Learning How to Grow Green Beans is a super important garden skill. Green beans (some times called runner beans or String Beans) are one of the highlights of a summer garden. Beans are high in fiber, low in calories and are a good source of vitamin C. But beyond the nutritional benefits of home grown beans is their superior taste!!
The beans you buy in a store (weather fresh, frozen or canned) are breed for once reason, and that reason is to allow them to be processed easily! Commercial plant breeders are not really fussed with taste, they just want them to ship and process easily!!
Not so with garden grown beans. These are one of the tasty high points of the summer garden for me!! Although you usually hear them called “green” beans, the colors definitely don’t have to be limited to green! There are several shades of purple available out there along with several different colors of yellow (often called wax beans). Varieties include slender French style beans, string-less varieties, even yard long beans! So the sky is the limit with this fantastic summer time crop!
Let’s take a look at what types of green beans there are out there and how to grow green beans!
There are two primary types of green beans: pole or bush. Let’s talk about each.
Bush beans are compact plants that grow between 1 to 2 feet tall. The main advantage of bush beans is how quickly they produce. Many varieties will start producing in as little as 60 days. This is great because you can plant very late in the year and still get a harvest! Many years I plant bush beans as late as July 15th (that’s only about 75 days before our first frost) and still get a super good harvest. The average bush bean variety will produce 10 t 14 days sooner than a pole bean.
Another advantage of bush beans is the huge variety of colors and sizes they come in! There are easily 50 different types of bush beans in colors ranging green to yellow to purple! It is very easy to tuck a few bush beans into an out of the way (but sunny) corner of your garden. Some years we have bean scattered all over the place.
The biggest disadvantage of bush beans is how much you can harvest from them. Expect to get only 60% of the harvest in the same space from bush beans than what you would expect from a pole variety. The harvest from bush beans also doesn’t last nearly as long either. Only about 3 weeks per plant.
Pole beans get their name from the fact that they need a “pole” to grow on. Pole beans grow vines that can be as long as 8 to 10 feet and those vines need support. The traditional method is to use tall wooden poles that the beans will climb up, hence the name pole bean. But really any form of trellis will work well for growing pole beans.
The main advantage of pole beans is the increased harvest per plant. As I stated earlier the ration is around 60% for bush beans. So a spot that grows 10 pounds of pole beans, would grow around 6 pounds of bush beans. Also for those of you with back problems, you will love not having to bend over to pick pole beans.
I also think that having trellises of pole beans adds an huge amount of visual interest to a garden. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love to see a pretty trellis covered in vines, flowers and beans. Bean trellises turn another wise bland garden, into a fun, interesting feature of your yard.
The best soil for beans is fertile well drained soil with a PH of between 6 and 7, but don’t let your soil conditions stop you, beans are pretty hardy and will do well in most soil types. But if you can I would suggest amending the soil before hand with some organic material, like a good rich compost.
Beans are a warm season crop and cannot tolerate frost. So it is important to hold off on planting until all worries of frost are gone. Beans also need a soil temperature of at least 60 degrees to germinate but would prefer 70. You can test this buy purchasing a simple and inexpensive Soil Themometer . Covering your bed with plastic for a week or two before planting can quickly bring the soil temperature up as well.
Both bush and pole beans do best if seeds are directly sown in the soil. You can start your seeds indoors and transplant out, but in all but the coldest climates this is over kill. Beans do just fine being planted directly in the soil and allowed to germinate outdoors.
Sun is a must for beans. Choose a sunny spot that gets at least 8 hours of sun, but they will do much better if you choose a spot with 10 to 12 hours of sun in the summer time.
Plant seeds 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and roughly 2 inches a part, once the seeds are germinated it may be necessary to thin bush beans to about 4 inches apart and pole beans to about 6 inches.
Beans are the perfect crop to succession plant! Planting a small amount of beans every 2 weeks until mid summer (About 60 to 75 days before your first fall frost) will ensure a continuous supply of fresh beans all summer long!!
Beans are also a great crop to consider inter-planting with other crops. Try radishes, carrots or even lettuce to help utilize the extra space.
Care while Growing
Beans are fairly easy for most of us to care for. Once the plants are up a few inches, it is a good idea to thin if needed. Usually around 4 inches between plants is sufficient, I have found a few places that recommend 6 inches for pole beans, but I have found four inches to be plenty.
Beans are fairly drought tolerant, but they will produce much better if they are kept moist while the plants are flowering and the beans are growing. So plan on giving them some water. Some times you will notice that your beans are a bit “stringy”, meaning that when you eat them they have long fibrous “strings” running through the bean. Most modern varieties of beans are fairly string-less so if you notice stringiness that means the plants may be suffering from heat stress. Try increasing the amount of water you are giving them, and consider mulching around the base of the plants to help keep them cool.
Always try to water in the morning, this is especially the case if you are using overhead watering (sprinklers). Moisture on the leaves can promote disease issues, so if you water during the day the leaves will dry out faster.
Many soil borne diseases can be transmitted when the soil “splashes” on to the leaves. This can be prevented (or at least minimized) by mulching around the plant. That will keep splashing to a minimum and will also help keep the soil cool and help the soil to not dry out as quickly. Drip irrigation along with mulching almost eliminates soil splash, so if you can use a drip system.
Beans have a fairly shallow root system, so you need to be very careful when you are cultivating the soil around the plants. I would suggest pulling weeds by hand versus using a hoe around bean plants.
Beans really don’t need much in the way of fertilizer. If you are taking care of your garden soil each year by adding compost and other organic mater you really shouldn’t need to add fertilizer.
In fact beans have the amazing ability to pull nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in their root system. Because of this I never pull up the roots of my bean plants. At the end of the season I simply cut the plants off at ground level leaving the roots in the ground. In most gardens you will find the soil richer and improved after planting beans. What ever crop I plant the year following a bean crop does extra well because of the added nitrogen in the soil.
You know your harvest is on the way once you see flowers setting on your bean plants. Shortly after you see flowers you will start to see tiny little beans growing. Keep a close eye on them, they will grow quicker than you might think!
Pick beans while they are still young and tender. You should pick them before seeds start forming inside the pod, while they are still slender and tender.
Pick often! The more you pick the more beans the plants will produce. Avoid letting any of your beans get too large and start developing seeds inside the pod. This seed development signals the plants to focus on growing the seeds, so they will stop producing additional flowers and more beans. I would suggest that you pick your beans daily, that way none of the beans get away from you and slow down your production.
Most bush beans will have a harvest period of around 3 weeks from the first beans to the last bean picked. Pole beans on the other hand if managed correctly will produce for as long as 8 weeks! So keep after that harvesting, the more beans you harvest (and the sooner) the more you will ultimately have!
Most of the official University sites tell us that you can expect 75 pounds of beans per 100 feet of plants from Bush beans and 125 pounds per 100 feet for pole beans. I’ve always found those types of numbers a little worthless because I don’t have 100 feet to plant!!! But I have found that a 4 x 8 foot bed of bush beans will give you around 20 pounds of beans, the same bed planted with pole beans will give around 30 pounds.
Fresh picked beans will last about 2 weeks in the fridge, that gives you a little time to eat them up or to build up enough supply to do some canning or freezing.
Our favorite method of preserving beans is freezing. It is much quicker and a lot less work to do it that way!!
Canning is also a very popular method for preserving beans. But it is a lot more work and you MUST use a pressure canner to preserve them. Here are a few resources for canning green beans:
Beans can also be dried in a food dryer or freeze dryer. Here are a few links to posts from fellow bloggers on drying green beans: