If you’re looking for an easy vegetable to grow, try beans. Whether it be bush or pole beans, they make the perfect beginner gardener or kids garden vegetable. They’re one of the first vegetables I taught my daughter to grow. The large seeds make this vegetable easy to plant. They need little extra fertilizer and, with only a small amount of attention, you’re almost guaranteed to get a harvest.
There’s a wide variety of beans available to grow. Snap beans (Phaseolus) are those harvested while the pods are young and before the seeds form inside. There are green, yellow, and purple snap bean varieties. Shelling beans have green pods, but their seeds have formed. You eat the seeds. Lima bean, fava bean (Vicia faba) and soybeans (Glycine max) are a popular selections of shelling bean. A dried bean has mature seeds (which you eat) and dried pods. ‘Vermont Cranberry’ and ‘French Horticultural’ are some varieties of dried beans. Most of these bean types have a bush and pole or climbing varieties. Bush beans grow about 2 feet tall, while pole beans can grow to 10 feet tall.
Beans are good for you, too. They’re loaded with protein, fiber, calcium, and B-vitamins. They can be used in almost any cuisine from raw in salads, to cooked in soups, stews, sauteed, pickled or canned.
When to Plant
Although there’s a wide variety of beans to grow, most of them like the same growing conditions. With the exception of favas, beans like growing in the heat. So, plant in spring after all danger of frost has passed when the soil is at least 60F. This is usually in mid- to-end of May and even June. Plant fava beans two weeks before your last frost date as early as the end of April and again in late summer for a fall crop. Fava beans can survive temperatures in the 20Fs, making them great fall and early winter plants.
Where to Plant
Beans are widely adapted plants. They grow well in clay and sandy soil, and fruit best in full sun. Most also grow best with temperatures between 70F and 85F. If it gets warmer than that, they may not set fruit well.
How to Plant
Amend the soil with compost before planting. Bush beans are grown differently than pole beans. Sow bush bean seeds 1 inch deep, spaced 2- to 3-inches apart in rows, 2 feet apart. Thin to 4- to 6-inches apart after the true leaves form. Pole beans are planted on 8-foot tall poles arranged in a row or a tepee. Plant 2 to 3 seeds spaced evenly around each pole. Pole beans naturally want to twine up the poles. You can also grow bush and pole varieties in containers in smaller spaces. Trellis pole beans with wire or twine hung from a porch ceiling or roof.
Fava beans are the exception in the bean family, but well adapted to our cool spring and fall growing conditions. Plant these as you would bush beans, but since the plants can grow 3- to 4-feet tall, trellis or stake the rows to keep the plants from flopping over.
If planting pole beans in the tepee shape, consider planting lettuce, or mesclun mix or radishes under the tepee. These quick maturing veggies will grow and mature before the pole beans grow up to shade them. It’s a great space saving tip in a small garden.
Consider planting successive crops of bush beans until early July spaced two weeks apart. This will insure a continuous harvest throughout the summer.
Care and Maintenance
Beans have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere through their roots, so don’t require much extra fertilization. Keep the plants evenly watered and well weeded. Beans are shallow rooted, so carefully cultivate around plants to remove weeds. Once the plants are 4- to 6-inches tall, mulch between rows or under the pole beans with a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of straw or untreated grass clippings.
Beans have a few major pests. Mexican bean beetles can become plentiful in summer feeding on bean leaves. This brown beetles with yellow spots looks like a ladybug, but can cause extensive damage. Handpick adults, crush the eggs, and spray the yellow larvae with Neem oil or Spinosad to control it. Rust fungal disease causes orange spots on leaves that can eventually turn them yellow. Grow resistant varieties and don’t walk in your bean patch while the leaves are still wet to avoid spreading the disease.
Rabbits and woodchucks love to feed on bean plants. Fence your garden to keep these critters away.
Snap beans are quick to mature and usually ready to harvest 50 to 60 days after seeding. They tend to mature all at once, so they’re good for canning or freezing. Pole snap beans take a little longer to start producing, but tend to produce small amounts over time. Harvest snap beans when they’re about 6- to 8-inches long, but before the seeds inside have formed. If harvested at an older stage, they tend to be tough and chewy.
Harvest shelling beans, such as limas, soybeans, and favas, when the pods are plump and the beans inside have formed. Depending on the bean, it can be from 60 to 80 days after seeding. Harvest dried beans once the pods and beans have dried on the plant, but before the pods open and drop the bean seeds on the ground. This is usually 100- to 120-days after seeding. Harvest whole plants and hang them to dry in an airy garage or shade out of direct sun. Remove the seeds from the pods when they’re fully dry and naturally pop open.
Many green snap beans grow well in our region such as ‘Provider’. However, I like growing the French filet snap beans such as ‘Maxibel’. They stay thin and slender and are more tender than other green snap beans. ‘Concador’ is a new yellow filet bean and ‘Velour’ a new purple colored filet bean. Purple beans lose their color when cooked.
There are pole bean versions of many snap beans such as ‘Kentucky Wonder’ and ‘Blue Lake’. I like the flat Italian pole bean, ‘Jumbo’ for its meaty texture and flavor. ‘Scarlet Runner’ beans feature bright orange flowers, large green pods, and pink and black speckled bean seeds. They can be eaten as a snap, shell, or dried bean depending on when you harvest. For something different try an asparagus bean. These grow like pole beans but produce 18-inch long round beans. Harvest them young while the pods are still tender. I like the ‘Red Noodle’ asparagus bean for its burgundy color that stays red even after cooking.
Lima beans can be marginal in our climate, but ‘Fordhook 242’ is a good quick maturing one to try. However, fava beans thrive. I like the heirloom ‘Crimson’ fava bean for its bright red flowers. ‘Windsor’ is another good variety.
Edamame or edible soybeans are varieties harvested in the shell stage. ‘Envy’ and ‘Midori Giant’ are two quick maturing varieties that are ready to harvest in 70 to 80 days from planting. I like steaming these in salty water and squeezing the pods to have them pop into your mouth. They’re fun for kids to eat!
I couldn’t write about our region without mentioning some of our traditional dried bean varieties, made famous by the classic baked bean church supper. ‘Vermont Cranberry’ features a brown bean with a mild flavor. ‘Jacob’s Cattle’ has red and white speckled kidney-bean shape. It holds up well in cooking.
Text excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.