Green beans! Steamed, stir-fried, tossed into soup, or boiled and served with bacon bits—these vegetables have to be one of the highlights of the summer harvest (ranking behind homegrown tomatoes, of course).
If you’re feeling adventurous, you might try eating a few snap beans raw. They have an unusual flavor, so this may not be for everyone, but some people do enjoy the way they taste with veggie dip or on a salad.
Lima beans are handled a little differently. Instead of eating the whole pod, as you do with green beans, you eat only the seeds. The flowers make good food, too, but not for humans. Bees love lima bean pollen and will gladly convert it to honey for you.
- A warm growing season (especially for lima beans).
- Full sun, although some shade is beneficial in particularly hot, dry weather.
- Warm, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
- A pH between 6.0 and 7.5.
- Nasturtium. Repels bean beetles.
- Rosemary. Repels bean beetles.
- Summer savory. May repel bean beetles, and is reported to improve flavor.
Corn is commonly recommended as a companion plant for pole beans, but this combination never seems to work too well in practice. It is indeed true that the pole beans appreciate the support the cornstalks provide, but the corn competes aggressively for water resources. Also, the corn harvest ends before the bean harvest does, which means you must leave the stalks in place to avoid risking damage to the beans.
Avoid growing beans near onions, shallots, or sunflowers, as these combinations may result in stunted bean plants.
- Plant both snap and lima beans after the danger of frost has passed. In Kansas, this will usually mean from May to early June.
- Treat seeds with a legume inoculant (not absolutely necessary, but this will get them off to a good start).
- Plant seeds one to two inches deep. Spacing is three to four inches for bush snap beans, four to eight inches for pole snap and bush lima beans, and eight to ten inches for pole lima beans.
- Water thoroughly.
- Keep the ground moist until the sprouts appear.
- For a continuous harvest of bush beans, plant more seeds every other week until the weather gets too hot for good germination. In Kansas, this will usually occur sometime in July. Pole beans only need to be planted once at the beginning of the season.
Although beans don’t like to stand in soggy ground for days on end, they still need plenty of water in hot weather. A soaker hose will keep them supplied early in the season, but when summer hits you may need to water them by hand to ensure that their needs are met.
Pole beans will require some type of vertical support, or they will spread out in tangled masses across a good portion of the garden, wrapping themselves around your other vegetables. This situation is not only a nuisance, but it tends to provide a good habitat for insect pests. Your support system does not have to be elaborate. Poles, posts, or simple trellises will do. Just keep those beans trained up off of the ground.
Pests and Diseases
- Bean leaf beetle.
- Bean weevil.
- Blister beetle.
- Cabbage looper.
- Corn earworm.
- Cucumber beetle.
- European corn borer.
- Bacterial blight.
- Bacterial brown spot.
- Bean common mosaic virus.
- Bean yellow mosaic virus.
- Downy mildew (usually only on lima beans).
- Phytophthora blight.
- Powdery mildew.
- Seed rot.
Check your bean plants every two or three days to ensure that you harvest often enough. You have some flexibility with snap beans. You want the beans to be big enough to make picking worth your time, but you don’t want them to be discolored or bulging with overgrown seeds, either. Practice makes perfect on this one.
As for lima beans, they will be ready for harvest when the pods have reached their full size and filled out with beans. However, don’t leave them on the plant so long that the pods start to lose their green color. A few varieties can be left on the vines to dry and then stored and used as dried beans.
Handle your bean plants with care when harvesting—they grow brittle with age and start to lose their branches. Use two hands to break the pod from the stem.
As with most types of produce, beans are best when fresh. If you need to store them for a few days, however, snap or shell them and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator. For extended storage, blanch and can or freeze.
- Separate lima bean varieties by at least a mile, or place bags over the plants when they flower. Snap beans mostly self-pollinate, so this precaution is not usually necessary. If you are concerned about it, separate varieties by a few feet.
- When you harvest the beans to eat, leave a few pods on each plant to ripen.
- Let the pods thoroughly dry on the plant if possible, but be sure to bring them inside if rain is expected or if insect pests are a problem.
- Crumble the pods in your hands.
- Winnow the seeds by pouring them from container to container in front of a fan.
- Spread the seeds out to finish drying indoors.
- Store in a cool, dry, dark place. Snap beans will keep for about four years, lima beans for about three years.
Information on a variety of bean diseases, including blights, rots, molds, and anthracnose.