Plant focus: Tips for growing beans

Beans are just a great vegetable you can grow easily in your own garden. I like growing beans especially for the difference they make to your garden when they're growing vertically on poles, and of course they're also versatile in the kitchen: You can use them pre-boiled and cold in salads, fried in vegetable pans or cooked with risotto, just to mention a few methods.

There is, of course, a great variety of beans. The most important difference is whether they're growing in bushes and need no extra frame or pole varieties, which need a wooden pole, a rope or a neighboring plant for support. Another main difference is between snap beans (where the whole pod can be consumed while the "true" bean is not yet wholly developed and shell beans, where only the beans are consumed. I would recommend you to sow 2-3 different types when you're planting beans for the first time (provided you have enough space), so you can choose what best suits your taste for the next year.

Preferable conditions for beans

Sun and watering: Beans should have full sun and warmth; they need a lot of water (though not constant wetness!). Don't plant them in the shadow of trees. Pay attention to the fact that pole beans will take sunshine away from smaller surrounding plants. If you live in a colder climate, you may prefer fava beans, which thrive well in cool weather.
Try not to plant beans too early in the year - beans don't take that long, so it will be sufficient if you plant them later (the second half of may or one week after the last frost in your area is good).

Soil: Regular acidic soil of between 6 and 6,5 pH is perfect for beans. I recommend adding mulch on top of the soil to retain moisture, hindering weed growth and keeping soil temperatures on an appropriate level (high heat can cause problems with beans).

Soil nutrition: Beans should be planted in a fertile soil rich in the macro-nutrients. Before planting, prepare the soil by digging it over and adding organic fertilizer (such as manure or compost). Pole beans grow quite high and go on producing fruits for sometime, so it's a good idea to add compost from your compost pile from time to time.

Sowing

While you can of course plant the beans inside and later transplant them into your garden, I don't think that's necessary - beans grow fast enough. Plant them in the upper layers of the soil (about one inch deep) with sufficient distance to one another (about 6 to ten inches). If you plant rows, calculate enough distance so you can still move between the rows.
It's useful to plant more beans than you will grow in the end and then to remove the smaller, less robust ones (however, don't sow too many - beans have a germination rate of about 70%).

Support for pole beans: With pole beans, pay attention to use poles that are long enough (about 7 feet), as beans can get quite large, and sufficiently stable. Instead of wood or iron poles, you can also stretch wires over one row of beans and connect them vertically with simple ropes.

Harvest

Depending on the type, beans take about two beans to three and a half to grow edible fruits. Pay attention to harvesting snap beans early enough, when they're still young and tender. Pole beans provide beans in an ongoing process, so harvest whenever the pods are in the right condition. Typical green snap beans are harvested while the beans are about to bulge while shell beans such as kidneys are harvested when the seeds are wholly developed and dry.
One common rule is that "the more you pick, the more they produce", so don't be shy about picking the pods.

Pests

I've found that slugs are a big problem. One solution (besides pesticide) is to plant alliums such as garlic or shallot, which repel slugs, next to your bean row. If fungal diseases like leaf spot come about, try to keep the plants less moist. Beans need a lot of water, but excess moisture can lead to fungal disease. You can circumvent this by watering during daytime instead of in the evening so the soil dries more quickly (this is also advantageous if you have problems with slugs!).

Rotation and combination advice

Altering the location from bean plantings from year to year to avoid diseases. There are also some nice combinations of beans with other vegetable plants that are helpful for nutrient use and mutual support:

Beans, corn and squash: This combination is called "The native American three sisters". The beans use corn plants as a growing support, so you don't have to use poles.

Beans and spinach: Beans can provide the necessary shade for spinach (especially for a spinach harvest in late summer).

Beans and cabbage (in succeeding years): Cabbage need a lot of nitrogen, which is provided by the beans.

You should rather not grow beans on the same patch as peas, leek or onions, as these plants have similar needs in nutrients as beans.

Hopefully, these tips were helpful for you. Go forward, it's not yet to late to plant some beans in your own garden!

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