Green beans are a vegetable gardeners' best friend. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or new to the game, growing green beans is a cinch and a great staple to have season after season.
Choosing Green Bean Varieties
One of the most exciting aspects of growing green beans is the vast selection of varieties. There are dozens of colors, sizes, textures, and even plant structures. To help narrow down your choice, its best to determine which plant structure fits your space best.
As the name would suggest, bush beans grow close to the ground and require very little maintenance. They tend to have an earlier maturity date meaning your bush plants will produce faster than your climbing plants. These days vary by variety, but bush beans generally begin producing around 50-55 days, whereas climbing varieties run 60-65 days before producing. If you don't mind planting a few successions of beans, bush varieties may be the way to go, as you will get more than one harvest.
If you're just getting your feet wet, perhaps just one planting of climbing beans is the way to go. Climbing varieties tend to produce more per plant than bush beans and are usually more disease-resistant. However, their need for trellising and training does make them more high maintenance in some ways. All of these factors should be considered before selecting a variety to plant.
How to Sow Green Beans
Once you've made your selections, there are a few things that you should know about planting green beans.
First, your seeds should be direct sown. It's not often that you will see bean starts sold at a greenhouse or nursery, and there is a reason for it. Beans do not transplant well because they have very fragile root systems. It takes a skilled hand and someone not afraid of painstakingly tedious work to pull off successful green bean transplants.
Another reason beans should be direct sown because, unlike a tomato plant that can provide you with a substantial amount of fruit from a single plant, you will need many, many bean plants to make it worth your efforts. The average bush bean produces roughly a half-pound of fruit throughout an entire season. Climbing beans double that at nearly a full pound per season, but even so, you will want several plants to ensure a decent harvest. Direct sowing seed is the best and most economical practice for growing green beans.
Preparing the Soil
Before you direct sow your seeds, you should prepare the ground by loosening the soil and perhaps even mixing in a bit of fertilizer. Select a low-dose nitrogen fertilizer if you feel that your soil could benefit from fertilizing before planting. A 5-10-10 or a 6-12-12 would be ideally suited for the job. Legumes (beans, peas, etc.) give back to your garden as they have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacterium. This process allows them to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen, which they release into the soil. For this reason, fertilizers with particularly high nitrogen doses should be avoided.
Soak the Seed
Another helpful preparation to take before planting your beans is to soak your seed. All legume seed is rather large and non-porous and can have difficulty getting the adequate moisture necessary for germination depending on soil type. Soaking your seeds in clean, cool water for 4-6 hours before planting can greatly improve germination rates.
However, don't soak seeds for too long, as they will begin to break down, and the chances of rot and bad bacteria growth increase much over 8 hours. If you plan to use a legume inoculant to help with germination and production (this is not necessary but can prove helpful), it should be applied after beans have soaked and have been drained of any excess water.
Your ground is prepped, your seeds have been soaked, and now it is time to plant! Green beans are sort of a funny mid-season vegetable. While they don't quite have the hardiness of cold weather-loving carrots or peas, they aren't quite as sensitive as heat-loving tomatoes and peppers. Seeds will germinate between fifty and seventy degrees Fahrenheit.
The warmer it is, the faster your "days to germination" will be, but you can still get fairly successful germination once soil temps are consistently above fifty degrees. This is helpful to know for gardeners with shorter growing seasons who would like to get more than one crop or succession of beans per season. You can often start them 2-3 weeks before your nightshade crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.) are ready to go outside.
Light and Water Requirements
Proper light and water are perhaps the most crucial inputs to a successful bean harvest. Your bean plants will need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight for optimal production. When planting in a residential space, choosing a southwest plot that is not blocked by trees or structures is often best.
Root structures on green beans are very shallow, so, depending on your soil type, you may notice that your beans require more watering than other crops in your garden. You'll know your beans are not getting sufficient water when they start dropping blossoms, and there is no fruit production despite an otherwise healthy-looking plant.
Once you get your watering and sunlight right, your bean plants should almost autopilot from germination to harvest. As mentioned previously, green beans have a reasonably short life/production cycle, so if you fertilize before planting, you shouldn't need to apply anything else in the way of nutrition.
Harvesting Green Beans
Keeping your beans well picked is essential for a bountiful harvest. You should plan on harvesting your beans every 3-5 days, depending on how firm and/or meaty you like them. Picking your beans less often results in the plant going to seed and sends the message to your plants that it no longer has to produce as much because it has successfully reproduced.
If you plan to eat your beans fresh, pick every 2-3 days when beans are small and most tender is best. If you plan to can or process your beans, you can often get away with a few more days in between pickings. Just don't neglect picking for very long or you'll stunt your plants production. You will know your plants are done producing when they are no longer setting blossoms and begin to look somewhat tattered. This is your sign that its time to pull them and begin a new succession or wait until next season.
As you can see, there is some work that goes into growing green beans, but for the most part, they're a fairly low-fuss vegetable. Considering their versatility and prolificacy, most gardeners would agree that they are worth what little elbow grease they require. Just remember, light, water, and pick, pick, pick, and you'll have more beans than you could possibly ever roast, steam, can, freeze, or pickle! Happy growing!