Planting and culture
Beans grow either as a bush (bush variety) or a vine (climbing variety). The climbing variety will need a pole or some sort of support structure to cling to (stakes, twine, fences), while the bush variety doesn’t usually require any support.
One thing you’ll need to know about bean culture is that some bean varieties will need a bacterial inoculant to grow properly. Most beans can get this bacterial normally from your soil, but sometimes they cannot. Many bean seed packs come pre-inoculated. Once an inoculant is established in your garden, you often do not need to repurchase it year after year. Different beans will need different types of inoculants and you can usually get these from seed catalogs, farm stores and garden centers. If you can’t find any, talk to a local extension agent.
The information below should serve as a planting guide for all types of beans except where noted.
Most beans hate cold weather, so you’ll want to wait until all danger of frost has passed. For most warm-season beans, you’ll want to plant 1-2 weeks after the last freeze in your area and when the soil is over 60° degrees Fahrenheit. Planting beans in cold soil will only make them rot.
Preferred growing conditions
Beans prefer a soil with ample phosphorous and calcium. Most beans grow best in a slightly acidic to near-neutral soil. Soil that’s too alkaline locks up the phosphorus they need; soil that’s too acidic prevents beans from getting the calcium they need.
Beans of all types do best with full, unfiltered sun. The climbing types may be a little more shade-tolerant, but they’ll still need more than 6 hours of direct sunlight to grow properly.
Photo courtesy of [MP] at Flickr.com.
Mist bean seeds prior to planting with a biostimulant solution to increase germination, such as seaweed or Great Big Plants liquid compost. This gives the seeds some nutrition as well as a better opportunity to break out of their coating. Think of it as baby food for seeds.
Planting instructions will vary depending on whether you’re planting a bush variety or climbing variety of bean:
- Bush beans – Most bush bean seeds should be planted about 2-3 inches apart in slightly raised rows at least 18 inches apart. You’ll need to thin these to about 3-6 inches apart after germination. Lima bush types are bigger plants and need to be about 6 inches from each other. Dry type bush beans can also be planted in blocks instead of rows, but this method should only be used in dry climates to avoid fungal disease.
Photo courtesy of wanko at Flickr.com.
- Climbing beans – These beans need much more personal space, and should be planted 8-10 inches apart in slightly raised rows with climbing support. Depending on the variety of climbing bean grown, some will need to be thinned dramatically, by up to 36 inches apart. They can also be planted on small hills no more than 6 inches high and spaced about 3 feet apart. Climbing beans can also be planted near a structure such as a fence, or even a row of corn – if you’re using the Three Sisters method of companion planting.
Photo courtesy of Hotplate Arts at Flickr.com.
It’s important to maintain adequate air circulation between plants — especially in climates where excess moisture may promote the rampant spread of several types of common bean diseases.
A layer of mulch to prevent the soil from crusting and to preserve moisture is very beneficial for all bean types. This also helps prevent soil-borne disease from spreading to the leaves. Most organic materials will work well for mulching, but avoid most grass mulches, especially Bermuda grass. These can contain herbicide contamination — unless you know where it came from and know it’s safe, avoid these types of mulches.
Maturation and replanting
Maturation will take about two months, give or take a few weeks depending on the variety of bean and the weather. To keep a good supply of fresh beans coming in, you can plant more beans every 2-3 weeks after your initial planting. If there is space, replant another row next to the earlier planting, taking care not to overcrowd. Good spacing between plants and rows will reduce the spread of diseases.
Once beans start to mature in the pod, the plants usually stop growing new flowers — that means no more beans. The older bean plants will start to wind down their production about the time the next group starts producing. You’ll want to remove the unproductive plants after they start to die by cutting them off at the base. Repeat this cycle until about two months from the expected fall frost date.
Most beans are rather drought-tolerant, requiring minimal supplemental water in many areas of the country. You will have to determine how much water your beans need based on your local climate and soil type.
In order to know what type of fertilizer to apply, you’ll need to know what type of soil you have, which will likely require a soil test. (Contact your local extension agent or garden center for information about soil testing.) Beans in general prefer fertilizers with a high phosphate content and a lower nitrogen content. A 1-1-1 or 1-2-1 ratio generally works well for most beans. Beans respond very well to rock phosphate-type fertilizers as they contain slow-release phosphorous and trace minerals that beans need to fix their own nitrogen.
Snap beans must be harvested before their pods begin to harden and become tough. You can usually snap them off the plant, although sometimes a pair of scissors or a knife will work better. Harvesting dry beans is rather straightforward. Allow the pods to fully mature on the plant or pick, shell and then dry, depending on the bean variety you’re growing.
Green snap beans can be stored in several ways. If you plan to eat your beans fresh, you can simply place them in the refrigerator for up to several weeks. If longer storage is needed, they can be blanched and refrigerated or frozen. Canning is also an option if you have large quantities of beans.
Photo courtesy of mariko at Flickr.com.
When storing dry beans, allow them to completely dry out in a sunny spot before storing them in a closed container – the slightest moisture can cause them to mold. If you do not plan on completely drying them out, you can also shell and then can or freeze dry beans for future use.