Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables
Caring For & Harvesting Beans
by National Gardening Association Editors
Once you've planted beans, you can relax because growing them is easy. They grow very well all by themselves, and that's one of the prime reasons they're so popular with home gardeners. To have a satisfactory bean harvest the two most important things are to stay out of the garden when it's wet to avoid spreading diseases, and to keep picking snap beans when they're young for a continuous harvest.
The third important thing is to be careful when weeding. Beans grow quickly and shade out weeds, particularly if the beans are grown in wide rows. If you've prepared the soil well, your weed worries will be few. The only time to be concerned is when beans are very young, before they've developed their leafy shade.
If you're working around young bean plants with a hoe or other weeding tool, or if you're cultivating between rows, remember to stay near the surface. Weed seeds are tiny and must be very close to the surface to germinate -- not like beans, which are planted at least one inch deep. A gentle stirring of the top 1/4 inch of soil every 4 to 5 days pulls the germinating weeds out of the soil and exposes their roots to the sun, which kills them.
Shallow is Better
Deep cultivation is bad for two reasons: It injures the roots of the beans, and it brings more weeds up near the surface of the soil where they'll germinate. A good time to cultivate is after a rain but when the plants are completely dry and the soil has dried out a little. This is when many weeds start to germinate.
Once the bean leaves grow enough to shade the ground, there shouldn't be any weed problem within the row, and a good heavy mulch or regular cultivation in the pathways should take care of weeds there.
It's best to harvest snap beans when they're just about the diameter of a pencil or even a bit smaller. Simply snap them off the plant - take care, though, because hard jerking may tear the vines, reducing later harvests.
For the best flavor and nutritional value pick snap beans when they're young and tender. You really can't overharvest snap beans. When you pick the pods, you encourage more blossoms and more pods. That's because the plant is trying to produce large, mature seeds to complete its life cycle. When it succeeds in producing seeds, the plant will stop blossoming and making pods, so keep picking.
After your first picking, you can probably pick again three to five days later. Just pick, pick, pick, and in order to keep the harvest going as long as possible, don't let any seeds develop inside the pods.
Picking Green Shell Beans
When shell beans are young, they're greenish. They begin turning color when they're ready for picking at the green shell stage. 'Horticultural' beans turn a strawberry roan color, 'Kidney' beans become red and limas mature to a creamy white color. When you pick them, pick only the pods without damaging the plants.