If there’s one plant I’d say I’ve had the most success with since I began gardening, it would be green beans. I never would have predicted it, though, because when I planted my first seed, I started with zero knowledge.
My first year I grew both pole beans and bush beans, and though I hit a few snags along the way, I harvested enough to give me the confidence I needed with this staple crop.
Now I grow all of my green beans using two A-frame trellises, and I preserve enough to last me all season. Since my very first gardening season, I have not had to purchase one can of green beans from the grocery store. And all it took was understanding some basics and letting these non-fussy plants grow.
In today’s episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I walk you through the basics of growing green beans. Click to listen, or continue reading below.
How to Grow Enough Green Beans to Last All Year
Choose the Right Type to Grow for Your Garden
As shared in detail in this post, you have two options in growing green beans: pole beans and bush beans.
I prefer growing pole beans because they take up less garden space and they produce more volume of beans. With just two A-frame trellises, I grow a year’s supply of green beans, but other trellis options can work just as well.
If you do not want to spend the energy (and a bit of cash) to grow pole beans, you can opt to grow bush beans. In fact, since bush beans bear all at once, this makes it easy for you to freeze or can your excess all at once. And because bush beans harvest faster than pole beans (two to four weeks sooner), you can — in many climates — plant two or more plantings in the same space.
Plant at the Right Time
Beans, as a summer crop, will not survive freezing temperatures or even a frost. But many gardeners make the mistake of planting beans as soon as their average last frost date has passed. My first several years I made that mistake and wondered why my beans did not sprout. I knew beans are best planted directly in the soil (not started indoors or planted as transplants), but why did they struggle to germinate?
Soil temperature. For beans to start out strong, they need to be planted after the soil temperature has warmed up. Sixty-five to seventy degrees is the minimum, though the warmer the soil the quicker they will sprout. Also, when you wait just a couple of weeks past your last frost, the soil will have had time to dry out a bit if you’ve had a wet spring. I’ve found beans do not germinate well in soggy soil.
Plant at the Right Depth and Spacing
Bean seeds germinate the best when planted about one inch deep. If planted deeper than that, they struggle to sprout, and if planted more shallow, erosion from spring rains cause them to rise to the surface before they can take root.
I plant my pole bean seeds about six inches apart, though sometimes I have planted them closer. Since they grow “up,” the lateral space they need isn’t as critical. Bush beans, on the other hand, need to be spaced at twelve to eighteen inches apart. A best practice for both types is to plant double the amount recommended and then thin the seedlings once they sprout. It’s hard to do, but to me it’s a better alternative than having gaps where some seeds refuse to sprout.
Don’t Stress Too Much About Soil Fertility
Green beans are the most forgiving crop in my garden. They do not require much in the way of nutrition, and the certainly don’t need supplemental nitrogen. (Instead, they put nitrogen into the soil!)
As long as your soil condition isn’t hard clay, rocky, too sandy, too saturated, or too high or low on the pH scale, beans should acclimate to the conditions you give it. In fact, if I have a poor area in my garden, that’s where I plant my green beans because they still grow well and they contribute to the building up of that soil.
Know When to Harvest
After the bean plants begin to grow, they’ll start producing flowers, and those flowers are where the bean pods will begin to form. Soon you’ll start seeing the beautiful beans, and you’ll need to watch them and pick them early. You don’t want them so small they’re soft and pliable, but you also don’t want them so big they’re hard and stringy. It depends on the variety to some degree, but I like to pick mine when they’re about 4-5″ long.
*Note: In my experience, pole beans will cease producing flowers and pods in the hottest part of the summer. Don’t stress and don’t pull them up! Usually in mid-August they awake from their summer nap and produce their biggest crop in the late summer!
How to Preserve Green Beans to Last All Year
Many people choose to freeze their green beans. This is a popular option that requires no special equipment. (Here are instructions for freezing with and without blanching.)
I’ve never frozen my green beans because our family only eats canned green beans. That’s why I choose to can mine. It’s important if you plan to can your green beans that you purchase a pressure canner (NOT a pressure cooker). Green beans, because of their acid level, cannot be safely canned using the water bath method. I bought my first pressure canner my first season, and though it was an investment then, it has easily paid for itself and more.
This is the pressure canner I bought 6 years ago and it’s still going strong! Seriously, green beans are the easiest thing to can.
Saving Seed for Next Year
If you miss harvesting a bean or two (it happens to all of us), you’ll notice the more mature the pods get, the lighter green they become and they lose their pretty shine. What’s happening inside is the beans themselves (not the pod) are beginning to form. When this happens, you no longer have a bean pod suitable for green beans. Instead, you can either let them grow and shell them for white beans (or another color depending on the variety), or you can let the whole pod dry out for dry beans or to save seed for next season.
I wouldn’t recommend letting these overripe pole beans mature on the vine early in the season. Beans will continue producing when you pick them consistently, but they slow down when left on the vine. Toward the end of the season when production naturally slows — for me that’s usually in late September as the days start getting shorter — you can leave them all on the vine to harvest as dry beans.
As long as you’ve planted an open-pollinated or heirloom variety (not hybrid), you can save those dry beans for your seed next season. That’s what I do. Just be sure to wait until that pod is brown and almost breaking open. If you wait too long, it will break open on its own and let its seed into the ground. That’s how you’ll find volunteer plants the next season!
Green beans are one of my favorite plants to grow and preserve, and it’s just one more way I can grow all I need to last my family all season!
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