Growing green beans is one of the most productive of our garden activities. Green beans are reliably pest-free, and can be counted upon to produce a bumper crop for eating fresh or freezing.
They don’t need rich soil to grow well; in fact, as members of the legume family, they help build up the soil where they are grown.
There are two basic kinds of green beans: bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans don’t require support and produce their crop over a fairly short period, while pole beans, which are “viney” and need a pole or trellis to climb, will continue to produce all season long if they are kept picked.
You have many varieties to choose from, from long slender French types to meaty Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder. Explore the seed catalogs (we like Johnny’s and Seed Savers’ Exchange), and you’ll surely find several you’ll like.
In Spring, plant seeds about 2 inches apart in rows about 18 inches apart in warm, well-cultivated soil. Bean seeds won’t germinate well in cold soil. While we can plant carrots and beets early, beans must wait until the soil is at least 70 degrees. Plant about one inch deep, firm but don’t pack the soil over them, and water well. Keep the seedbed moist until the beans germinate.
New bean seedlings are vulnerable to cutworms, which chew them off at ground level. You can protect the new plants by wrapping the stems with small patches of aluminum foil, or you can allow the cutworms to help you with thinning the seedlings.
You want to end up with your bean plants about 4 inches
apart. We also protect our new beans from hungry birds until they are about 4
inches tall by using hardware cloth tents.
Harvest your green beans when they are about the size of a pencil, before the seeds inside start to bulge. Keep picking, and your bean plants (especially pole beans) will continue to produce throughout the season.
If you want to enjoy shell beans, let the seeds grow nice and fat, but harvest before the pod starts to dry out. Then shell them and enjoy the tender beans inside by including them in soups or sautés.
Allowing the beans to mature and the pods to dry will give you protein-rich and long-storing dried beans. Harvest the pods when they are tan-colored and thin-skinned, but before they split open and scatter the seeds. Let them dry completely and shell the dried beans for delicious stews and soups.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy green beans is to sauté them in a little olive oil until they’re tender, then sauce them with a sweet/sour/spicy combination of soy sauce, garlic, rice vinegar, honey, and chili paste. Adjust the seasonings in the sauce to suit your taste, add some cubed tofu, and serve over steamed brown rice for a real treat.
Once you try growing green beans we’re sure you’ll be hooked on this simple and nourishing vegetable from the garden.
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