How to Grow Beans: The Ultimate Guide

Ed Wike
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Beans: Quick Care Guide

There are countless varieties of beans that vary in color, size, legnth and shape. They grow in containers and outdoor gardens alike and come in dwarf and bush varieties. You can find varieties that grow two feet tall and varieties that don't grow over a foot high. Traditionally, beans are planted in a wider plot than they are tall.

Beans have compact root systems making them easier to grow compared to other crops. You can plant beans in both spring and summer. Winter is too cold for beans to thrive. Keep in mind, however, that plants grown in the latter months of the year may not yield as much.

There are three main types of beans: shelling beans, snap beans, and dry beans.

You can purchase these types either as the typical dried beans or available with a few pounds of pre-picked beans in the shell.

Shelling Beans: Not all beans need to be shelled, but shelling beans, so named because they are meant to be re-shelled, are great for soups and stews. They are also ideal for freezing and planting for later use.

Snap Beans: Snap beans are best known for their tender skins and delicious sweetness, so it is no wonder they are so popular. The most popular snap bean is the green bean and you can purchase them either as lush green beans or yellow wax bean varieties. While some varieties of snap beans are best eaten fresh, others possess a longer shelf life and make great additions to salads and stir fries.

Dry Beans: Dry beans are usually found in grocery stores in only one form, allowing them to be used in a large variety of cooking. Using dry beans is a great way to make your own dried beans at home at a fraction of the cost of buying pre-shelled beans.

Shelling: Snap: Dry:

Adzuki, black, black bean, butter beans, cranberry, Pinto Black Turtle, flageolet, Garbanzo, great northern, bean, kidney, Peruvian,

Shelling Beans

Some farmers leave the dry beans in the clumps for the winter and then till them under in the spring for green manure. This is particularly useful if you have a coarser crop than beans, such as a rye or clover, the roots of which tend to break the clumps apart.

If you have a finer crop, such as cereal radishes or spinach, this is not a problem. You can still plant them as the weather warms up.

Planting dates vary depending on the variety of beans you are sowing, so get advice from your seed shop or check the packet. Most green beans will need the soil to be at least 60F/16C before they can germinate.

Although they will germinate (seed the soil) within a couple of weeks after sowing, sowing beans at the start of April will give you a crop the following June.

In the wild, beans like a good supply of water and good drainage. On your plot, give them an extra-deep bed to keep them well watered and make sure that they are well mulched. If you have no mulching material at hand, straw makes a good substitute.

Pole & Runner Beans

Runner beans, French beans, or Scarlet Runners are good climbers to grow up strings, fences, or other supports. Depending on the variety, and if they are sown at the right time, beans can be picked young, at the baby stage, eaten whole, or older when their pods have formed and flowered.

Runner beans will also bear larger pods if they are growing in fertile soil and are maintained while they grow. This means keeping the soil weed free and taking off the odd flower on the plant.

All beans do well in sandy loams but if you are growing them on your patio, you will need rich soil. This gives them the nutrients they may need to flower properly.

Runner beans do sometimes have a problem of being affected by powdery mildew. The best preventative measures are: “planting climbers in different places on your garden, in dry soils, in full sun; “cleaning up any old foliage that may be lying around on the floor of the garden or compost heap; “getting the flowers off the plants as they appear and; “taking off any flower that starts to develop after five o'clock in the afternoon.

Bush Beans

Bush beans are often bred to be smaller and are excellent for growing in a garden or in containers. However, they can still grow fairly tall if left unpruned. These beans are easy to grow. To extend the harvest period, plant multiple varieties that mature at different times of the year. They are the perfect choice for a beginner who doesn’t have a lot of space. You can also stagger the planting times to have a continuous harvest of them.

Bush beans can be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Beans love soil that is not too rich. They will need a lot of sun and need to dry out well after watering.

Beans can be grown vertically or horizontally. The more vertical you make the soil, the more beans you will get off the vine. You can teepee them, stake them, trellis them or just leave them leaned up against the side of a fence.

