No garden is complete without beans. This might be just one gardener's opinion but I am sure many will agree.  Beans are a great choice if your goal is to grow nutrient rich foods. They provide not only protein and carbohydrates but also much needed fiber to our diets.

There is nothing like fresh snap beans, easy to harvest and easy to eat. Beans are my second favorite garden vegetable to preserve, coming in close behind tomatoes. I love eating sour crunchy pickled dilly beans deep into winter.  A common snack from my childhood that I brought with me into adulthood. Over the past ten years I have even dabbled in growing dry beans as well.  I love trying heirloom varieties with rich and creamy flavors that grocery store beans can not compete with.  

Now that you are hooked, let’s take a look at some different types of beans, to see what is right for you. 

Bush versus Pole

These two words describe the growth habit of the bean.

Bush beans are compact and small plants that grow low to the ground. Bush bean plants will reach about 18 inches high. If you have a small garden with low infrastructure this is a great choice. They do require you to bend to harvest them unless you are growing them in containers or above ground beds.  Bush beans come in both dry bean varieties and snap bean varieties. Bush beans are less labor intensive and are cheaper to grow because you do not need any extra infrastructure. 

Pole Beans get their name because they have a vine like quality like peas and grow best when supported by a pole or trellis. They are also the recommended bean for poly-cultures like the Three Sisters, which is corn, beans and squash grown together. The pole beans use the corn as their trellis. Pole beans are great because they are extremely prolific. It is also a lot easier to pick pole beans because they grow upright and you can pick them while standing. There are lots of fun ways to grow pole beans including on arches or tripods made from bamboo. The bean vines climb up whatever structure you provide them with making beautiful shade canopies. If you’re trying to maximize your garden space, pole beans might be a good option. They will make use of vertical space as the plants have a small footprint. Leaving room for other vegetables in the beds around them.


Snap Beans

Also known as string beans, green beans and wax beans. Snap beans are a bountiful garden snack that can be eaten fresh, blanched or sauteed. They are harvested before the seeds fully mature and have a tender quality. This is what you would use for pickling as well. If you like to eat beans as a fresh vegetable this is one of the best options. For most varieties the more often you harvest the beans the more they will produce. Snap beans come in all different colors. There are pole varieties and bush varieties of snap beans. The growth habit will be included in the variety description when you are picking out your bean seed. If you want to save seed from your snap beans, allow some pods to pulley mature. Pods are mature when they are dry and have turned whitish brown.

Dry Beans

Dry beans are harvested when the seeds have fully matured. The seeds can then be stored for use later in the year. Dry bean varieties were selected to have the best texture and flavor when cooked.  You can store dry beans for multiple years. Generally, dry beans are not eaten fresh but there are some crossovers like Dragon Tongue Wax and Cranberry Bush.  Some common dry bean varieties are Cannellini and Black Turtle.  Growing dry beans is a great way to fill your pantry for the winter. It takes a bit of space in the garden to grow enough beans for your household. This type is recommended for those with larger gardens.  Dry pole bean varieties are recommended for poly-culture like the Three Sisters.

Soy Beans

Although they come from the  Fabacea family, like other beans, soybeans are a different genus. They are native to Asia and are the base ingredient for tofu and fermented dishes like natto and tempeh. You might also have eaten them fresh as Edamame, a Japanese dish. Soy beans have bushy growth habits and can be grown in a wide variety of climates. They are frost tender and can either be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate means that all of the seed pods will come on at once and the plant will cease leaf  production. Indeterminate beans continue to grow leafy matter while producing seed pods.  Soybeans can be eaten immature and fresh or cooked when dry. 

Fava Beans

Also known as broad beans or faba beans. Another member of the Fabaceae family fava beans come from a different genus. They are usually eaten when they are immature. The beans are removed from the shell before cooking. Fava beans make an excellent cover crop and have a bush growth habit. They can be planted in late fall to over winter and are quite cold tolerant. Fava beans like other Fabaceae plants fix nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is an important component in plant growth. 


How to Grow Beans

Beans grow best when they are sown directly into prepared garden beds.  Most beans are frost sensitive, with the exception of fava beans. Plant your bean seeds about one inch deep after your last spring frost.  Beans germinate best in soil temperatures around 70 degrees. If the soil is too cold and wet the seeds may rot before they sprout. 

If you are growing bush beans, plant them in rows that are 16 inches apart. Sow seeds about every 4 inches. Thin plants to one foot spacing after the seedlings have emerged.  Bush beans do not require a trellis.

Pole beans need support. It is easier to put your supporting trellis or poles in place before you sow your bean seeds. Plant the bean seeds close to the trellis about 3-4 inches away from the base. Once the seedlings come up, help the tendrils find the trellis so they can begin climbing. 

If you want to harvest  green beans all summer succession plant seeds every two weeks or so until about early July. Beans planted in July should mature by late August and provide until the first frost.


Happy Planting!

Taryn Hunter