Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Bean Essentials

by National Gardening Association Editors

Planning

  • All beans, except cool-weather fava beans, are sensitive to frost and cold soil temperatures.
  • Plant your main crop when the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past. Plant fava beans 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. On the West Coast, plant fava beans in the fall or late winter.
  • In the far North, grow large late-maturing lima beans by starting seeds in individual pots about 3 weeks before the average last spring frost date.
  • Rotate the location of your bean crops from year to year to discourage disease.

Preparation

  • Beans grow well in a wide range of soils without fertilizer. Where fertility is low, it's advisable to mix a complete fertilizer into the top 3 or 4 inches of soil before planting.
  • Set up trellises or pole tepees before planting climbing beans.

Planting

  • Generally, plant seed 2 to 4 inches apart and 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. Planting extra seeds and thinning out plants to the recommended spacing is best.

Care

  • Mulch snap and dried beans to help keep the soil cool and retain moisture.
  • See our article Summer's Bad Guys by Charlie Nardozzi for controls of common bean pests such as Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles.

Harvesting

  • Snap beans: Pods should be firm and crisp at harvest; the seeds inside should be undeveloped or very small. Hold stem with one hand and pod with other to avoid pulling off branches that will produce later pickings. Pick all pods to keep plants productive.
  • Shell beans: Pick these varieties when the pods change color and the beans inside are fully formed but not dried out. Pods should be plump, firm, and young. Quality declines if you leave them on the plant too long. They can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days before cooking if necessary.
  • Dried beans: Let the pods get as dry as possible in the garden. Before cold weather hits or when plants have turned brown and lost most of their leaves, pick all the dry pods (or pull the plants up if more drying time is needed) and store. Pods, when thoroughly dry, will split readily, making seeds easy to remove. Store dry beans in tight-lidded jars or cans in a dry, cool place.
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