How to Grow Beans

Learn how to grow beans as well as how to harvest these climbing plants.
By Karin Eliasson
May 28, 2013
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“Greens!” provides step-by-step principles of organic gardening along with instructive and beautiful photographs. Experienced and budding gardeners alike will find a source for inspiration in this handy guide.
Cover Courtesy Skyhorse Publishing
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You can grow your own vegetables whether you own your own home or live in an apartment. Author Karin Eliasson gives advice on growing over 100 vegetables as well as how to use them in the kitchen. In this excerpt taken from Greens! (Skyhorse Publishing, 2013) learn how to grow beans, from haricot verts to broad beans.

You can purchase this book at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Greens!.

The Bean-man — he was quite a mystery; one of those people that showed up out of nowhere with an interest in beans and created a space where he could cultivate his interest. I was an apprentice at Rosendal’s Garden in Stockholm at that time and that is where I met him. “This is the Bean-man,” one of the garden masters said. “If there’s anything he doesn’t know about beans, it is not worth knowing.” And that was really true. He gave a lecture about beans for us at Rosendal. When he was standing there in the row of his flag-high plants, it was with a loving touch that he showed us red-striped borlotti beans from Italian seeds. He told us about the darkest purple bean he had ever seen, almost black, and about an almost 12 inch (30 cm) long wax bean of the variety “Neckar Gold.”

His enthusiasm was contagious. That late summer, when every day between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. was spent on harvesting for stores and kitchens, I preferred to disappear in the rows of bush beans. Despite the fact that I got both wet and cold from the caress of the plants along my legs, I liked this corner of the garden. To carefully move the leaf aside with my left hand and pick long rows of purple beans with my right hand. They kept giving that summer, the beans.

I still like beans and peas and I can’t decide if I like the plants the best or the actual harvest. These plants invite you to be imaginative. And the result is purple-colored bean towers, circles of sugar snaps with sunflowers in the middle, heavy mesh walls of tall growing peas that separate the cosmos from the dill and verbena. I love climbing plants! They add another dimension to the garden and they save room on the ground. It is perfect for those who lack space.

The challenge is not finding varieties, but deciding among them. You can begin by deciding if you want peas or beans for fresh-consumption — like broad beans and wax beans, sugar peas, marrowfats, blauwschokkers, and haricot verts — or if you’d like to dry your harvest or store it. In that case you should choose a borlotti bean and a garden pea. After this you can also decide if you want a tall-growing plant or a shorter variety, depending on the cultivation conditions. And then you can choose the color and shape among the ones that emerge.

One cultivation favorite is also the broad bean with its compact, sturdy, and willing plants. Add a little extra when you draw up the space for broad beans. Plant a real hedge so that you get a good harvest. You will want a lot of broad beans when you are actually making food. They are great in stews and summer salads of all varieties, but I also like to eat them as snacks. Small light-green beans, quickly heated and later turned in a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and chopped mint. Bean-snack royale!

Cultivating Beans and Peas

Garden beans is a category that includes all of the varieties I will now dive into: haricot verts, snap beans, and borlotti beans.

Haricot Verts

Phaseolus vulgaris

The name “haricot verts” really only means “green beans.” These beans are indeed green, as well as round, and of somewhat varying lengths. You eat the whole bean, both the seeds and the sheath, and it is preferably harvested while small. The haricot verts come as tallgrowing, large beans, and as short-growing, bush beans.

Sow

When? These beans are sensitive to early planting. If the soil is too cold or too wet, the seeds will not germinate, but rather rot. If you want to get started with your broad bean crop early on, your best option is to pre-cultivate. March to May is usually suitable. If you sow directly onto the growth site the soil should hold a temperature of at least 53–60°F (12–16°C).

How? Beans have large seeds that are easy to work with. Set them in 2–3 inch (5–7 cm) pots, in root trainers, or in toilet paper rolls so that they have a lot of room to start with. Fill every pot to the rim with soil and then carefully pack it into place. Then push the seeds down at least an inch (3 cm) deep and water well. If you sow directly in the ground outside the easiest way is to make a 2 inch (5 cm) deep trench in the soil. Water the trench and set the beans out with 6 inches (15 cm) between each plant. Then cover with soil and water again. Leave 12–18 inches (30–45 cm) between each row. Sow four to six stalk beans around each support.

How to Grow Beans: Preparing the Growth Site

Beans like well-drained soil with high humus content. Since they don’t have high demands when it comes to fertilizers you can fold in, for instance, compost and decomposed bark humus if you want to add humus to the soil. Beans do not only find it difficult to grow in low temperatures, they are also sensitive to cold at all times, and can have trouble with windy places. Therefore, you should choose a warm place in the garden and, if possible, a sheltered spot. Feel free to heat the soil by covering it with plastic before you sow to secure a good soil temperature. High growing beans, such as stalk beans, need a climbing support that is about 6 feet tall (2 m). This can be a trellis, thin rope that’s tied to some construction, or wooden poles that are set in a triangle and tilt against each other on top. This is the most stable way of offering support to the beans.

Planting Outside

Plant the beans outside when the risk of frost is over. Bush beans can be set with 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) between each plant and 12–14 inches (30–45 cm) between the rows. For stalk beans it is usually suitable with four to six beans around each pole, alternatively 12 inches (30 cm) between the plants along a trellis. These growths will later grow up by twisting around the support against the sun. If the plants end up being too heavy, you can fasten them to the climbing support with extra string.