The harvesting of bush beans differs from their growing. When beans are picked you want to minimize their exposure to the vibrant sunlight and you want to dry them off for a while before you use them. Soaking overnight is usually enough time to do both.

Unusual Beans

Before planting your beans, it's a good idea get to know some of the different types of beans available. Not every bean plant produces the traditional green legume that we all think of. Some of them grow as colorful pods and flowers.

Here is a list of common beans and their unusual cousins:

  • Dried beans: Red beans, black beans, pinto beans, brown beans and lima beans are all in the same family. They're also all part of the genus phaseolus.
  • Lima beans: These are part of the genus Phaseolus, but they're a different family from the other beans on the list. However, they're all grown in pretty much the same way.
  • Bush beans: This is the spot where you can put any different kind of green bean you want to grow. Scarlet runner beans, Romano beans, scarlet runner beans, and more all come in varieties that grow shorter than the standard pole bean that most people think of. Bush beans are perfect for small spaces, in containers, or if you want to grow fresh beans up a trellis or teepee without needing to plant the tall pole bean variety that most people think of.

Planting Beans

If you have opted to start a bean garden this year, the first thing you will want to do is decide if you want to grow your beans –bush or pole. Bush beans should be planted 1 to 1½ inches deep and approximately 4 inches apart. Pole beans are a little more work, but the payoff can be well worth it. Pole beans require stakes or poles to climb.

Beans like warm, wet soil, so if you live in a cooler climate, you should plan on starting your plants in seed trays or indoors.

Although they need plenty of sunlight, be sure to provide them with adequate warmth and water for best results.

Once your bean plant has produced a sizable vine, it is time to transfer it to its final location.

Since most beans are not vine heavy, it probably will not require a trellis or stake.

Choose a spot that is well drained and provides ample sunlight. Beans do not like shade at this stage, so try not to plant them near trees or low hanging branches.

Once you have planted your seeds and they have germinated, keep the beans moist.

They will produce a very thin pole once they begin to grow.

After the bean plant has established itself, pinch off the top of the plant.

This will force the plant to begin producing side branches with more bean pods.

When To Plant Beans

TIP: When trying to grow beans, it is important to plant them early. Doing so will give them plenty of time to thrive, establish themselves, and grow. With a longer growing time, they have a better chance of staving off disease. This is especially important for seeds that you can save for future planting because they will have more time to get established before the cold temperatures hit.

You can start most beans as early as you can work the soil … this can be as early as 2 or 3 weeks before the last frost. This is very important because most of the popular bean varieties are types that need to be started indoors, so using that time to work the soil means that things are ready just in time to plant the seed outside.

Beans grow best in temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit can inhibit the growth and germination of beans. Beans prefer a soil that is loose and free from stones or debris. You should also add plenty of fertilizer to keep the soil nutrient rich.

If you want to grow the beans in rows, this is best done when the soil has warmed up to the ideal temperature. Seed early, so that beans have plenty of time to establish their root system and reach maturity before the first frost.

Where To Plant Beans

Bean varieties are either bush or pole types. This refers to the growth habit. Bush beans are vining plants which are self supporting. Pole beans need to be tethered to stakes. A bean trellis is the most common method of supporting pole beans. Pole beans are smaller than bush beans, but bear in mind that shelled pole beans have a small stem, so it may take a bit more to fill your bowl.

The best soil for growing beans is warm, well-drained, and slightly sandy with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Beans prefer a sandy loam and are not heavy feeders.

When beans are growing they use a lot of nitrogen and storing beans take up less nitrogen. Solutions that use covering like floating row covers or newspaper over the soil can reduce nitrogen needs. In cool climates, beans will grow slowly and may be short-lived. Beans can handle cold better than heat, but they do best with full sun and warm soil temperature 70s-80s F.

Beans are sensitive to moisture when seedlings first emerge. Sow seeds shallow and keep the area moist for 1 week. Then slowly lessen watering to the point that the seeds get just enough water to germinate. Once beans have emerged and are growing well you can be less restrictive on the watering.

