Bean is the common name for the seeds of several genera of the family Fabaceae, which are used for human or animal consumption. Read on to learn how to plant beans in your garden.
Warm season bean plants are cultivated for their highly nutritious immature pods (snap beans), immature seeds (shell beans) or mature seeds (dry beans). Beans may fall into two categories: determinant-type growth, those that grow as a low bush, or indeterminant, those with a vining habit requiring support, also known as pole beans.
Green snap beans may be the most familiar to people. These green beans with an edible pod used to be called ‘string’ beans, but today’s varieties have been bred to lack the tough, stringy fiber along the pod’s seam. Now they “snap” in two easily. Some green snap beans are not green at all, but purple and, when cooked, become green. There are also wax beans, which are simply a variant of snap bean with a yellow, waxy pod.
Lima or butter beans are grown for their immature seed which is shelled. These beans are flat and rounded with a very distinct flavor. They are the most sensitive type of bean.
Horticultural beans, commonly referred to as “shelly beans” (among many other various monikers), are large seeded beans with a tough fiber lined pod. The seeds are usually shelled while still relatively soft, harvested when the beans are fully formed but not dried out. They may be either bush or pole types and many of the heirloom varieties are horticultural.
Cowpeas are also referred to as southern peas, crowder peas, and blackeye peas. They are, indeed, really a bean and not a pea and are grown as a dry or green shell bean. Kidney, navy, and pinto are all examples of dry use cowpeas.
All types of beans should be sown after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 50 F. (10 C.). Sow all beans except cowpea, yard-long and lima one inch (2.5 cm.) deep in heavy soil or an inch and half (4 cm.) deep in light soil. The other three types of beans should be planted a half inch (1 cm.) deep in heavy soil and an inch (2.5 cm). deep in light soil. Cover the seeds with sand, peat, vermiculite or aged compost to prevent soil crusting.
Plant bush bean seeds 2-4 inches (5-10 cm.) apart in rows that are 2-3 feet (61-91 cm.) apart and plant pole beans in either rows or hills with seeds 6-10 inches (15-25 cm.) apart in rows that are 3-4 feet (approximately 1 meter or so) apart. Provide support for pole beans as well.
Growing pole beans gives you the advantage of maximizing your space, and the beans grow straighter and are easier to pick. Bush-type bean plants need no support, require little care, and can be picked whenever you are ready to cook or freeze them. They typically produce an earlier crop too, so successive plantings may be necessary for a continual harvest.
Growing beans, regardless of type, do not need supplemental fertilizer but they do need consistent irrigation, especially while budding and on into setting pods. Water bean plants with an inch of water per week depending upon weather conditions. Water in the morning so the plants can dry rapidly and avoid fungal disease.
All beans, except cool-weather fava beans, are sensitive to frost and cold soil temperatures. Plant your main crop when the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past. Rotate the location of your bean crops from year to year to discourage disease. Snap beans (sometimes called string beans, although plant breeders have developed varieties without the tough string) are eaten whole, pod and all, when seeds inside are undeveloped or very small. Shell beans are eaten fresh after they are removed from the pod. Dried beans are harvested when the pods dry out, and they require extended cooking.
Choosing a site to grow beans
Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
Plant bush beans for an early harvest. Plant seeds 2 to 4 inches apart and 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep. Plant extra seeds, then thin plants to the spacing recommended on the seed packet. Pole (climbing) beans are slower to mature, but they have a longer harvest period. Set up trellises or tepees before planting. Plant seeds 2 to 4 inches apart and 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep.
Mulch bean plants to help retain moisture. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Contact your local county extension office for controls of common bean pests, such as Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles.
How to harvest beans
Snap beans: Pods should be firm and crisp at harvest the seeds inside should be undeveloped or very small. Hold stem with one hand and pod with the other to avoid pulling off branches that will produce later pickings. Pick all pods to keep plants productive.
Shell beans: Pick these varieties when the pods change color and the beans inside are fully formed but not dried out. Seeds should be plump, firm, and young. Quality declines if you leave them on the plant too long. They can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days before cooking if necessary.
Dried beans: Let the pods get as dry as possible in the garden. Before cold weather hits or when plants have turned brown and lost most of their leaves, pick all the dry pods (or pull the plants up if more drying time is needed) and store. When thoroughly dry, the pods will split readily, making seeds easy to remove. Store dry beans in tight-lidded jars or cans in a dry, cool place.
