Green beans are a fast and abundant summer crop. Also known as “string” or “snap” beans, they are one of the most popular vegetables among home gardeners because they’re relatively easy to grow and harvest. A source of fiber, healthy carbohydrates, and vitamins A and C, green beans are a versatile kitchen staple that can be eaten young, fresh and right off the vine, or cooked or preserved. While each gardener has his or her favorite flavor, classic varieties include Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake, which can both be grown on the pole or in bush form.
Where should I plant it?
Beans thrive in fertile, well-drained soil, and they should be planted where they’ll be exposed to plenty of sunlight (so be careful if you live in a foggy climate). Such factors often lead people to plant them in raised beds. Beans need moderately rich soil—and usually will improve it after the harvest, leaving behind nutrients for the next season. If you’re planning an early crop, use soil that will warm up quickly in spring. Remember that it’s important to maintain good spacing to increase air circulation and decrease the risk of mildew. Sow seeds one to two inches apart in rows that are 2 to 2½ feet from each other.
When should I plant it?
Beans are highly sensitive to frost, so planting should only occur after the threat of cold weather has passed. You want to wait until the temperature of the soil remains above 65 degrees. Chilly, wet and heavy soil in spring will rot your seeds; however, intense summer heat can cause the blossoms to drop. Plant the seeds an inch deep, keeping the soil well moistened. Be sure the soil is fine enough for your seedlings to break through—firm but not hard or crusty. Rub any lumps of dirt through your hands, letting them fall directly onto the seeds.
What special care does it need?
Beans have shallow roots, and their seeds tend to crack and germinate poorly if your soil is too moist. Mulch is especially good for beans because it decreases the need for watering, and beans are more prone to diseases when wet. Plus, mulching helps protect their roots, which are easily damaged by cultivating and weeding. But you should also make sure your plants don’t get too dry, or they could yield curled pods with only a few beans. If the leaves are not a rich, dark-green color or if your harvest has small returns, your beans may require extra feeding. You can supplement with a liquid fish fertilizer, compost, or manure.
What do I need to worry about?
Although they’re a common homegrown vegetable, green beans are actually susceptible to many diseases, including anthracnose, bacterial blight and rust mosaic. You can avoid them by using healthy seeds, rotating your crops and keeping your garden clear of debris. You may notice that around the time they blossom, unwanted visitors like Mexican bean beetles (which resemble large brown or copper-toned ladybugs) and Japanese beetles (metallic-green) show up for a free meal. Pick off the harmful full-grown adults and any larvae or eggs you discover under the leaves, and if you identify any aphids, hose down your plants. Beans that grow low to the ground are in danger of appealing to slugs, so try to keep them elevated out of harm’s way.
When can I harvest it?
When your green beans reach about pencil thickness, you can start picking! And harvest before the beans inside their pods have grown lumpy. Harvesting should be a continuous process: If you don’t keep picking, your plants will stop producing. And don’t wait too long—overgrown beans quickly become tough. Pods should be crisp and firm enough that they create that satisfying “snap” sound when plucked. Gently pull each bean off the vine one at a time, and you can start enjoying them right away.