Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables
A Bounty of Beans (page 2 of 4)
by Susan Littlefield
Like their cousins, the peas, beans are members of the legume family. This means that, with the help of specialized bacteria (Rhizobium) in the soil, beans can take up and use nitrogen from the air. So you don't need to worry about adding extra nitrogen to the soil for your bean crop. In fact, the beans will leave your soil more fertile than they found it! If you are planting beans or peas for the first time in your garden, you may want to mix your seeds with a purchased inoculant powder to make sure these helpful bacteria are present. But once they've been introduced, they become established and don't need to be added yearly.
Beans do need well-drained soil and will benefit from a 2 to 3-inch layer of compost or composted manure worked into the soil before planting. If your soil is low in fertility, you can add a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10 to boost phosphorus and potassium levels.
Don't rush your bean planting. Bean seeds planted in soil below 60 F will often rot before they germinate. So wait until your soil is warm and dry before tucking in those seeds. Raised beds are a good choice for bush beans because the soil in them dries and warms soonest. Pole beans are more demanding of warm soil- they like it to be at least 65 F, so plant them about a week after you make your first bush bean planting. Make successive small plantings of bush beans every week or so until midsummer for a season long harvest.
Plant bush beans in rows 1-2 feet apart, spacing the seeds 1 inch apart and 1-2 inches deep; thin plants to 4-6 inches when they are a couple of inches tall. Pole beans climb by twining and need a 6-8 foot tall fence, trellis or pole to clamber up. Plant their seeds 1-2 inches deep at the base of the support. If you are using poles for support, place 4-6 seeds in a circle about 6 inches out from the base of the pole; thin to one or two of the strongest plants per pole.
Caring for Your Beans
Beans are generally a pretty trouble-free crop. They will do best if they don't have to compete with weeds and have consistent moisture. A mulch such a straw put down after the seedlings have come up will help to retain soil moisture and keep weeds down. The pollination of bean flowers can be affected by temperatures that are too high or too low. If it gets below 60F during the day or 40 F at night, the developing beans in the pods may abort, giving you pods that are misshapen or incompletely filled. And temperatures over 90 F can cause blossoms to drop and no pods to form. Once these problematic temperatures pass, the beans will resume bearing.