Growing Beans

Easy and fun to grow, beans are a great crop for first‐time gardeners or children. They’re also space efficient: did you know that one acre of beans could feed a person for a whole year?

Bush and Pole Beans

Which type of beans should you choose: bush or pole? Each has its advantages. (See the “Legumes” article for an introduction to types of beans.)

Bush beans are easier to plant because they don’t require supports. They mature faster than pole beans for a quicker first harvest, but they only produce for a few weeks. You can, however, make successive plantings to extend your harvest. Pole beans don’t take up as much room since they grow vertically. The yield is also better: two to three times more than bush beans in the same space. One foot‐long (31 cm) row of pole beans can yield one or more pounds of beans. Another advantage: pole beans can be harvested all summer.

Growing Requirements

Beans don’t tolerate cold, so plant after last frost. Even when temperatures are not below freezing, cold air can damage bean plants, so don’t plant too early.

Beans only require average soil. They like mildly acidic to neutral soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Avoid planting in cold, wet soil: the soil should be well‐drained and have a temperature of at least 60°F (16°C) for proper germination, 70°F‐80°F (21°C‐26°C) is preferred. Wait for the temperature to reach 65°F (18°C) to plant lima beans. Bean seeds are susceptible to rot, so don’t over water.

Beans bear their seeds in pods and support nitrogen‐fixing bacteria: they take nitrogen directly from the air. Beans therefore supply much of their own nitrogen, leaving the soil nitrogen‐enriched even after harvest. Beans are self‐pollinating. Cross‐pollination can occur, but it’s unlikely. Plant at least one row of another crop between different bean varieties as a precaution.

Having shallow roots, beans need to be watered regularly, especially when flowers and pods are forming. Also, don’t hoe around bean plants too deeply when you’re weeding or you may damage the roots.

Planting Pole Beans

Pole beans need some type of support. They can be grown on poles, fences, trellises, bean tepees, or corn stalks. Most pole beans grow from 6‐12′ (1.8‐3.6 m) high, depending on the variety, so choose the height of your support accordingly. Be sure to plant pole beans where they won’t shade other plants.

Set up supports before planting to avoid damaging tender roots. Set poles 6‐10″ (15‐25 cm) apart: since beans are self‐pollinating, close spacing can increase yield. Plant six bean seeds one inch (2.5 cm) deep around each pole. When seeds sprout, thin to the three strongest plants per pole. On a trellis or fence, sow seeds 3‐4″ (8‐10 cm) apart and thin to 6‐9″ (15‐23 cm).

To make a bean tepee, use six or more rough cedar stakes or saplings which are tall enough for your chosen variety. Lash them together about a foot from the top with jute or sisal twine. Spread poles into a tepee configuration and push the poles into the ground to secure. Plant seeds around each pole according to the previous pole bean instructions. Kids love bean tepees, so don’t forget to leave space for a door!

Pole beans can also be planted in traditional Indian corn hills, with the cornstalks as support. See the article “Planting Tips” for instructions on this intercropping method.

Varieties of pole beans include ‘Kentucky Wonder’ (6‐8′ or 1.8‐2.4 m, 65 days), ‘Blue Lake’ (6‐8′ or 1.8‐2.4 m, 60 days), and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (80‐85 days), which grows from ten to twenty feet (3‐6 m) high!

Planting Bush Beans

A good way to plant bush beans is in trenches, sowing seeds at two‐inch (5 cm) intervals in a flat‐bottomed trench five inches (13 cm) wide and three inches (7 cm) deep. Cover with one inch (2.5 cm) of soil, and tamp the row down with the back of the hoe.

To plant in rows, sow seeds one inch (2.5 cm) deep, 2‐4″ (5‐10 cm) apart, in rows 18‐24″ (46‐61 cm) apart. Varieties include ‘Blue Lake’ (50‐60 days), ‘Royal Purple’ (52 days), yellow ‘Cherokee Wax’ (43‐55 days), ‘Romano’ (60‐70 days) and ‘Fordhook’ limas (72 days).

Planting Shell Beans

Although most home gardeners shy away from planting shell beans, they can be fun to grow. Follow planting instructions for bush or pole beans, depending on variety. Shell bean varieties include ‘Cranberry’ (70 days), ‘Flageolet’ (90 days), ‘Swedish Brown’ (85‐95 days), ‘Great Northern’ (90 days), ‘Red Mexican’ (85‐100 days), and ‘Cannellini’ (80 days). You can even plant packaged dried beans from the supermarket, a very inexpensive way to buy seed!

This article discusses how to grow bush and pole beans, and the advantages of each. It also includes instructions on how to make a bean tepee.

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