Nurture

Just like all legumes, beans have a way of fixating their own nitrogen. Nitrogen-fixating bacteria in the soil enter symbiosis with the growth’s roots where an exchange of nitrogen and carbohydrates occur. This then means that you don’t have to fertilize these growths with any significant amount of nitrogen, and on the contrary, over fertilizing with nitrogen can lead to problems like fungi attacks. The only time you might need to add nitrogen is in the beginning before the roots have formed, and in that case, use poultry manure. Other than that I recommend support fertilizing with wood ash or Algomin. You can fertilize in one or two rounds during the growth period.

Harvest

When? You eat the beans whole, both seeds and pod. They are best if you eat them completely fresh right after harvest, but you can also blanch and freeze them. All of the varieties of haricot verts benefit from an early harvest. Harvest them when they’re crisp and thin. Regular harvest will stimulate new growth of fruit.

How? The bean stems can get a little rubbery, so it is best to use a small pair of scissors or garden shears when you harvest.

Wax Bean

Phaseolus vulgaris

The wax bean is very similar to haricot verts, but they are yellow-white instead of green. Sow, cultivate, harvest, and eat like haricot verts.

Purple Bean

Phaseolus vulgaris

The purple bean is another variety of haricot verts. It has a dark purple color and its leaves have dark stems and veins that look beautiful against the white flowers. The bean’s red color turns to green when you heat it. Sow, cultivate, harvest and prepare purple beans just like haricot verts.

The Snap Bean

Phaseolus vulgaris

The snap bean has a flat pod and can be yellow, green, or purple. If it is yellow, it’s called snap wax bean. Sow, cultivate, harvest and eat the snap bean like haricot verts.

Split Beans

Phaseolus vulgaris

Borlotti beans should be opened. You don’t eat the pod in itself, but the seeds inside. You can choose if you want to harvest while the seeds are still young and relatively soft or wait until they are mature and dry.

Sow and cultivate the borlotti bean like haricot verts, but if you want to harvest the borlotti bean for storage you should wait until the pods have dried up. Then you cut the entire plant and hang it in a warm, airy, and dry place until all the pods are completely dry. Later, you open the pods and take out the beans. Spread the beans out and let them dry a little longer before you place them in cans in the cupboard to be used as cooking beans. In colder climates it can be difficult for the borlotti bean to have time to dry completely unless they grow in a greenhouse.

Flageolet Bean

Phaseolus vulgaris

The flageolet bean is a bit special as it can be used at any stage of development. This, combined with its good flavor, makes many say that if you can only cultivate one bean, it should be this one. Sow and cultivate like haricot verts.

You can harvest it as a small haricot vert and eat it directly or you can open it and eat it as small fresh beans in sauces, salads, and stews, or harvest them completely ripe and dry for storage. You can choose whatever suits you.

Runner Bean

Phaseolus coccineus

This bean is tall growing, and noticeably so. It can be used to dress whole pergolas in summer clothes. With its unusually beautiful, colorful flowers, many cultivate it more as a decorative plant than as a food plant and it is sometimes also called flower bean. However, the beans are edible, and very good, so don’t miss your chance to harvest. You harvest and prepare these like haricot verts. Sometimes their meat can get a little woody, but not when they’re young and tender. Sow and cultivate like haricot verts.

Broad Bean

Vicia faba

The broad beans grow as small bushes and usually grow about 3 feet (1 m) tall. They are nice to grow in a colder climate since they are a little more robust than other bean plants. They tolerate both cold and wind better. Eat the beans fresh or dried.

How to Grow Beans: Sow

When? Can both pre-cultivate and sow directly in the growth site. You can sow them while the soil is still cold, around 39–40°F (4–5°C) is not problem. You can pre-cultivate about a month before you plan on planting them, which you can also do early since the plants can handle frostbite.

How? Sow the broad bean like other beans. But do leave a little extra space between the rows, 16–20 inches (40–50 cm), or sow in double rows, or in other words, two rows with six inches (15 cm) in between. Then leave 20 inches (50 cm) before the next pair. This way you obtain more lush and steady plants and you can make practical harvest paths between the double rows.

Preparing the Growth Site

The broad bean can grow in most soils, but it cannot dry out. Therefore you should prepare the soil by adding humus as a blend of compost, manure, and bark humus. The broad bean would like to be kick-started with nitrogen-fertilizer so that it can later manage just fine with the help of the nitrogen-fixating bacteria around the root threads. Because of this reason, farm manure is a good base fertilizer, but you can also use poultry manure or bone meal.

Planting Outside

Plant in the beginning of summer when the frost risk is no longer too big. They can deal with one or two frost nights, but make sure that you harden them; pre-cultivated plants are always more sensitive then the ones that were sowed directly. Plant the broad beans according to the distances listed for sowing.

How to Grow Beans: Nurture

Support-fertilize with a little wood ash or Algomin during the pre-season and place sticks for support as the plant has a tendency to fold. Feel free to cut the top of the plants when blossoming and setting fruit is over. It is the young fresh leaves in the top that attracts black leaf lice.

Harvest

When? The beans can be harvested regularly over the summer and, in principle, eaten in all stages of development.

How? You can eat really small young pods whole, boiled, or woked. After more time you can harvest plump pods, open them, and eat the little beans inside. If you want to harvest for storage you should wait until the pod is starting to shrink a little. Then you take out the mature seeds and spread them out to dry in a warm and airy place. You can also blanch and freeze broad beans. If the beans are really ripe, the outer shell may fall off during boiling. Feel free to remove it. It is the inside that counts. The outer shell can have a slight bitter taste in mature beans.

Read more: Check out How to Grow Lettuce and How to Grow Sweet Corn from Greens! for more tips on growing your own vegetables.


Reprinted with permission from by Karin Eliasson and published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Greens!

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