You can harvest beans at just the snap stage which is when the seeds have grown but the pods are still immature.

How To Plant Beans

The best time to plant beans is in the spring. Fall is also a good time, but you'll need to start them indoors as earlier, but later than, spring. Place your plants in full sun, in a garden bed that has been prepped with organic matter and is kept loose. Do not plant them where potatoes, sugar-snap peas, tomatoes, or peppers have recently grown or where potatoes or tomatoes are still in use.

Purchase a nitrogen-fixing fertilizer to mix into the soil. A little bit of compost is a good idea, too. Make a hole about a foot deep and fill each hole with a handful of the fertilizer and a handful of compost.

Plant your beans about a foot apart in the holes and cover with a thin layer of soil you dug out of the hole. Water thoroughly. Watch your beans grow!

Caring For Beans

Beans are fast-growing plants with a mild, yet distinctive flavor. There are many different varieties of beans that can be used in many recipes. Some may be used to grow beans in your own garden, depending on the type of climate, soil, and season.

The beans make a soft crunching sound when they are mature and their pods can be harvested when they are turning yellow.

There are 3 different types of beans, the runner, the pole, and the bush beans. Runner beans grow erect on vines that only germinate from previously harvested seeds. Pole beans grow up tall stakes or trellises, and these need to be firmly secured in the ground. Bush beans grow on wide bushy, short vines that can be planted in close proximity to each other. The seed pods of each bean can be harvested and used for some yummy recipes.

Sun

Light, Soil & Water.

Beans can be grown in full sun or as a half shade plant.

To maximize growth and profitability, look for full sun conditions. But, for the home gardener without a lot of space, beans work great in a few hours of spring sun or eventually in partial shade.

Beans don't need a lot of water, but they require enough water to maintain sturdy growth.

Beans are not drought tolerant and can be damaged by temperatures below freezing and especially high temperatures.

Beans can be planted in the garden or in pots. Beans can be planted in a seedling tray and then moved into the garden. Transplanting is easier than direct sowing.

Stick with soil that is well drained because moisture on the bean leaves can lead to diseases.

Fertilize after planting with a well balanced fertilizer.

Temperature

Beans may be considered as one of the warm-weather vegetables, but a high temperature of above 85 degrees fahrenheit, coupled with sunny days and dry atmosphere, is for many varieties, the limit. Although a temperature the upper range was responsible for the yellowing, it was the slow growth that carried the penalty of less production.

Too low a temperature is not so serious to destroy production if the bean is a climable one (Kentucky Wonder and Lady Godiva), but the slowed-down growth will most likely cause a reduction in size, while a certain degree of chilling will cause wrinkling of the pod, and depending on the degree of chilling, will delay maturity.

The bean is the most sensitive of all the plant family to weather and temperature. It is the plant family which shows the most variability in the response to weather conditions, with wide variation in days to maturity and this is why so many bean varieties, or seed, are available. The bean is not a great plant for warm climates, or it will mature too quickly, which makes it subject to rot or too much heat.

Watering

One of the most important factors in growing beans is water, so you’ll have to be disciplined about how you use it. Keeping the soil well-watered is a good way to ensure your beans grow, but you don’t want it to be too wet.

When you water your bean plants, do so deeply and infrequently. The goal is to have the entire root structure completely saturated. Don’t pour water onto the leaves of the bean plant, this can encourage mold.

Soil moisture meters are an excellent way to test how soaked your soil is. Use them in a couple of places to get an average reading. This will help you to give your beans the right amount of water.

To test the soil, stick one end of your trowel into the ground about three inches. Push in and pull out quickly to remove some of the soil. Put it into a dry measuring cup. Next, fill the measuring cup with tap water. Swirl it around and pour it out, watching the water level in the cup. The soil should be damp to the touch, with no dry pockets. If it is any more than that, wait a day or two and test again when the soil is a little on the dry side.

Soil

Before starting your bean seeds, you must prepare the soil. Beans like a soil that drains well; if the ground is never completely dry after a heavy rain, you might want to plant your beans somewhere else. Beans prefer soils that are well-drained and have no standing water.