Botanical Name: Phaseolus vulgaris
Also known as turtle beans, black beans are categorized as legumes due to their hard shell-like appearance. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein that plays an integral role in human health.
How to Grow
Black beans have two varieties, bush (determinate) and pole (indeterminate). Bush variety requires a bit more space between plants and harvested all at once. While pole beans need a trellis or stake for support and produce a greater yield vertically.
Plant black beans when the danger of frost passed in 12-inches containers place the pots. Keep them at a spot where the plants receive at least six hours of direct sunlight. Use fertile, loose soil with pH 6.0-7.0. Add mature compost before planting. Maintain soil moisture and practice moderate watering.
Botanical Name: Vanilla planifolia
Native to tropical Mexico, vanilla beans grow on vanilla orchid and can take 3-5 years to produce beans. The plants need hand pollination to fruit productively.
How to Grow
Vanilla beans grow best in humid conditions in rich and moist soil. They cannot withstand the temperature below 55 F (12 C) and need much warmer conditions. You can also grow them in pots in your balcony.
Botanical Name: Phaseolus lunatus
Also known as chad, butter, sieva, and Madagascar beans, they are tasty big legumes from Central America. The beans are flat, large, off-white, and kidney-shaped. They are consumed shelled for their tasty flavor.
How to Grow
Lima beans require warm and sunny conditions. Start sowing seeds early indoors before the last frost hits or outdoors when the temperature is constantly around or above at least 60 F (15 C) for a week.
The ideal growing temperature is around 70-80 F (21-28 C). Grow the plants where they can get sunshine throughout the day.
Botanical Name: Vicia faba
Fava beans are also known as field beans, horse beans, and broad beans. These tender beans are inside the pods–flat, large, bright green in color with a clear skin that is removed before consumption. If you harvest them early, you can consume the skin too.
How to Grow
Fava beans are a cool-season crop. Seeds are sown in late summer or early fall for a late fall harvest or during winters in warm regions for the spring collection. Grow fava beans in full sun to partial shade. They’re hardy to about 21 F (-6 C).
Botanical Name: Phaseolus vulgaris
Kidney Beans are native to Central America and Mexico. They are an essential source of vegetable protein. These nutritious beans are cooked in a variety of dishes around the world.
How to Grow
Sow the seeds after the last frost in an area with full sunlight in well-draining soil. Keep in mind that beans don’t like soggy soil. Follow a moderate watering schedule.
Botanical Name: Vigna radiata
Native to India, mung beans are small green beans from the legume family. They have a slightly sweet taste and eaten in soups, salads, dals, and stir-fry recipes. Also, these highly nutritious beans are an important source of essential vitamins and minerals.
How to Grow
Grow in well-draining soil with a pH 6.2-7.2. Sow the seeds when the soil has warm enough. Feed with a low nitrogen supplement such as 5-10-10.
Botanical Name: Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis
A member of the legume family Fabaceae, the Asparagus Beans are quite easy to grow. They are native to Southern Asia and grows best in warm climates. You can consume the leaves fresh and can cook young pods and beans.
How to Grow
Plant seeds 3/4 inch deep and use trellis for support—harvest when the pods reach 12-16 inches in length.
Most types of beans can be eaten at three stages of growth different varieties have been developed for different uses, however. Some shell bean varieties, for example, may have tough, stringy pods even when they're immature.
Beans need consistently moist soil for optimal growth. Make sure they get about 1 inch of water each week. Wet conditions or poorly drained soil may cause rust, root rot or gray mold. Make sure to keep the garden free of weeds that may compete with the young bean plants. Use caution when pulling and cultivating to avoid damaging the bean plants' roots. Side-dress the young plants prior to flowering with a 34-0-0 or 15.5-0-0 fertilizer.
Watch out for common pests such as aphids, Mexican bean beetles, spider mites and leafhoppers. Insects and improper care may cause deformed pods. Select bean varieties that are resistant to common mosaic virus, as there is no treatment for this, and infected plants must be destroyed.
Although beans are a warm-weather vegetable, hot temperatures above 90 degrees may cause flowers to drop and prevent the bean pods from setting. This issue will usually resolve itself when temperatures cool.