Growing Green Beans, Wax Beans and More

All about snap beans, including which varieties to plant, tips for how to grow, harvest, and store beans, and three recipes.


| July/August 1989



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Colorful, nutritious beans can be spiced up, served cold, or cooked Italian-style.

PHOTO: AL CLAYTON

Many young children learn to dread the same parental liturgy: "Eat your beans; they're good for you." But that wasn't the case with my two-year-old son. Nothing made him happier than a plastic cup stuffed with whole cooked beans. Clutching the container to his chest, he'd set off on his little adventures, munching bean pods as if they were pretzel sticks.

And I couldn't have been more pleased with his choice of snack, because, even when cooked, both green and yellow (or wax) beans are extremely low in fat and contain wholesome amounts of potassium and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C, as well as some phosphorus, calcium and iron. Along with nutrition comes culinary versatility. Green beans and wax beans (otherwise known as snap beans), whose flavor complements that of many other homegrown vegetables, can be transformed into salads, soups, stews and a multitude of side dishes and casseroles.

Beans are, in fact, the third most commonly grown garden vegetable in the United States, outranked only by tomatoes and peppers. And no wonder! They thrive in nearly every section of the country, tolerate soils that range from sandy to clay, and produce an abundant crop in around 50 days. Finally, bean plants—with their butterflylike blossoms in shades of red, pink or white—are downright pretty. When early explorers first returned home with these natives of Central and South America, Europeans used them not as food crops but as ornamentals.

All beans—as well as many other plants, including peas—belong to the Leguminosae family. An important benefit of legumes is nitrogen fixation: Bacteria in the root nodules of most legumes convert nitrogen in the air into a form usable by the plants. If the roots are left in the ground after the tops are removed (or plowed under), the nitrogen also enriches the soil.

Choosing Snap Bean Varieties to Plant

Snap beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are known by various other names: green beans, wax beans, haricots verts and string beans, although the last term is not nearly as accurate as it was prior to the development of a stringless variety in the 1890s. Such beans should be picked while they are still very tender, and their name comes from the sound made by the crisp pods as they are taken from the vine or broken. The young beans require a minimum of cooking and are often served whole.

Snap beans are available either as bush varieties, to be planted in rows or beds, or as pole beans, whose twining vines require support in the form of poles, strings, wires or trellises. Though the bean quality is the same, bush beans make a faster start, grow for a shorter period, and are harvested sooner than poles. However, while the pole beans are slower to mature, they produce a heavy crop in a limited space and also bear, longer, so they are ideal for a small garden. All snap beans are grown as annuals in this country.

christine robertson
4/17/2013 9:40:23 PM

Hi - The article is mostly good but I am very disheartened that you have suggested adding peat to the soil. Peat is created so slowly that we should not be using it in gardening at all as it is nearly a non-renewable. Additionally, digging up peat inevitably distroys habitats that have taken many centuries to form. Peat beds are also a terrific carbon storage mechanism and disrupting them releases the carbon. Please consider the whole process when giving gardening recommendations and please do not use or recommend peat products! Many thanks.






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