To be sure that you have a proper drainage, you should dig your rows about 30 inches apart and fill in the trench with gravel and sand. Place these sources in a ratio of 3:2 respectively. The sand is added to help your beans withstand periods of drought.

Fertilizing

Runner beans are high feeders, requiring fertilization throughout the growing season. Just before planting, apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Additional applications of fertilizer should be made after the first picking of beans, about every 10 days. If the leaves turn yellow, apply a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content such as a 12-12-12.

Training & Pruning Beans

The first thing that you must be sure to do when growing beans is to prune them. Pruning can be set out in stages, allowing you to determine when and how to trim your beans. The pruning is necessary to achieve an optimal harvest.

The first thing you have to do is to analyze the plant growth. You have to look at the top part of the plant, where the leaves are located. Look to see the heads. When the heads and leaves are fully expanded, you need to cut a few of the stems or branches off at the ground level.

The next step is to wait and observe the plant. If the bean plants buds are developing, it means there is a branch with a full width, which is going to be a good choice for yielding. When you are selecting the branch, you have to cut the branch that is at the last stage of growth. The branch that is at the latest stage of growth will have the biggest diameter.

The next step you have to do is to make a vertical cut on the branch that you have picked. Make a cut about 6 to 12 inches above the ground. The cut should be between ½ and ¾ inches in size. Then, you have to wait until the plant is about to flower and grows a few pods. Then, you can make a horizontal cut that is about a foot or almost six inches below the node.

Propagation

Bean seeds can be directly sown in pots or can become a part of a transplanting crop. Direct seed beans in the spring and summer when the temperatures are at least two cooled weeks above freezing. The soil temperature should be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, in order for the beans to germinate successfully.

Bean seeds should be planted about three inches deep to help prevent the seedlings from winding and having fungal diseases. The soil should be moist, but not too wet.

It is important to ensure the soil is moist and is kept wet during germination. To help maintain soil moisture, mulching will help. Mulching helps keep the soil moist and cooler, which allows for more balanced germination.

The first leaves do not show for the first two to three weeks. The germination period will take between fourteen and sixteen days. Be patient, especially with the slower varieties, as some beans may take longer. If unsure about germination, do not remove the test pot from below the germination apparatus until you are certain of germination.

After the first leaves are present on the plants, the plants will need to be thinned to allow for more sunshine and air circulation around the plants.

Transplanting

You have probably never thought of beans as finicky plants. Their hardiness makes beans seem like they are definitely in the "set it and forget it" category. But beans, in fact, do have one big weakness: they don't transplant well. You have to take extra care when you move your beans from the growing pot to the garden.

Beans are actually a tender annual. That means you need to start them from seed indoors and continue taking care of them until the weather is nice enough to put them in the ground. If you don't, your plants may die.

Transplanting your beans into the garden takes a very careful approach. When you go to transplant your beans, some of them will be curled up looking tired. This is natural. The beans are resting, after growing their first type of leaves. The next stage for the plants will be to start growing the second type of leaves and their first set of pods.

When you are going to transplant your beans into the garden, the first thing you need to do is make sure that the plants are really ready to be transplanted. You can test them by gently tugging on a branch. If it easily breaks loose, then it is likely that the bean plants are ready for transplanting.

Sprouting Beans

Open the jar lid carefully to avoid the gas release while adding water. A good place to start is with sprouting beans. It is easy and it saves you time. Here is how to grow beans in jars:

Follow the instructions on the package. Add water and let it sit with no lid on.

After 2 hours, rinse the beans with the stream of water. Rinse every day until a green sprout appears.

Fold a paper towel and place it on top of the jar. Rinse the beans every day.

In a week time, the beans will be ready to be planted outside.

Harvesting and Storing Beans

It is extremely important that the beans be picked at the right time and stored properly from there. They must not be allowed to become leathery, as they will in storage. Leathery beans may be tender on the outside, but they will have the hard texture of a green bean on the inside. If the beans are picked too early, they may not be completely filled out, which will result in short beans. Beans with short poles are not usable for planting.

