How to Grow Series
Green beans are an excellent “starter” plant for new gardeners that might be a little intimidated about growing their own food. They grow fast, have few pest problems and it is easy to tell when it is time to harvest. Green beans can also improve soil because they actually add nitrogen to the soil through their root system.
There are two types of green beans; “pole” beans and “bush” beans. Pole beans are more suitable for trellises because they can grow very tall and they like to cling to something. Bush beans generally don’t need staking because they are more compact, however, I usually stake mine because the branches will droop when heavy with beans and staking can also make it easier to harvest the beans. Choose an area in the garden that gets at least 6 hours of full sun a day and has good drainage. The soil should be dark and crumbly.
Green beans do not require a lot of fertilizer, but they will be really happy if you can spread some compost or aged manure around in the garden before planting time. Gently work it in with a hoe or garden fork if you have a smaller garden and rototill it in if your garden is bigger. Just remember to never turn the soil when it is really wet as it can damage the structure of the soil and make it lumpy. And don’t feel like you have to really work up the soil to mix everything in. This will just bring weed seeds up to the surface and create more work for you. The worms and other beneficial organisms will mix the soil amendments into the soil for you in good time.
Green beans should not be grown until all danger of frost is past. They are super easy to start from seed, so I generally will sow my seeds about two weeks before my last frost date, taking care to cover them if nighttime temperatures happen to drop after they have sprouted. You can extend your growing season by building a hoop house (instructions found here). You can also buy seedlings at garden centers and farmer’s market, but since they are so easy to start from seed, I would suggest saving some money and just buying a pack of seeds for $2.00 or so. I like to plan about 10 plants per person in our household. If you really like green beans, or want extra for canning and freezing, by all means, plant more. See my guide on freezing vegetables and fruits here.
To have green beans throughout the season, I would suggest staggering when you sow your seeds so that you have green beans maturing at different times. For example, if you will have four rows of beans total, you might want to sow one or two rows at a time, two weeks apart. This is also called succession planting. Put the seed in the soil at least an inch down and about six inches apart. Check the seed packet for specific information based on the variety you are growing. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds sprout. This might mean you have to water lightly every day. Once they have sprouted you can water more deeply, less frequently. This will encourage a good strong root system.
Once the seedlings have formed several true leaves, it’s time to mulch around the plants to conserve moisture, keep weeds down and to help keep the plants clean. If you have a heavy rainfall, mud will likely splash up onto the plants and beans making harvesting a little messy. My favorite way to mulch is to lay down several layers of black/white newspaper around the plants first and then put grass clippings on top of the newspaper to hold it down. Don’t use grass clippings that have been treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Water everything well and the newspaper and grass clippings will slowly break down over the year. This will attract more earthworms and beneficial insects to your garden, and your plants will be very thankful. This is also a good time to put in any trellises or stakes that your plants might need.
Start harvesting beans when they are still young and tender, about 3”-4” long depending on variety. This will encourage more blooms, so that you will have more beans. If you don’t harvest every few days or so, bloom production will slow down and you won’t have as many beans to harvest later on. To pick the beans, hold the stem with one hand and gently pull the bean off with the other so that you don’t damage the stem.
If you would like to save seeds for next year’s garden, allow a few of the pods to stay on the plants until they have turned brown and the seeds have hardened. I usually wait until the end of the season to allow the pods to mature so that green bean production is not affected. This is usually about a month before my first frost in the autumn. Allowing one or two to mature per plant, should be enough for the next year.
For fun, try growing pole beans up a wire on the sunny side of the house, along a fence line or over a teepee for the kids. You can also grow cool season crops like lettuce in the shade of a green bean plant.