Mr. Green Beans

Growing your own green beans is one of the most rewarding gardening activities. The seeds are large and easy to plant, the plants grow quickly to flowering and fruiting, and even if you neglect them badly you'll still probably get something to eat. With a little planning you can have fresh beans from early summer until frost. The key is variety selection and succession planting.

The "green" in green beans doesn't refer only to the color, it also refers to when you harvest them. Green beans are picked while the seeds inside are still immature or "green." So let's dive headfirst into the world of the green bean.

Bush Beans

The most common type of green bean is the bush bean. Bush beans tend to grow 18 to 24 inches tall and produce a plethora of beans over a short one- to two-week period. Most bush beans mature a few months after planting, so they're a quick reward for your efforts. Some of the tried-and-true varieties include 'Blue Lake', 'Contender', and 'Greencrop'.

If you're looking for bean varieties especially resistant to bean diseases such as viruses try 'Topcrop', 'Tendergreen', and 'Derby'.

Bush beans aren't limited to the color green. There are varieties of yellow or wax beans, such as 'Golden Wax', and purple-pod beans, such as 'Royalty Purple Pod', that can add color to your raw bean salads. While the wax beans stay yellow after cooking, the purple-colored beans turn green.

Pole Beans

While bush beans are the simplest to grow, if you want to extend your bean picking season or have limited space, try growing beans vertically. Pole beans can be trellised up a pole, a tepee, or even a fence. They grow as quickly as bush beans, but start maturing a little later. Once the bush bean-picking season is over, the pole beans start coming on. The nice thing about pole beans is they produce handfuls of beans periodically until frost, so you'll have fresh beans until the weather kills the plant.

Some good pole bean varieties to grow include 'Kentucky Wonder' and 'Emerite'.

A Different Bean

While the standard bush and pole varieties are easy and fulfilling to grow, you might want to try a different type of bean. French filet beans have become very popular the last few years. These beans are stringless, and more slender and tender than traditional bush and pole beans. When cooked, they're so tender they almost melt in your mouth. Some good varieties include 'Maxibel' and 'Nickel'.

Growing a bean variety from a different continent can add novelty to your garden. The yard-long bean is a pole bean that hails from a different family of legumes. It produces 1- to 3-foot-long beans in pairs. Although they mature later than other pole beans, the pods stay slender and taste great in Asian cooking. They grow best during hot summer weather.

For more information on bean varieties go here..

Planting & Care

Beans are a warm-season crop so wait until the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees F before planting. To prepare your garden, till the soil and create raised beds. Amend the soil with compost, but don't add any other nitrogen-based fertilizer. Beans have the unique ability to fix their own nitrogen from the air, so they are self-sufficient.

For bush beans, plant double rows spaced about 6 to 8 inches apart on top of the raised beds. Thin the bean plants to about 4 inches apart after they germinate. Keep the bed watered and weeded, and in no time you'll be harvesting. For pole beans, plant three to four beans around the base of a pole. Let them climb the pole so you can harvest the beans while standing up. Pick the beans before the seeds inside begin to develop and form bumps in the pods. Once the seeds grow, the pods get tough and chewy. With beans, the more you pick, the more you get, so keep harvesting even if you can't eat them right away. There's always a neighbor or two who will appreciate some fresh beans for dinner.

Continuous Beans

The ease of growing beans leads to one of the downsides of growing them. It's easy to plant a 10-foot-long row of bush beans, but when they all mature at once, you face a glut of legumes. To have a manageable and consistent supply of fresh green beans all summer, plant a 3- to 4-foot-long row of bush beans every two weeks from late spring until midsummer. After the first batch of beans matures, pull out the plants and replant that area with a fall crop of spinach or lettuce. Also, grow a few different types of beans, such as bush, pole, and yard-long. These mature at different times and extend the harvest season.

Question of the Week

Spinach Not Germinating

Q. I start all my plants indoors in peat pots under grow lights. After several attempts at growing spinach, only one seed germinated. I used the same pots, the same starter mixture, and the same water as all my other vegetables, which are growing fine.

A. One possibility is bad or old seed. Spinach seed that is more than three years old may germinate poorly. If the seed is fresh, another possibility is that the soil temperature may be too warm. Spinach is a cool-season crop and can germinate at soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. If the soil temperature is around 85 degrees F, germination is inhibited. The ideal soil temperature is 68 degrees F. I'd suggest soaking the seeds overnight in warm water to initiate germination and then try growing them again in a cool room in your house. They don't need to be under lights to germinate, but once they are up, move them under your grow lights.

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