Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Buying Bean Seeds

by National Gardening Association Editors

Be sure to buy bean seeds from a reputable seed source. Just about all commercial bean seeds sold in garden centers and available through seed catalogs are grown in the West, where the climate is dry -- an excellent condition for growing healthy seed. Beans are much more susceptible to disease in the wetter conditions found in the East, and bean diseases can be carried from one season to the next in the seed.

Disease Resistant Varieties

Select resistant varieties if you have a recurring disease problem. For example, 'Tendercrop', 'Topcrop', 'Contender' bush, and 'Kentucky Wonder' and 'Blue Lake' pole beans have some resistance to common bean mosaic virus. Some seed packets and catalogs may also list resistance qualities of varieties. You can learn more about your area's best bean varieties from your local cooperative extension service.

Treated Seed

Use treated seed. A few seed companies pretreat bean seeds with a fungicide that protects the seeds from organisms in the soil that cause seed rot and "damping-off." Damping-off can prevent newly germinated seeds from coming up, or if they do come up, they may just keel over and die. Rotting is most common during cool, moist weather. It's easy to treat bean seeds yourself. The fungicide is sometimes called "seed protectant," and it usually comes in small packets, available at most garden stores. It's easy to use; just follow the instructions on the packet carefully.

If you don't use chemicals in your garden, you'll want to avoid treating your seeds with protectant. To lessen the possibility of damping-off disease it's important for you to wait until the soil is warm (60&deg F) and dry before planting beans.

Inoculating Seeds

Before planting, some gardeners "inoculate" their bean seeds. This is simply coating the seeds with a small amount of a special powdery bacteria that enables the plants to draw nitrogen from the air and deposit it in their roots. The ability to draw nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on the plant roots (or "fix" it) is unique to beans and other plants in the legume family, such as alfalfa and clover. Inoculants work best in poor soils that don't have much soil nitrogen for plants to use. In fertile soil, the bacteria occurs naturally, so you're not likely to need inoculants.

Inoculant comes in small packages, and it's usually available where you buy your seeds. A little goes a long way. Put the bean seeds in a pan, add a little water to moisten them. Add a small amount of inoculant, and stir the beans with a stick until most of them have a little powder on their seed coats. After they've been inoculated, plant them right away.

To improve your soil, chop, spade or till your disease-free bean plants into the earth immediately after the last harvest. You'll be adding valuable organic matter to the soil and releasing the nitrogen from the roots as well. Destroy all diseased plants.

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