Beans belong to the legume family, which includes lentils, peanuts, and soybeans. The pods of beans contain edible seeds that are used in a variety of dishes. Common beans are native to the Mediterranean and Americas, and evidence of their use dates back to 9,000 B.C.
Beans come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes. You can grow them for their pods, seeds, or dried beans. Some varieties can be harvested at different stages for all three uses.
The many essential nutrients found in beans make them a popular ingredient in cuisines around the world.
Bush Beans vs. Pole Beans
Beans come in a wide range of sizes, colors, and tastes, but for growing purposes, they are primarily categorized in one of two ways: bush beans or pole beans:
Bush beans are a type of bean that grow quickly into small plants. The plants produce bean pods that are ready to be harvested within 45 to 50 days. The pods usually mature at the same time, which makes them a good choice for preserving.
Because they are shorter, bush beans require less maintenance than pole beans and are a good choice for small spaces and container gardens.
If you plant bush beans every four weeks, you will have plenty for fresh eating and preserving throughout the growing season.
There are many different types of bush beans, some of which include Royal Burgundy Bush Beans, Provider Bush Beans, and Gold Rush Yellow Wax Beans.
Pole beans take longer to grow than bush beans, but each plant yields more beans. Pole beans have long vines that can reach up to 12 feet.
Pole beans grow by wrapping themselves around a support, such as a trellis. They will not produce blossoms or beans until the vines are established. Once established, pole beans will be ready to harvest in 60 to 65 days. They will continue to produce pods until the first frost in the fall.
Pole beans are easier to harvest, produce more beans, and are more resistant to pests and diseases. Plant them along a trellis to form a natural screen.
Some types of pole beans are Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, Purple Podded Pole, and Scarlet Runner Beans.
Growing Beans: Bean Types
Green Beans (fresh)
Snap beans, also known as string beans, runner beans, squeaky beans, French beans, stringless pod beans, filet beans, yellow wax beans, Romano beans, and Italian snap beans, are a type of Phaseolus vulgaris.
Different types of green beans are available, which can be eaten as pods or used as shelling beans. The pole types yield more than the bush types, but take up more space. Some green beans have purple or yellow pods and are decorative with swirls of color. They are easy to grow.
Fresh green beans are not indigenous to North America. They have been grown for over 7,000 years and came from the Andes Mountains of Peru and the Lerma-Santiago River basin of Jalisco in west-central Mexico.
Green Beans (dry)
A type of bean called Phaseolus vulgaris is used mostly as a soup bean. It is harvested when dry.
Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus)
There are two varieties of this plant, bush and pole. The seeds come in five colors: white, black, red, orange, and mottled.
Small-Seeded Lima Beans
Sieva-type bush or climbing beans, known as butter beans, Dixie beans, Henderson beans, or baby lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), are a warm-temperature crop whose seeds are often eaten fresh. They are grown similarly to lima beans.
This bean is also known as Pawi/Pavi/Tepari/Escomite/Yori Mui/Yori Muni (Phaseolus acutifolius) and is native to the southwest United States and Mexico. It is a drought-resistant bean.
Known as scarlet runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus is a vining plant that is great to use in edible landscaping situations. Decorative red or white flowers with white or multicolored seeds, the plant’s pods are edible when young. Seeds are used fresh or dried.
The fava bean, also known as the horse bean, English bean, European bean, or Windsor bean, is best if grown during a long, cool growing season.
There are three types of cowpeas – vining, semi-vining, and bush. They are best grown in warm and humid weather, and are cultivated in a similar way to lima beans.
This type of cowpea is eaten as immature pods like snap beans. It is a vigorous climbing vine for warm climates. Harvest 65 to 80 days after planting.
Edible Soybeans/Edamame (Glycine max)
Grown similarly to lima beans, this crop requires 90 days to harvest.
This plant is known as the Indian bean or Egyptian bean. It is a vining plant that can grow up to 20 feet tall. It has purple flowers and electric-purple seed pods. This plant is great to use in edible landscaping. It grows quickly and the flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. The leaves, flowers, pods, and seeds of this plant are all edible.
The garbanzo bean, also known as the chestnut bean, Egyptian bean, or gram, is a legume that is not technically a pea or a bean. It requires a long, warm growing season of about 100 days.
This plant is known by many names, including asparagus peas, goa beans, four-angled beans, winged beans, and princess beans. It is a vining plant with almost all parts being edible. Mature pods are six to nine inches long with high protein content.
Tips for Growing Beans
You can grow an abundance of fresh beans in your own backyard by following a few easy steps.
When to Grow Beans
Beans are a crop that grows best in warm weather, and can easily be killed by frost. You can find out the best time to plant your seeds by finding the date of the last expected frost for your area from your local extension office or by entering your zip code on PlantMaps.com.
germination time for beans is fastest when soil temps are 50-90 degrees F. Soil temps below 50 degrees can result in seed rot.
