Grow Your Best Series: Snap Beans

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Snap Beans: A tasty staple for every vegetable garden

Where your preference is half-runners or string beans snap beans are relatively easy to grow do well in our climate. Snap beans are beans harvested when tender. They are easily preserved with pressure canning, pickling, or freezing. They can be grown in ground, in containers, or in raised beds.

Snap beans growing on horticultural trellis netting

Beans growing on horticultural trellis

There are many different varieties that differ in growth habit, disease resistance, and pod structure. Pole beans grow tall and should be trellised. Popular pole bean varieties include Kentucky Wonder, and Greasy beans that are common in the NC Mountains. Popular bush beans include yellow wax, many different green beans, which offer different bean length, or widths. The filet-type “haricots verts” are slim French varieties good for fine cooking. There are green, yellow, and purple colors of bush and pole-type beans. Yard-long or asparagus beans, also called Chinese yard-long beans, are pole beans whose slim pods grow up to 3’ long.

Beans (Phaseolos vulgaris) are in the Fabaceae plant family, also called the bean or legume family. Plants in this family form a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria in the soil that allow them to fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere. To ensure this nitrogen fixing takes place, coat seeds in a small amount of Bean inoculant, which contains Rhizobia bacteria, before planting. You can purchase small amounts of inoculant for beans and peas from many places that sell seeds. I recommend using inoculant each season on beans and peas, or at least each time you plant them in an area that has never had beans or peas growing there before. Other members of this plant family include peas, alfalfa, clover, and vetch. Because they fix nitrogen, they are a good crop to rotate around the garden to supply some nitrogen for other plants. Till in crop residue at the end of the season to maximize this benefit.

Plant beans in full sun, in well-drained soil after the danger of frost has passed. Plant seeds 1” deep, 2-4” apart in the row. You can plant bush beans in double rows spaced 12” apart in one 3’-4’ wide bed. Since pole beans grow tall and require a trellis, plant only one row around the trellis, or two rows on either side of the trellis, with wider spacing between plants within each row. Sometimes bush beans benefit from a trellis if they are a heavy-bearing variety. Beans prefer a soil pH of 5.8-6.2. Incorporate fertilizer and lime prior to planting according to soil test results. You need minimal nitrogen fertilizer at planting, and should not need to sidedress nitrogen if they are inoculated.

Pole beans do well on a constructed trellis, or trellis made with t-posts and horticultural netting, or woven twine. Some pole bean growers place a top-line of wire or twine across the top of the posts, and run twine from the ground to the top in a straight vertical line or at an angle, looping over the top line and running back to the ground. They then train the beans to grow up these vertical supports. Plan to irrigate crops in dry weather, as bean pods will not fill out if there is a dry period when beans are forming. Mulch will also help conserve moisture and reduce disease.

Harvest green beans when pods are filled but while still full green color, before seeds start to mature. Store beans in a plastic bag, and refrigerate immediately after harvest to preserve quality and maximize shelf-life. Consider planting several successions of beans through the summer if you are hoping for a steady stream of fresh beans. Plant more all at once if you would like to preserve a large batch.

Common bean diseases include rust and anthracnose, which cause spots on leaves and pods. Proper plant spacing, good air movement through the garden, and crop rotation can reduce this. Choose disease-resistant varieties if you have regular problems with disease. Phytophthora root rot can also kill plants, and is more common in very wet soils or wet weather. Insect pests include Mexican bean beetle and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Bean beetles feed on leaves and cause defoliation. They resemble large lady bugs, and their larvae are yellow with black hair-looking structures. Control with an insecticide early in the season to keep populations low, especially if you are growing multiple bean crops. Stink bugs will feed on pods and cause spots on the beans. Control with insecticide only if populations are very high. Contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Wilkes County Center for pest identification and pesticide recommendations.

Bean beetle damage and larvae

Bean beetle damage on snap beans (left) and bean beetle yellow larvae on neighboring beets (right)

Many families grow their own bean variety that they have saved for generations. To save seed you would need to let the bean pods mature on the plant before harvest. Wait for the pods to turn tan and dry- the walls of the seed pod will often become thinner and papery when they mature, and may even split open. Harvest the seed pods before they split open so they don’t drop seed when you harvest. Avoid saving seed from diseased plants, and do not plant seed that appears to have spots from disease or insect feeding. If you are concerned about disease on your seed, see this information on how to properly sterilize seed before planting.