The seeds must be extracted from the pods and dried immediately, because the seeds lose viability quickly if they are not dried quickly. Beans that are not dried properly can be planted, but they will not germinate.

For a best flavor, grow the beans in rows in the garden. This will enable you to direct the plants the way you want them, and this will ensure you have a good harvest. After the beans are fully mature, pick them individually. Their size will determine if they are seed beans or snap beans. Make sure to leave the pods on the plants until they are fully mature.

Harvesting Beans

There are a few things to keep in mind when harvesting beans.

If you're picking beans for eating, you want to pick them as soon as you see them.

If you're saving the beans for planting next year, pick them when the pod has a brownish color.

The pods should be dry, but not brown.

Be careful not to let the pods spoil. You may want to freeze any you're not using.

Bean seeds contain about 30% moisture. If beans are stored with high moisture content, the seeds can become moldy or start sprouting.

Storing Fresh Shelled Beans

In the common parlance, a bean is a small seed, such as one that grows within a pod on a leguminous plant. Some of the more popular beans which fit this description are kidney beans, lima beans, and fava beans. The collective noun form of this word is –Bean Pod”. In botanical terms, a bean is a flowering fruit.

The main feature separating beans from legumes is the fact that a bean has a one-seeded pod where the legume has an indeterminate pod that can contain multiple beans. It should not be surprising that at many supermarkets, you can purchase beans and legumes, either in their dried form, or in their shelled form and ready to be cooked. There are many different ways to prepare these beans, and many different ways to cook them.

Beans have been a large part of the human diet since prehistoric times. The reason why they have been so popular is because they are packed full of nutrients. Beans are also low in fat, and they contain no cholesterol. They also have a high fiber content, which helps to prevent constipation. Because of these health benefits, beans are very popular in diets such as the “Paleo” Diet and the “Mediterranean” Diet.

Storing Dried Shelled Beans

If you have a large harvest, you can store shelled beans in the refrigerator for up to a month.

You can also store them in a freezer in airtight plastic bags for up to a year.

To prevent beans from developing a rancid smell, you can slightly cook them to make them last even longer. That same trick works wonderfully for storing other dried goods.

Once you cook your beans, you can easily freeze them by placing them into plastic freezer bags and then removing as much of the air as possible. They will last in the freezer for up to a year. If you like your beans salted, sea salt works very well to preserve them.

If you freeze your beans, you can also invest in a Handy Pantry. This storage bin is to bean storage what the Dehydrator is to fruit and vegetable storage. Freeze your beans in individual bags. Once they have frozen, simply drop the bag into the storage bin and pull it out when you need it.

Storing Fresh Whole Beans

Fresh beans are incomparably better than older beans, which are dry, chewy, and seem to have “gone off” somehow. Before cooking, store your beans in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.

After that first week, move them to the freezer in an airtight plastic bag for up to three months.

While your beans may stay good for longer in the freezer than that, freshness might not be guaranteed after three months.

Once defrosted, use beans within a few days or cook them up that very night.

The following tips go a long way to keeping your beans fresh:

Store your beans in a sealed container with a breathable plastic bag.

Rinse the beans before using them to remove the salt used to preserve them, if any.

Gently pat the surface of the beans with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.

Just before cooking, remove the beans from the bag, and rinse them again.

Store any unused beans in a freezer bag resealable around said breathable bag, to prevent freezer burn.

Other Ways To Preserve Fresh Whole Beans

Preventing beans from spoiling is not that difficult if you observe the following:

Many people think that only freezing beans can help them prevent spoilage. But actually, beans can keep for a long time if they are properly sealed in airtight containers.

If these beans are vacuum-packed, exposure to oxygen can be reduced and they can remain safe for at least 6 months. If sealable jars are used, they can stay good for a year.

But if you vacuum-pack your beans in a nonsealable container or leave them exposed to oxygen, they will only stay good for a few months.

