Here is what I know about the origin and species of lima beans grown along the California coast and formerly in Mar Vista.

The lima bean, phaseolus limensis, is a member of the pulse family, leguminosae.  Both the small ‘baby lima’ and the larger thick ‘potatoe’ type are of tropical origin.  Although grown in warmer areas throughout the United States, commercial production is generally confined to the coast of California.

Lima beans take peculiar climatic and soil conditions.  They connot tolerate frost.  The optimum growing temperature range is from 60 to 77 degrees.  The plant is nourished by dew, fog and moisture from the sea.  Lima beans are planted in May, as they need no rain. Rain only makes weeds and work for the gardener.  The plant gathers its sustenance from the atmosphere in the way of nitrates.  No fertilizer is ever required.

According to Gidney, Brook and Sheridan in The History of Santa Barbara, San Louis Obispo and Ventura Counties California, (published in 1917), in 1868, Henry Lewis planted the first lima beans ever put in the soil of the United States.  At that time a vessel happened to be anchored at Santa Barbara after a recent voyage from Lima, Peru.  A friend of Henry Lewis became acquainted with one of the sailors, from whom he procured some beans being used on the table of the boat.  The beans are indigenous to the country around Lima, and that geographical source has given this bean its special name.

On his 109 acre farm in Carpenteria, Henry Lewis planted the beans and raised the first crop of the species ever grown in the United States.  He preserved and improved his seed from year to year.  For many years his crop of limas was regarded as the finest on the market.  As of 1917, the highest grade of lima bean was known as the ‘Lewis bean’.

A legacy of the Lewis family is Lewis Road in Camarillo.  In the l930’s, lima beans were King of the crops of Southern California.  Mar Vista was known for being in the lima bean belt of the nation.

Lima Bean Recipes

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