6 April 2005
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
Photo Credit: Stephen Ausmus
For bean lovers, the time is drawing near to plant. Although snap beans are probably the most popular beans to plant, there are others to try if you want to branch out.
Beans like sunny, well-drained soil with good fertility and a pH between 5.8 and 7.0. The time to plant is after the danger of frost is past or Mothers Day if you want to play it safe. These are, for the most part, tender annual plants. Beans require some fertilizer. Excess nitrogen will delay flowering, so side dress only after a heavy bloom and set of pods, using 1-1/2 oz. or 3 T. of 10-10-10 per 10 feet of row. Since beans are legumes they will fix nitrogen once a good root system is established. This nitrogen will be available to crops after the beans die.
Bush Snap Beans
The bush snap bean is the most popular garden bean because of its early maturity and because trellising is not required. Varieties include standard green, yellow wax, and purple-podded types, giving a larger choice than is generally available in supermarkets. Though wax beans are yellow and waxy in appearance, their flavor is only subtly different from that of regular green snap beans. The purple pod beans are different in appearance while growing, but the pods turn green when cooked. Flat-podded green snap beans are somewhat different in flavor and texture than the round-podded ones. These are available in both bush and pole types. You can plant several crops of bush beans 2-3 weeks apart, until August 1 for a continuous harvest. Snap beans should be kept picked to keep plants producing heavily.
Half-runner beans have a growth habit between that of bush and pole beans, producing beans usually used as snap beans. Though they have runners about 3 feet long, half-runners are generally grown like bush beans. Trellising, however, may increase production of these already heavy yielders.
Pole type beans come in many varieties, generally bearing over a longer period than bush types. They require trellising, and for that reason generally yield more in the same amount of space. Pole beans are natural climbers but will not interweave themselves through horizontal wires. A teepee tripod support can be made with three wooden poles or large branches that are lashed together at the top. 5-6 seeds are planted in a circle 6-8 inches from each pole. Many types of homemade trellises work well as long as they provide the needed support. Trellises should be 6-8' tall and sturdy enough to withstand strong winds and rain. Interplanting pole beans with corn is often recommended, but practices vary. Beans should be planted late enough to allow some growth and development of the corn first.
Lima beans are available in bush or pole types. Bush limas mature about 10-15 days earlier than pole limas. Pole type limas have better yields and produce longer than the bush forms. Soil temperature must be 65 degrees for 5 days in order for the beans to germinate well. Because the large seeds store considerable amounts of carbohydrates, limas are quite susceptible to soil fungi and bacteria. So, the sooner the seedling sprouts the better. Starting seeds indoors helps if care is taken not to damage the shoots when planting and if soil remains moist for several days. Seed treated with anti-fungal agents also have improved germination rates. Soil should be kept moist but not wet until the seedlings emerge from the ground; do not allow a crust to form on the soil, since the seedlings will have trouble pushing through. Prevent crusting and conserve moisture by spreading 1/4" sand, sawdust, or light mulch over the seeded row. A cold, wet spell can cause lima flowers to drop, as can excessively hot and dry periods, reducing yields. Baby limas or butter beans are less susceptible to blossom drop problems.
Southern peas are not actually beans or peas, but are used in the same ways. There are three commonly grown types - blackeye pea, cream pea, and crowder pea. They are available in both pole and bush forms. Southern peas may be harvested in the green shell or in the dried "pea" stage. The yard-long or asparagus bean is related to blackeye peas and has similar flavor, but the entire pod may be eaten. On trellised vines, pods may be produced which are 1-1/2 to 2 feet long ("yard-long" is stretching it a bit). Asparagus beans need warm temperatures and a long growing season to do well. Look for the seeds in novelty, gourmet, Oriental, or children's sections of seed catalogs.
Soybeans are increasing in popularity because of their high nutritional value and their versatility. Catalogs often list them as "edible" soybeans; all soybeans are actually edible, but those in garden catalogs have been bred to do well under ordinary garden conditions, requiring a shorter season and not growing as tall as the field types. There is also a difference in flavor and texture, as there is between sweet and field corn. Soybeans are less sensitive to frost and may have fewer problems with Mexican bean beetles than standard beans. Soybeans are quite delicious when harvested as green shell beans, but may also be allowed to dry on the vine. The pods of soybeans are quite difficult to open; cook for a few minutes to soften the pod before removing the beans.
Beans used primarily as dried beans are many and varied. Many can be used green, but dry well for easy storage. In the small garden, growing dry beans is somewhat impractical since the amount of space required to raise a large enough quantity for storage is great. Many types of dry beans may be purchased in supermarkets at a very low cost, so it may be more worthwhile to grow higher-value crops in the limited space. However, if you have a very large garden area and a desire to sit on the front porch rocking away and shelling beans in the fall, they are worth a try.
For more information about this and other landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.