Beans may be the most diverse garden vegetables, ranking second only to tomatoes in popularity. Common beans are probably native to South America and were grown there for centuries before Europeans began growing them.
• More detailed information can be found in The Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Book by Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing
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All beans are members of the legume family, Leguminosae,which can extract and use nitrogen from the air. Most beans are grown for their seeds and pods. The tender pods, which are used before the seeds mature, are called snap beans because the pods snap easily when bent. Snap beans may be green or yellow (wax beans). Shell beans, such as limas, are harvested before maturity, and the seeds are removed, or shelled. Dry beans are grown for the seeds, which are allowed to mature before harvest and are shelled from the pods for use. Bean plants may be either bush types or runners. The runners are called pole beans; they may be allowed to vine along the ground, but gardeners usually grow them on supports.
WHEN TO PLANT
Sow seeds about 2 weeks before the latest date of last frost; these tender plants cannot tolerate a freeze. Planting seeds every 3 weeks until the beginning of August will assure a continuous supply of fresh snap beans (NOTE: late summer-planted beans, like other summer vegetables, are more susceptible to insect damage and drought.
WHERE TO PLANT
A location with at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and well-drained soil will produce healthy beans for you. Giving them a full-sun location (8 to 10 hours will suffice) will make them even happier. Beneficial bacteria are necessary for nitrogen fixation, and if beans have never been grown in the garden, you may need to add beneficial bacteria to the soil. Garden stores or garden catalogs list them as legume innoculants.
HOW TO PLANT
Prepare the soil for planting. Sow seeds of bush beans 2 to 3 inches apart, and cover them with 1 inch of soil. Sow seeds of pole beans 6 inches apart in rows along a fence or trellis, or sow them in hills of 6 seeds around poles set 3 feet apart; then cover the seeds with 1 inch of soil. You may need to help pole beans get started on their supports-they twine counterclockwise. Make a three-pole teepee tied at the top, or individual drive poles securely into the ground in each hill. Where soil insects have been troublesome-damaging roots or stems before they emerge-you may have to apply an approved granular or water-mixed garden soil insecticide, mixed or used according to directions, to protect the seeds as they germinate. Beans may not germinate well if they are kept too wet so we cannot overemphasize the importance of good drainage. Moisten them at planting time but do not keep them constantly soaked.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Beans require little care except regular weeding and adequate water if the weather is dry. The plants need about 1 inch of water per week. Pests may affect the plantings, but rotating the bean plantings to a different place in the garden each year reduces pest problems. Apply an approved insecticide to control bean beetles, which will eat holes in the leaves. Planting disease-resistant varieties will go a long way toward producing a good bean crop. To avoid spreading disease, do not work in the beans when they are wet. Diseases include bean mosaic disease (affected plants turn yellowish green and do not produce beans) and bacterial blight, evidenced by brown spots on the leaves or water-soaked spots on the pods.
Pole beans are much easier to harvest than bush beans because they are up in the air and no bending over is involved. They also produce longer from a single seeding than the bush types. In exceptionally hot weather, pollination may be poor, resulting in few beans. The pollen fails to grow a pollen tube through the pistil and the unfertilized ova fail to grow. Don’t be alarmed, however; production will resume when the weather moderates. Harvest snap beans when the pods are firm and fully elongated, but before the seeds begin to swell. Pick beans regularly to keep the plants producing. Expect to be able to harvest bush beans 2 or 3 times, and then discard the planting. Pick pole beans all season; they will continue to produce if kept picked clean. Pick lima beans when the seeds are tender, green, and fully developed. If you wait until they are overly ripe, they will be tough and mealy. Limas can be left to mature and harvested as dry beans, although dry beans are rarely grown in home gardens because they are so inexpensive to buy. If you do choose to grow them, harvest them after the pods dry and begin to split open. Pull up mature plants, and hang them in a dry place until the pods split.
Days to Maturity
Dark Red Kidney
Use in soup, chili
Half runner, white
Standard in Mexican, half runner
Bush, white, kidney-shaped beans
Bush Kentucky Wonder
Long, flat pods
Long, slender pods
Best in cooler climates
LIMA BUSH, SMALL-SEEDED
King of the Garden
AAS; heavy producer, long season
Kentucky Wonder Wax
Original purple bush beans
Delicious broad, flat pods
Big Italian type
Broad, flat pods
Round, pencil-like pods