POUND RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) -- They don't call them limas in Lima, Peru.
In Spanish, the name is ''haba,'' and this highly nutritious bean, although present in ancient Inca tombs, did not, as you might have thought, originate in Peru.
While Spanish colonizers did find them there, plant historians later traced the birthplace to Guatemala. They dated it as long ago as 5000-6000 B.C., making limas one of the world's oldest cultivated vegetables.
Widespread use of the name lima is linked to the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century when large quantities of the beans were imported from Peru to feed the miners.
Like other beans, limas in their dry state pack a lot of proteins. They are easily stored and carried, making them an ideal food for long voyages. And they were so used on slave ships.
The lima, ''Phaseolus lunatus,'' is a different species from the common bean, ''Phaseolus vulgaris,'' and some of its varieties contain toxic quantities of cyanide.
The United States and other countries restrict commercially grown limas to the least toxic strains. Boiled in uncovered pots, as they should be, the poison escapes as a gas and is eliminated. But limas should never be eaten raw.
The home gardener has many kinds of limas to choose among, but people living in the northernmost areas have to forgo the pole varieties, which produce the largest bean and, some believe, the tastiest. They need warm soil to get started and 90 days in the 60- to 70-degree range to mature, not just frost-free weather.
Without those conditions, the gardener had better stick to bush varieties, which mature earlier.
In my garden, 50 miles north of New York City, I've grown both pole and bush limas and I can't say one is tastier than the other. But the pole beans excel in size, some being as large as quarters.
To get a jump on the season, I've tried sowing pole beans in pots indoors under lights so that I'd have small plants ready to put in the garden when the weather warmed in late May. I can't swear this helped greatly. The young plants just seemed to stand still for quite a while before putting out the vines that climbed the poles. Now I just sow the seed directly in the ground.
One thing about the thumbnail-size lima seeds: for smoother germination, it's good practice to sow them with the ''eye'' down. The ''eye'' is the scar, or hilum, indenting the edge of the seed. That's where the radicle -- the first part of the root -- emerges and takes hold.
In my area, frost can be expected around the first week in October and by that time I usually have poles covered with the thickly leafed lima vines and many bean pods. Even when frost strikes early and kills the plants, the beans are harvestable and have lost no taste. The beans, incidentally, keep excellently in the freezer after blanching for three minutes.
Lima vines climb six and more feet and I've found the best way to train them is on sturdy tripods deeply enough inserted in the ground so that they are well balanced. An insecure structure topples easily in a hard gust of wind. Tripods may be made from saplings, if you're in a wooded area, or from metal stakes sold in hardware stores.
The vines are vigorous growers and if you don't train them to the poles, they will rove. One of my vines strayed 10 feet beyond the tripod and climbed the garden fence, where it produced some good beans. For a two-person family, one tripod yields a good supply of beans.
Probably the most popular pole limas are a variety called ''Christmas,'' which needs about 85 days to mature, and ''King of the Garden,'' needing 90. Christmas emerges from the pod beautifully streaked red and white, but the colors fade in cooking. King of the Garden cooks white to light green.
Bush limas are ready to pick two weeks and more before the pole beans. ''Henderson,'' for example requires 65 days and ''Baby Fordhook'' 75. So they're the best bet where early frosts make pole beans problematical.
Limas like a well-drained, moderately sweet soil, but don't need heavy fertilizing. Mulches of leaves or salt hay help preserve moisture. Dusting with rotenone controls the Mexican bean beetle, which can be troublesome.
Indians cooked limas with corn to make a famous dish, succotash. I read somewhere that Indians grew the two vegetables together, using the cornstalks to hold up the climbing vines. I tried it once, but the vines were so heavy they pulled down the corn.
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