Days to germination: 7 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 60 to 80 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular thorough watering
Soil: Well-drained and fertile, with added inoculant
Container: Bush varieties work best in containers
Beans are a very wide-ranging family of garden vegetables. In this case, green beans are the long thin ones that are not shelled. Dry beans are the ones you shell out of their pods (like kidney beans). Green beans can be divided into groups of pole beans or bush beans, referring to how they grow. Both types are basically the same sort of green bean except that one grows as a bush and the other grows vines.
Other terms for these types of beans are runner beans, French beans, or string beans. Bush and pole beans both have varieties in various shades of green as well as yellow or even purple.
There is a bit of a myth that raw green beans are poisonous. While they are more commonly used as a cooked vegetable, there is no basis for any fear of raw beans. They can be quite tasty chopped in salad or just eaten right off the plant.
Not as nutritious as some vegetables, but you will still get vitamins A, C and K, along with potassium, fiber and manganese with every serving of green beans.
Starting from Seed
Transplanting is not recommended for green beans, so you’ll be sowing your seeds right into the garden.
You can plant seeds about 1 to 2 weeks before your last frost date, providing you use seed that has been treated with a fungicide to inhibit rot in the cold soil. If you prefer not to use seed treated this way, hold off on your planting until a couple weeks after the frost date instead.
Dig up the soil to loosen, and add some compost. Also add some inoculant (available at any garden center) to the soil as well. It helps the plant extract nitrogen from the soil and improves growth tremendously. You can grow beans just fine without it, but most gardeners consider a normal step when growing beans.
Pole beans are usually grown with tall poles or trellises for support, and you can plant these types of beans closer together. Three or four plants can be clustered around a single pole, but you should leave about 12 inches between each grouping. You’ll want to put your supports in place when first planting the seeds so you don’t disturb the roots later on.
On the other hand, bush beans should be spaced farther at around 4 inches between each plant. Most bush beans won’t need support but you can grow them in large open tomato cages if you want to keep them upright and contained. Put the cages in place over your seeds right at planting time.
With so many varieties of beans available, you can stretch your harvest time out longer by planting different beans with varying maturity times.
You can fertilize your bean plants through the growing season, but stay away from the high-nitrogen formulas that you would use on leafy vegetables. The nitrogen will stimulate big leafy vines that produce no beans, which isn’t going to help you very much.
Keep your plants well-watered, especially after the flowers have bloomed and beans are starting to form. A steady water supply will ensure uniform shaped beans. If you have a dry spell, the beans will start to shrink at one end.
For tall-growing pole beans, you can stop them from growing over the tops of your poles and trellis by pinching out the growing tips of the main vine. Allow them at least 5 to 6 feet of space to grow, but then feel free to rein them in. The plants will be more vigorous in their bean production if they are not busy growing more vines.
With the proper support, you can grow pole beans in large pots but bush beans are the ones best suited for container gardening. You can plant your seeds before the frost date even with untreated seeds since the soil in your container will be warmer than out in the garden.
A 12-inch pot should be suitable for each plant, either bush or pole varieties.
Pests and Diseases
Mosaic virus can be a problem with bean plants, though many varieties are naturally resistant these days. The leaves will start to get mottled and misshapen. You can’t treat it, so you should pull up the effected plants to hopefully prevent it spreading.
Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles are both very fond of bean leaves. Pick them off when you see them, and keep your plants treated with pyrethrum sprays.
Bean rust is another disease that may cause you some problems in the garden. The symptoms are rusty-colored spots forming on the leaves of your plants. If you catch it quickly enough, a fungicide may be able to clear it up. Being careful during watering can help keep fungus spores from spreading around your plants. Water only at the soil, not all over the leaves. This will help protect against the common powdery mildew as well.
Harvest and Storage
Besides space issues, there is another difference between bush and pole beans. Bush beans will usually set all their beans at once for a single harvest when the plant is mature. On the other hand, pole beans will keep making flowers and new beans for most of their growing season for a more prolonged harvest period.
Average bush bean plants will give you more than a pound of beans, and pole beans can have a yield of 2 pounds and more.
Green beans are harvested when the bean inside the pod is just starting to form. If you wait until there are full-developed beans inside, they will be too woody to eat. It’s the entire pod you are after, not the beans inside. Once you let a pod go to seed, the whole plant will stop producing flowers (and beans) so don’t miss any beans when you are out picking.
Do not just yank the beans off the plant. Either snip them off with shears, or hold the rest of the plant with one hand while you gently twist off with the other.
Keep your green beans fresh in a refrigerated plastic bag for up to a week. If you can’t use all your beans, you can freeze them after a quick blanch in hot water. They will last all winter that way, and their texture isn’t lost by freezing. An other interesting way to preserve green beans is to pickle them, just like you would with cucumbers.