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Growing beans along with corn and tomatoes are summer garden staples for many gardeners. Beans are easy to grow, easy to harvest and easy to preserve. They taste good and are good for you. They're high in fiber and vitamins.
There are an incredible variety of beans that grow either in bush or pole (vining) form, and that can be eaten either in the pod (green beans), or allowed to mature and shelled out. What kind you plant and grow is more a matter of personal preference than anything else. Beans all follow basically the same growth and maturity pattern, and require the same planting and care methods.
If you're thinking about growing beans in your garden this year, you will finds that there are many named varieties of beans. However,there are basically 2 categories of beans commonly grown by gardeners today. Green bean varieties are eaten when not fully mature - pod and all. Shell out varieties are allowed to mature fully and only the bean seed is eaten.
Green Beans - Green beans are easily the most common variety of beans grown in home gardens today. Pods are picked when about the diameter of a pencil and eaten steamed, simmered, in casseroles and stir fried. Varieties can be founds in both bush and vining forms. Two of my favorite Varieties are "Blue Lake" and Kentucky Wonder."
Shell Out Varieties - Shell out beans are simply beans that have been left on the plant long enough for the pods to fully mature. Any kind of bean can be a shell out bean. Even those traditionally grown as green beans. Blue Lake green beans if allowed to mature make a pretty good soup bean. Some common varieties are the same that you see in the store. Navy, Kidney, Pinto, Lima, Black Turtle are a few of the better known ones.
An internet search will uncover a hundred or more named varieties, both hybrid and open pollinated (heirloom) varieties still being grown today. You can find beans of practically every color of the rainbow. Each one with a little different flavor. One of my personal favorites is Horticultural. They look similar to Pintos, but instead of mottled brown and white, they are mottled pink and white and are some good eating too!
Soy Beans - The commercially grown soy beans that you see in huge fields all over the country are primarily used for livestock feed, oil production, making tofu, and some other food products, and more recently Bio-Diesel. This commercial variety is rarely grown in small garden plots, but there are other varieties of soy beans (edamame) that are grown by gardeners for home consumption. Edamame is an oriental vegetable used in soups, hummus, stir-fry, pasta, and other dishes. I have never grown Edamame personally, but they are grown in the same way as other beans.
Bush vs Pole Varieties- Bush Varieties are just that - they grow in bush form, and don't require staking or support. Their compact growth form tends to take up less space in your garden than pole types.
Pole Varieties are a vining type and need some support or trellis to grow up onto. Some people prefer them over bush varieties, because they are easier to harvest, since the crop is spread over more area and are easier to see and pick.
Growing bush vs pole varieties is simply a matter of personal preference. My personal preference is bush type beans, other folks like pole varieties better. Either way you'll get beans to harvest and eat. If you're not sure, plant some of both, and decide for yourself.
When growing beans in your garden you should plant them in the early summer about the same time you would plant corn, which is only after soil temperatures reach 70°. If you plant it sooner than that, the seeds will germinate poorly, and slowly. Beans prefer full sun and well worked loamy garden soil, but will grow reasonably well in less than ideal conditions.
Plant beans in rows spacing seeds 2-3 inches apart, and about 1 inch deep. Rows should be roughly 24-30 inches apart. Some people will plant double rows to increase the harvest, but I have never had a problem with having enough to harvest by planting single rows. Beans will begin to sprout in about a week or sometimes less if conditions are right. Keep young plants weeded, as they don't handle competition very well.
Beans have an interesting ability to remove nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it to a form that is stable in the soil. Or more accurately they have bacteria living on their roots that have this ability. This nitrogen fixing bacteria is what makes beans an ideal rotator crop with corn.
Corn depletes soil of nitrogen, and beans can replace it. That's why most farmers will rotate their field crops between soy beans and field corn. You can do the same in your garden. Rotating crops is also a way to avoid crop diseases from running rampant, which can happen when the same crop is planted in the same location year after year.
Growing beans means picking beans. Pick green beans when they are about the diameter of a wooden pencil. If you let them grow much bigger they will become tough and fibrous, which makes them much less enjoyable to eat!
Most green beans have an indeterminate growth pattern, meaning that you can continue to harvest green beans for weeks. In 2008, I planted 2 - 30 ft. rows of Kentucky Wonder bush beans, and harvested every 3-4 days for about 6 weeks. Because of this growth pattern, we wound up canning 96 pints of green beans (8 cases).
The reason that they keep producing is that the beans you are picking aren't fully mature and the plants keep trying to make mature beans. If you left the beans on the plant until they matured (ripened and dried out) the plants would stop producing after one crop, which leads me to...
Shell out beans are any kind of beans where the pods are allowed to grow to maturity. When the pods begin to turn yellow and become soft and flexible, they are ready to harvest. You don't get the volume of harvest from shell outs that you get from green beans for two reasons. As I mentioned before, you only get one picking from them, and you aren't keeping the pods when you are done - only the beans. From 4 - 30 ft rows of my favorite shell out bean variety (Horticultural) we wound up canning 60 pints (5 cases) of beans.
You can also allow shell out beans to dry completely on the vine, and pick them at that point. They can be shelled and stored like any dried beans that you buy in the store.
My preference for canning is simply because it's easier and quicker to prepare them to eat. Open a can, dump it in a pan with some flavoring, warm them up, and eat them. No crock pots, no slow cookers, no pressure cookers, and no simmering all day. I have also found that dried beans will only keep on the shelf for about 6-9 months. After that time, they tend to stay hard after cooking, and it doesn't seem to matter how long you cook them for.
Bean beetles are the main insect pest of growing beans. The beetles and their larvae damage both leaves and growing pods. Spray with insecticides only if the level of damage warrants it. There are a lot of state regulations on pesticides, and each state is different, so I'm not going to recommend anything here. Speak to a local nursery professional, or county agriculture agent to find out what's legal and effective in your area.
Rabbits, squirrels, deer, and groundhogs (if you have them in your area) can destroy young bean plants. Some birds, most notably starlings and grackles in this area can also damage young beans.
One of the easiest (although not fool proof) ways to prevent or reduce damage is to plant your garden as close to human activity as possible. These critters tend to shy away from areas where people spend a lot of time (usually, but not always).
Trapping and relocation of small mammals will work to some extent. I've been told that hanging scented soaps around the edges of your garden will deter deer. If all else fails, you can add the offending critters to the menu!
Growing beans in your home garden can mean more than just green beans.
growing and canning shell out beans along with green beans just adds one
more tool in your arsenal towards becoming more self sufficient.