How to Prepare the Garden Bed
To grow beans successfully, ensure that they have full sun and well-drained soil. The pH of the soil should be between 6.0 and 7.0. Before planting the beans, clear the garden beds of weeds and debris.
Growing beans in poor soil can be improved by adding compost or aged manure to the soil before planting. Mix several inches of finished compost into the top of the soil. If the weather has been dry, give the beds a good soak the day before you sow your seeds.
Beans have sensitive root systems and don’t like to be disturbed after they’re planted. If you’re trellising your beans, especially pole beans, establish your trellis support system before planting.
There are two common ways to trellis pole beans: teepees and trellises. Pole bean teepees have a more rustic look and can be made by tying four bamboo poles or sticks together at the top and letting them spread out at the bottom, creating a teepee that the bean vines can climb.
I keep a permanent trellis structure attached to the north end of several raised beds. These are strung with nylon trellis netting or wire fencing. Another option is to put up a trellis, like a cattle panel held up with t-posts, for your climbing beans.
The main advantages of trellises over teepees are that they can support more beans and are more suitable for larger gardens.
How to Plant Beans
Plants that grow beans should be transplanted with care because their roots are sensitive and don’t respond well to being moved. It’s best to sow the beans directly outdoors in a spot that gets full sun, after there is no more danger of frost.
Bush beans should be planted 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart in rows spaced 18 inches from each other. If you are planting in square foot gardens, plant 9 bush beans per square.
Pole beans should be planted 1-inch deep and 2 to 3-inches apart along trellises or teepees. Each teepee pole can support 3 or 4 bean vines. Young plants may need help to climb the supports, but once they cling on, they should intertwine themselves as they grow.
Cover your seeds with a thin layer of soil, then water them gently. Be sure to keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate, which should happen in 8 to 10 days.
If you don’t want birds, rodents, and other garden pests to eat your bean seeds after you plant them, consider covering the seeds with a light layer of mulch until they germinate, and then pull the mulch several inches away from the stems.
If you want to have a continuous supply of fresh bush beans, you should plant new ones every two weeks from mid-summer onwards.
To encourage a more abundant harvest, pinch the tops of pole beans once they reach the top of the trellis or teepee they are growing on. This allows the plant to focus its energy on producing beans rather than growing more vines and foliage.
How To Harvest & Store Beans
Edible Pod Peas for Fresh Eating
The best time to pick snap beans is before they become tough and stringy, typically from July to frost.
Since beans ripen at different times on the same bush, it is best to check them daily and pick the beans frequently. This encourages more beans to form. Skipping a day may send some pods into the inedible category and slow down production since the plant thinks it has accomplished its goal of producing seed.
The best beans to pick are firm, pencil thickness, tender, and medium green. You should cut off the stem and tip end before cooking or eating them. Store the pods in a tight container in the refrigerator and use them as soon as possible. After a few days, the beans may get wilty or tough. If you can’t use them within a few days, you can blanch and freeze them, canned them, or pickle them.
Dry Beans for Longer Storage
Shell beans can be harvested young, before the seeds are visible from the outside, and eaten like snap beans. Shell beans can also be harvested when a little more mature, when the beans inside have formed significantly but before the pod is dried. The more common way to harvest shell beans is to leave the pods on the plant until they are hard and dry. The dry beans can be shelled by hand or threshed by beating the pods until they break and release the beans. Another method is to uproot the bean plants and hang them upside down inside a large garbage bin while beating them against the sides. The seeds, once removed from the pod, can be stored in a cool, dry place for months.
If snap beans are harvested when they are young and tender, they can be used as shell outs or left on the plant to form dry beans.
Troubleshooting Pests and Diseases
When growing beans, be on the lookout for pests. Here are some tips to help troubleshoot some you may encounter:
Choose bean varieties that are less likely to have pest problems. Be familiar with the signs and symptoms of common bean pests and know how to address them.
- Aphids: Aphids feed on the sap from plants and leave behind misshapen or yellow leaves and a sticky residue. Combat aphid populations with a blast from the hose, or by encouraging beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to take up residence in your garden with the use of companion planting.
- Beetles: There are many beetles that feed on bean plants and pods, including bean-leaf beetles and Mexican bean beetles. Use row covers to prevent the beetles from reaching the plants. The beetle larvae can feed on roots killing the plants from beneath the soil. Practice crop rotation to eliminate an early infestation.
- Cutworms: Signs of cutworms include wilted or completely missing seedlings or seedlings that appear to be cut just above the soil line. Manage cutworm populations by performing crop rotation, handpicking, and using plant collars made from paper towel tubes or milk jug tops around the base of new plants.
- Leafhoppers: Leafhoppers are small insects that suck the sap from beans and other plants, causing brown, yellow, or curled leaves, stippling on leaves, and reduced yields. Leafhoppers can be managed by using floating row covers, crop rotation, or floating row covers, while a blast from the hose or a spray of an organic insecticidal soap can repel an existing infestation.