To prevent spoilage and maintain their natural goodness, make sure you place beans in an airtight container. Add a suitable oxygen absorber, vacuum packed, or plastic sealed jars get rid of the free space and extra oxygen. Keep your beans in a dark and cool place.

Troubleshooting

Having trouble growing beans? Check out this troubleshooting guide to beans.

Too Many Beans Forming on the Vine

If you have a mild case of this, you can just clip off any excess pods from the plant that you want to keep. Beans become stringy and tough when they grow this way.

If you have a more severe case of this, pick off all the blossoms (pods) from your plants in the first four to six weeks, when they are right after they emerge from the ground. You may still end up with an overabundance of beans, but it will be less than if you leave them on the plant.

Green Seed Pod

There is nothing wrong with this. The light green color is a sign that we have pollination and the seed has started to develop. As the seed matures, the pod will turn from a light green to a dark green.

Crinkly Leaves

This is a sign of nitrogen deficiency. Check out how to add nitrogen to your beans.

Slow Growth

A lack of nitrogen may be the cause of slow growing beans. Check out how to add nitrogen to your beans.

Leaf Problems

Brown or black leaf tips can be the result of not fertilizing properly. Look for the cause of low nitrogen or magnesium and adjust your fertilizing routine.

Growing Problems

Beans, like most plants, are sensitive to extreme conditions. Sometimes growing bean seed is such an easy process that you forget there can be problems. Over-watering is a very common problem that result in stunted growth, which is irreversible at this point. Under-watering and excessive heat can also lead to a poor growth, shortage of food stored in the roots for the production of energy and, eventually, death of the plant.

Pests are another source of problems, whether they are a source of a disease or not. If you have decided to grow beans inside, then you will need to prevent pests from getting inside the house.

Here are the most common problems that you are likely to come across and the solution for each one of them:

  • Wet pods: the plants are very vulnerable during flowering. They can either be too dry or too wet. Beans need high humidity, but the pods can also rot if they get too much water.
  • Too little light: plants need a lot of light, but without the right amount of it, the roots are going to struggle to get all of the nutrients they need. The plants are going to die ” and that is if they don't wilt first.

Pests

While it's difficult (and depressing) to prevent pests and disease from happening, it's not impossible. Prevention is in large part about using the best practices. That's why we should always try to use new certified seed varieties each year and avoid any use of pesticides on the garden.

One of the most common diseases that affect beans is bacterial blight, which can affect the flowers, the leaves, and the beans themselves. What might start out as a brown discoloration on a leaf can eventually grow and cover the entire thing and lead to leaves falling off, a brown appearance on stems, and no beans to harvest. That's why you should inspect your plant part by part, to see if any discoloration is occurring. It also helps to ensure you are always watering your plants and giving them enough fertilizer.

You can also minimize damage by harvesting your beans in a timely fashion. Beans are more susceptible to disease if they lodge in the pods. Once you have a good idea that your beans are ripe, harvest them quickly. That's the best way to prevent any kind of bean-attacking organisms from damaging the plants you're trying to keep in one piece.

Diseases

Beans can get diseases and pests just like any other crop. However, this seems to happen less often than other vegetables. The most common diseases to affect beans are powdery mildew and downy mildew. To avoid them, keep the garden free from weeds.

Bean Leaf Beetle

Mid-summer to early fall is when bean leaf beetles usually arrive. They are metallic green and black in color with a diamond-shaped light green marking on the back. They lay their eggs on the underside of leaves where they become brown and elongated.

To control bean leaf beetles, you need to control the bean pod moths. You can do this by using the toxin Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This is an effective option and an organic one as well. Spray with it whenever you see adult beetles flying around the garden.

Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado potato beetles are also a problem for beans, usually arriving in late July and early August. These come in red and yellow colors. They lay their eggs on the outside of bean leaves that then hatch into hungry maggots.

They are easy to spot and easy to control. Check for them every day and hand pick them off of the leaves. If you have a large number of beetles you can also spray with neem oil which is an organic substance that keeps egg laying from occurring in the first place.