This structure is about five feet tall, and you can see they would happily keep going up. Once the vines overtopped the structure, I just guided them back inside the mass, so they'd entwine amongst themselves. They start blooming after about 30 days, gorgeous purple orchid-like blooms:
And from those blooms come pea pods, about six inches long, two to three per stem.
If you're going for pulse (dried beans), as we did, leave the pods on the vines until they turn completely brown:
But be careful...the pods are VERY brittle at this point and if you are too rough removing them the pod will burst open, the two halves jumping in opposite directions, beans flying everywhere, with lots of nice volunteer bean plants emerging shortly thereafter. You can see the chewed leaves in the picture above, so they're not completely impervious to pests, but the leaves with actual holes in them make up only about 5% of the total. And the cursed whiteflies, may they rot in hell, have not touched the bean plants at all...and they live for wide leaves under which to hide and multiply. Our beans have been producing steadily for about two months now, and show no signs of stopping. They have new blooms as of today, and I'm still harvesting pods every day.
Removing the beans from their shells is something that should be done over an entire table...so you can see where the errant beans land after they've sprung out of their shells. Half the beans are attached to one side of the pod and half are attached to the other...I'm sure there's a botanical word for this but I'm too lazy to look it up. The point is, you should be careful when shelling, as the natural inclination of these pods is to just fly apart. My technique is to gently squeeze the pod from one end to the next, loosening the halves and the beans inside, then gently open it like a book, from the center, knocking beans into a bowl below. No matter how much care you take you're still going to be picking up beans from the floor.
So, what does one do with the harvested beans? Well, in the absence of much Internet-based guidance (do not be fooled by "red beans and rice" recipes, they are NOT the same thing), we simply boiled them for a bit in salted water (15 to 20 mins at a rolling boil, ymmv), until they were al dente.
The water becomes a true bean liquor, taking most of the color from the dark red beans, and making a wonderfully flavorful sort of broth...I can't wait to try these in a soup. We drained the beans and served them with short grain sushi rice, tiny sirloin steaks and shrimp sauce (recipe here).
How'd they taste? Like peanuts, actually. They added a wonderful nuttiness to the rice, and seem to me a fantastic way to add protein and calcium to your diet if you're not interested in the steak-y part. Will we grow red rice beans again? Absolutely. This has been our big success story of this growing year, a high-yeild crop that can withstand the humidity and all the myriad pests Florida has to offer.