black Magic may grow vines of 10 feet or more and are heavy when wet, so choose sturdy materials.

Harvesting Black Beans

You can harvest Cherokee Trail of Tears and Pencil Pod Black Wax as string or snap beans. Flavor and texture will be best with immature seed pods about three or four inches long. Pick every day or two to keep plants producing. For dry beans, allow all black bean varieties to set pods and develop fully mature beans. When dry, harvest seed pods and thresh beans.