Beans, Phaseolus spp. are some of the most versatile vegetables. They offer endless opportunities in the kitchen and are wonderful soil restorers for the garden. If your first thought is of green beans (aka “snap” or “string” beans), think again. Beans are not only edible in the green stage, but also in the semi-ripe “shelling” stage. When they are fully ripe and dried, beans are some of the easiest veggies to keep for long term storage.
Bush Or Pole
Beans come in “bush” and “pole” (or “runner”) varieties. The differences begin with the growth habit, the former not requiring staking and the latter being a true vine that requires support. But it doesn’t end there. Bush beans act in a more “determinate” fashion, bearing their fruit in a condensed season (although multiple waves of beans are normally produced in home gardens). Bush beans are best for small spaces and garden plans that require a relatively quick turnover of space. Pole beans typically grow and produce well over a much longer season, providing a higher yield over their lifetime than bush types.
What Kind To Plant
Many varieties of bean can be used at any degree of ripeness, but each has its own best features. Bean lovers may wish to plant those types that are best suited for the way you like to eat them. If you love green beans, choose from the best green bean varieties for your area. Similarly, look for those with the best texture and flavor at the shelling stage for fresh use of mature beans in soup, salad, pasta and more. For storage purposes, there are also some varieties that excel above the rest.
When choosing among green bean varieties, it is helpful to understand some of the characteristics that are described. Pods may be round or flat (Italian). They may also be obviously fuzzy or smooth, thick or thin, very long or not so long. Colors vary widely from green to purple to streaked, some of which may turn green when cooked and others will not. Wax beans are a yellow podded variation of green bean.
Shelling beans are are well represented by varieties such as lima, soy, fava, chickpea, and virtually any other bean seed that we eat. When picked at this stage, many familiar dry bean varieties like pinto and kidney beans will impart a wonderful fresh flavor not present in the dry form. Shell beans may be kept in the refrigerator for a week, or frozen for several months, and still retain most of this garden fresh flavor.
Dry beans are harvested at full maturity, after the pods have become leathery. Since allowing beans to mature on the plant brings about the end of the plant’s life, may be easiest to harvest whole plants (leaving the roots in the ground for their soil building qualities) which are then hung and dried the rest of the way before shelling. It is also fine to harvest beans individually if preferred. The beans are ready to shell out when they rattle in their pods. Allow further drying after shelling if necessary before storing in an airtight container. Those not eaten can be planted next year!
Planning Your Planting
Plant in warm weather, well after the threat of frost has passed. Follow the seed suppliers directions for spacing and planting depth. Do not fertilize beans without the guidance of a soil test, as nitrogen rich soil leads to rampant leafy growth but few flowers and beans. For the best soil building results, treat the seed with bean innoculant at planting time. This step aids the bean plant in capturing atmospheric nitrogen, which is then stored in the roots until the plant dies. Pole beans may be supported with poles, trellises, arbors, lattice, fence or possibly even corn stalks; although I’d make sure the corn is a tall growing variety and has a few weeks’ head start.