When the weather warms, beans will go from seed to table in 60 days. The biggest problem is deciding which of the many kinds to grow. Of the many types of beans, the two most frequently grown by home gardeners are snap beans and lima beans. Each of these can be divided into two kinds: low growing (bush beans) and tall growing (pole or runner beans). The legume family also contains many delicious vegetables that have beanlike seeds but that only remotely resemble the familiar types of beans. These include fava or broad beans, Southern peas, and asparagus or yardlong beans. The similarities in the culture of all of these beans are discussed first; then their individual characteristics are noted.
How to plant. Plant beans from seeds sown in the ground as soon as the soil has warmed up. Beans are frost tender and require a soil temperature of 65° to sprout reliably. Either check the soil temperature with a soil thermometer or wait until late-leafing trees— oaks, hickories, pecans—uncurl new spring foliage. Successive crops may be planted until midsummer.
Plant seeds of bush beans 3 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Pole bean plants are much larger, requiring 3 feet between rows and 9 to 12 inches between plants. If you want to run the vines up tepee-shaped supports, dig holes in the corners of a 3-foot square and plant three pole bean seeds in each. Cover seeds 1 inch deep in clay soils, 1 1 /2 inches in sandy soils.
Care. To avoid the spread of diseases from plant to plant, cultivate shallowly and only when the foliage is dry. Water frequently by soaking the soil instead of sprinkling—moist foliage invites bacterial diseases (in humid areas) and mildew.
High-nitrogen fertilizers and heavy applications of compost will encourage more foliage growth than vegetable production. Use a fertilizer with a nitrogenphosphorus-potassium ratio of 1:2:2, applying it every three to four weeks in a shallow furrow about 6 inches away from the plants. Cover the fertilizer band with soil. If you furrow-irrigate, apply the fertilizer in the furrows so water can carry it into the root zone of the bean plants.
Pests. Birds will often pull seedlings out of the ground. Cover the rows with an arched arbor of chicken wire to protect the seedlings until they are 6 inches high. Several little round beetles and their larvae as well as several kinds of moth larvae feed on bean foliage and pods. Pick beetles off plants (some are nocturnal—find them by flashlight). If that isn’t successful, control them with rotenone or malathion. (Follow label precautions so you spray far enough away from the harvest date.)
Nematodes can also be a problem on beans. They are tiny, round worms that make swellings on the roots of plants. Try to keep them out of your garden by making sure that plants and soil brought into your garden are uninfested. If nematodes do appear, marigolds planted in the infested area have been found to deter them. Persistent infestations can be cured by treating the soil with fumigants before planting.
Harvesting. Pick bean pods when they are at least 3 inches long but before they begin to get tough and stringy. At the ideal point, beans should be just starting to bulge the sides. The more faithful you are about frequent picking, the longer the plants will yield. Pull the pods off carefully while holding the fruiting stems with your free hand. This prevents breaking off stems
In containers. Grow the bush forms of snap or lima beans, soybeans, or Southern peas in at least 8 to 12 inches of soil. For best results, add some garden soil to a commercial or homemade potting mix. The mix for soybeans should be especially fast draining.
Often called string beans, these grow as self-supporting bushes or as climbing vines. The compact plant size, high productivity, and easy culture of bush beans make them one of the most popular of the summer vegetables. Runner or pole varieties require more work and attention because of the support needed by their long, twining vines, but they outyield bush varieties by a wide margin. Some pole varieties tend to be more flavorful than many bush types because, with bush beans, breeders have concentrated on good mechanical harvesting characteristics instead of flavor. Although certain bush and runner varieties mentioned below are grown for shelled beans, their young pods are also delicious.
Since bush beans require only six to seven weeks to mature in warm weather, they can be grown successfully in areas with fairly short summers. Pole beans need from 10 days to two weeks more than bush types to begin bearing.
Small-seeded baby limas or “butterbeans” are traditionally preferred in the Southeast. Plump-seeded “potato” limas are usually grown in other parts of the country. Recommended varieties. Butterbeans: ‘Henderson Bush’/Jackson Wonder Bush’ (speckled), ‘Florida Butter Pole’ (speckled), ‘Small White’ or ‘Sieva Pole’. Potato limas : ‘Fordhook 242 Bush’, ‘Dixie Butterpea Bush’, ‘Christmas Pole’ (speckled), ‘King of the Garden Pole’.
ASPARAGUS OR YARDLONG BEANS
This species is used in Oriental cooking. The plants, with their long runners and bean pods that reach 18 to 24 inches in length, somewhat resemble Southern peas. A long, warm season is required to mature this bean.
Culture is the same as for the bush type of snap beans. Let the beans remain on the bush until the pods turn dry or begin to shatter. Thresh them from their hulls and thoroughly dry them before storing for later use. Varieties include ‘Pinto’, ‘Red Kidney’, ‘Great Northern’, and ‘White Marrowfat’.
The green seeds are shelled from the short, plump, furry pods and cooked for their high protein and oil content. Soybeans grow best in the warm, humid South and Midwest and do poorly in most dry climates. Grow them much as you would bush lima beans; the bushes are about the same size.
The name comes from the long, rather broad, flattened green pods that are shelled to produce large, meaty seeds. They require long periods of cool weather to mature. Plant them in late summer or fall in mild-winter climates and in very early spring elsewhere. The plants grow 3 to 41/2 feet high.
Although referred to as “peas” in the Southern states, these plants more closely approximate beans in appearance and cultural requirements. Tropical in origin, Southern peas need about four months of warm days and nights to set good crops of pods.
Generally available varieties, such as ‘Blackeye’, ‘Purple Hull’, and ‘Crowder’, have large, spreading plants, 2 feet or more in height. Newer varieties mature earlier and have more compact plants. Harvest and shell peas before the pods turn yellow or let overly mature pods dry and shell the seeds for winter storage.
Popular in France, flageolets have a creamy texture and mellow flavor when they’re shelled, simmered in water for about 11/2 hours, and served with butter. Plant seeds in spring (after the soil has warmed up) in rich soil an inch deep and 3 inches apart in rows 21/2 feet apart. Make furrows before planting for deep watering.