In the Garden:
Crisp, tender, and pencil-thin, these beans were harvested at the peak of perfection.
Green beans are the second most popular vegetable grown in home gardens, but they're probably first in terms of being the easiest to grow. So easy, in fact, that planting beans is a great way to introduce youngsters to the fine art of gardening. Just like Jack, children are able to watch the seeds they sow grow and grow. And though they may not be able to climb them up into the clouds, the reward is one of the best taste treats of summer.
Garden beans can be broken down into three general groups based on when in their life cycle they are eaten: snap beans, fresh shell beans, and dry beans. Snap beans are eaten whole, including the pod and the small, immature seeds. They were formerly called "string beans" because fiber developed along the seams of the pods. These fibers have been reduced through selective breeding and the result is a tender pod with no strings at all.
Dry beans are the dried mature bean seeds and are appropriate for long-term storage. Fresh shell beans are somewhere between snap beans and dry beans. They are most often eaten fresh, with nearly mature seeds that have been removed from the pod but are still moist and tender.
When to Plant
Beans can have either a vining growth habit (pole beans) or a compact growth habit (bush beans), but all beans have similar growing requirements: full sun and a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Beans are warm-weather crops that won't tolerate cold temperatures or frost. In our region they should be planted after April 15th.
How many seeds should you plant? A good estimate is 5 to 10 feet of bush beans for a family of four. Since plants only produce for two to three weeks, you may want to make more than one sowing. You can assure yourself a continuous supply of snap beans by planting some seeds every two to four weeks until early August.
Pole beans produce more than bush beans, are a good space-saver for small gardens, and produce a longer harvest. However, they also take longer to mature.
Spacing and Depth
Beans do not transplant well, so plant seeds directly in the garden. Seeds of all varieties should be planted 1 inch deep. Sow seeds of bush beans 2 to 4 inches apart in rows at least 18 to 24 inches apart. Sow seeds of pole beans 4 to 6 inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart, or in hills (four to six seeds per hill) 30 inches apart with 30 inches between rows.
Seeds of most bean varieties tend to crack and germinate poorly if the soil's moisture content is too high. For this reason, never soak bean seed before planting. Instead, water just after planting or plant right before a rainstorm.
It's best to pull weeds by hand before they become large enough to compete with the bean plants, and use care when cultivating around the plants because beans have shallow root systems that are easily injured.
Harvest snap beans when the pods are firm, crisp, and pencil-sized, but before the seed within the pod has developed significantly. If you can see the bulge of a developing bean through the green pod, the bean is overmature. At this stage the pod will be too tough to eat. Harvest when plants are dry; picking beans from wet plants can spread bean bacterial blight, a disease that seriously damages the plants. Bean plants will continue to form new flowers and produce more beans if pods are continually removed before the seeds mature.
Shell beans are ready for harvest when the beans inside the pods have reached full size but the pods haven't yet begun to dry. To harvest dry beans, leave the pods on the vine until they are brown, dry enough to break open easily, the seeds rattle inside and are dry and hard.
Freshly harvested beans can be stored in plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Do not wash before storing -- wet beans will develop black spots and decay quickly. Instead, wash beans just before cooking or enjoying raw.
Store thoroughly dry beans shelled from their pods in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry spot for the longest storage.
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