Granted, green beans don’t trigger the same thrill of anticipation as summer’s first ripe beefsteak tomato or ear of sweet corn. But it wouldn’t be summer without fresh pods from the garden. Fortunately, they are easy to grow—even if you’re short on space, thanks to container gardening.
Your grandma probably called them string beans due to the inedible fiber along the seam of each pod, and she might have boiled them up with a chunk of salt pork. Newer varieties lack the strings, so the terminology has changed. Nowadays, seed catalogs refer to them as snap beans.
No matter what you call them when you shop for the seeds, you’ll notice they’re classified by their habit of growth: bush or pole. For containers, pole beans are your best bet. They are vines that twine upward on any vertical support, reaching 6 to 10 feet and bearing continuously from mid-summer until the first frost of fall.
Table of Contents
- Beans grow best in full sun, well-drained, and crumbly soil. Plant beans in spring, when nights are consistently above 50 degrees.
- Sow beans only when the soil is warm. They grow much better and faster in very warm soil. You know it’s ready to plant beans when you can walk barefoot in it and your feet don’t feel cold.
- Sow seeds directly where they will grow—they don’t transplant well.
- For the best yield, plant them in full sun.
- Be sure to change the location of your plants every year. Rotating their location helps reduce risk of soil diseases and better soil that has the nutrients they need.
- A chemical smell and a color, usually pink, on bean seeds tell you they have been treated with fungicide. Don’t allow children to handle, or worse, eat these bean seeds. Wear gloves when planting or wash your hands well when finished.
- The secret to a heavy, long production is to pick often! If you pick their pods they will do their best to make more flowers. Once growing, pole beans should be harvested every 2 days. Bush beans do best when picked once or twice a week.
- Harvest beans when young for the best flavor and for minimum toughness. Pick moist, green pods that are tender, and just slightly filled out. If your growing beans for shelling, you can leave them on the vine to dry, but otherwise pick as soon as they are ready or the vine will stop producing.
- Never pick beans that are moist from dew or just after a rain. Moving a wet plant can spread the spores that cause one of the many mildews and blights that attack beans.
- When the growing season is over, cut off the foliage at ground level and leave the nitrogen-rich roots in the ground to feed next years rotated crops.
- A great way to store fresh picked beans is to parboil them in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and run under cool water. Place in freezer bags. These beans will stay fresh for a year and when you want to cook them, just pull them out of the freezer and cook as you would if they were fresh from the garden.
- Keep all shelling beans on the plant until the foliage begins to turn brown and wither. cut off the plant at the stem and hang plant upside down in a warm place to dry.
- To find out if a dried bean is quality, bite it. If it breaks cleanly, it’s old and will be hard after cooking. If it gives way easily, it will be tender when cooked.
Planting Beans in Containers/Pots
A 5-gallon container is big enough for a half-dozen pole bean plants. Make sure there are holes for drainage in the bottom of your container, and use a good peat-based potting mix. You should supplement the mix with one trowelful of topsoil and another of compost to introduce some microbial life and add micronutrients.
In container plantings, check the soil moisture every day. When the surface feels dry to the touch, water thoroughly.
Place several 8-foot wooden or bamboo stakes in the pot at the same time you plant your seeds. Instead of tapering them into a tepee shape, let them splay outward like a tornado, so the vines won’t shade each other. Or give the vines a fan trellis or a rigging of twine to climb on.
When the harvest begins—about 70 days from sowing—pick the pods two or three times a week. Mature pods left on the plants will reduce production. If you harvest regularly, the plants will continue to set pods until frost.
- Try planting your beans with sunflowers. Not only can the beans use the sunflowers to climb on, the sunflowers with give the beans a bit of shade and they attract bees to the bean flowers to for better pollination.
- Planting your beans with corn gives the beans a nice trellis but the nitrogen from the beans is helpful to the corn.
- Lima Beans are said to do est when planted near Locust trees
- Summer Savory deters bean beetles and improves growth and flavor.
- Nasturtium and Rosemary deter bean beetles.
- Marigold deters Mexican Beetles.
Bad Plant Neighbors
- Don’t plant beans near onions, or garlic or shallots. It stunts the growth of beans.
Pests and Diseases
- Watch for Bacterial Blight. Stunted plants will droop, wither and die. Collect all plants and burn. select resistant b=varieties and rotate crops for best defense.
- Leafhoppers love snap beans. Watch for small white spots on the leaves that then turn pale with edges turning brown and curling. You may find wedge shaped insects sucking on the plant.
- Rust can be a problem for beans, watch for yellow-orange, or brown powdery flecks on the leaves. The fungi is active in damp weather. To prevent, look for resistant varieties, Space plants apart and grow where they get good sun to keep conditions dry.
- Many other viral and fungal diseases. The best prevention is crop rotation and good ventilation.