The most popular bean type in America, the snap bean or green bean, is eaten pod and all when the seeds are small and immature. Snap beans used to be called "string beans," but most varieties today are stringless. Wax beans are yellow-podded snap beans. Shelling beans, such as limas and cowpeas, are grown for their fresh and/or dried seed, depending on the variety. The growth habit of bean plants can be described as either "bush" or "pole." Bush varieties remain short, usually requiring no support; produce earlier than pole varieties, and most of their crop is harvested over a period of a few weeks. Pole varieties need supports on which to climb, usually produce slightly later, but bear over a longer period of time.
When to sow outside: One to two weeks after average last frost when soil temperature is at least 65°F. With the exception of fava beans, most beans are very cold sensitive and should not be sown until the soil temperature is about 65°F, ideally 70°-85°F. Cool soils may rot seeds, especially white beans that are particularly poor at regulating moisture. Fava beans can germinate in soils as cool as 40°F.
Outdoor sowing is recommended, as beans are sensitive to transplant, and perform best when sown directly in the garden.
Successive sowing: Pole and runner-type beans produce over a longer period of time, whereas bush beans often produce most of their crop in a three-week period. For this reason, successively sow bush-type beans every 7 to 14 days for a continual harvest.
At consistently high temperatures (above 90°F), beans may drop their flowers resulting in no bean production. Gardeners in the Southwest and South should sow in mid-March for June harvest, and early August for a late September harvest to avoid flower drop. Fava beans, on the other hand, are cool-season beans, growing best below 75°F, making them a good candidate for early spring sowing or fall harvest rather than summer. Fava beans are also used as a nutrient-rich cover crop.
How to sow: Sow one seed every 4" at 1" depth.
Thinning: Not required.
Optimal Growing Conditions
Soil: The soil needs to be rich in organic matter, well-drained, loose, and warm. Plant beans in ridges to increase drainage if the soil is heavy with clay. Mulching is recommended to preserve soil moisture.
Water: Watering is important, as the plant must be kept evenly moist, but not soggy. Water the soil, not the foliage, and avoid gardening in your bean patch when plants are wet from rain or morning dew to reduce the chance of fungal disease.
Exposure: Give your beans full sun (six or more hours) and plenty of air circulation.
Fertilization: Beans, like peas and lupines, are in the legume family (Fabaceae) and produce their own nitrogen, so nitrogen fertilizer is not needed, as it can favor leaf growth over flower and bean production.
Legume roots work symbiotically with specific bacteria to fix nitrogen in the soil. An "inoculant" specific to the species may be added to bean seeds when sowing to increase yield, and as some studies have shown, also germination. Inoculant is especially recommended if beans have not been grown in the area for five years.
Snap beans are ready to pick when the pod "snaps" or breaks in half cleanly. This is when seeds have just begun to form, and the pods are 4"–8" long (varies among varieties and personal taste). Hold stem with one hand and the pod with the other hand to avoid damaging the branches, which may continue to produce. Harvest two or three times a week to make sure beans don't get too large or tough for your liking. Harvesting beans regularly, as with other vegetables, triggers a reaction in the plants to continue producing. Remember to stay out of the bean patch when plants are wet, even for harvesting. After harvest, the nitrogen-rich plants make great compost material!
As with all crop families, rotation is recommended. Beans and others in the Fabaceae family should be grown in the same area only once in three years, helping to prevent pest and disease build-up in the soil.
Beans are at their peak flavor right when they are picked. If you need to store fresh beans for a few days, place unwashed beans in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Wet beans in storage are susceptible to mold. To freeze beans for later use, first, wash pods, next, blanch them in boiling water for three minutes, then dry them thoroughly before placing them in a freezer bag. Tip: Freeze beans in a single layer on a cooking sheet before putting them into a large freezer bag, you can easily grab loose beans; otherwise, freeze in portions, as they can stick together.
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By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
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