Beans are a Terrific Beginner Crop to Grow in the Home Garden
I’m sure beans need no introduction. Whether your preference is green beans, lima beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans or soybeans, just about everyone has eaten a bean at some point in their lives. The cool thing is that they’re one of the easiest, if not the easiest, food crop to grow.
I’m going to give you some how-to’s for growing, caring for and harvesting them, no matter which type you prefer, so you can grow a bumper crop of this culinary staple this summer, even if you’ve never grown a bean in your life!
Welcome to Week 7 of Crop of the Week! Each Friday, I’ve been featuring tips on a single crop in detail, from preplanting to growing to harvest and beyond. I’ve also included FREE cheat sheets for email subscribers on each crop. If you’d like the cheat sheets, you can sign up here. If you’d like to read the previous posts, you can find them here: Peas, Beets, Brassicas, Potatoes, Salad Crops, and Raspberries. WHEW! The list is getting long, but be sure to stick around, there are more to come!
When I was growing up, my uncle grew enough beans each year that my grandmother would can over 100 jars of beans for him (because they were the ONLY vegetable he would eat!) Somehow, he managed to go about it without a fence around his garden. I’ve never been able to figure that one out, since he was in PA, home to thousands of deer and groundhogs……Don’t ask me, I have no idea how he did it!!
Types of Beans
- Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) – These include pinto, green and kidney beans. What differentiates them is the variety, they’re identical as far as genus and species goes.
- Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) – Sometimes grown for their gorgeous red flowers
- Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus)
- Garbanzo beans (Cicer arietinum) – otherwise known as chickpeas
- Soybeans (Glycine max)
- Long beans (Vigna unguiculata) – These include the Chinese red noodle bean I’m trying for the first time this year (if you’d like to check out what else I’m trying, the post on that is here.)
- Fava beans (Vicia fava)
Let’s get into the nitty gritty now, shall we? Everything listed above has very similar growing requirements except for fava beans, so I’ll cover the differences briefly at the end of the Care section.
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Beans are very frost-sensitive, with pole beans being even more sensitive than bush types, so waiting until you’re absolutely sure all danger of frost is past (and even a week or two later) and your soil is above 60F is best. For me here in Zone 6b, that means I can’t plant until about May 15, maybe later in cooler springs. Need a soil thermometer? You can find one here.
Another consideration with spring bean planting is that they don’t do well in soggy soil. If you’re having a particularly wet spring (as we are this year), you may want to delay planting a week or so as well. Don’t stress, they’ll make up for it by growing like crazy in warm, sunny weather!
Beans do best when planted right where they’re going to grow (no need to start indoors! YAY! My plant room *might* be a bit (ahem) full. Ok, bursting.) Additionally, they don’t need to be soaked or presprouted.
One thing you should do, though, is get an inoculant powder and roll the beans in it before planting. This is to allow the beans to show you their superpower. Yup, beans are superheroes! Can you believe it?
Just as with peas and other legumes, beans can, with the help of certain soil bacteria, convert the nitrogen in the air to the form of nitrogen plants need in the soil. Cool, huh? The inoculant just jumpstarts this process (it’s actually the bacteria itself you’re applying to the beans).
You can typically find the inoculant at any garden store. If not, you can order it here. Don’t skip this step, it’s important for increasing yields.
However, if you grew beans or peas in your garden last year, you can take a couple shovelfuls of soil from that area and turn it into the soil you’re growing beans in this year. This will take the place of the powdered inoculant.
Bush or Pole?
First, are you growing bush or pole beans? Your seed packet should give you this info as lots of the varieties I talked about at the beginning come in both types.
Bush beans get 1 to 2 feet high and produce a concentrated harvest, meaning that you’ll get the majority of your beans over about a 2-week period. This is ideal if you’re growing primarily to preserve your harvest, as I do.
TIP: If you’d like several harvests over the course of the summer, you can succession plant every 2 weeks until about 2 months before your first expected frost (for me here in Zone 6b, that would mean I could plant until about August 15).
You’ll want to plant your bush beans 1 to 1 1/2″ deep (shallower in heavier soil, deeper in lighter soil). They should begin to germinate in about a week (although if your soil or air temps are on the cooler side, it could take an extra couple of days).
You shouldn’t need to give your bush beans any support unless you live in a very windy area, where a few stakes would be helpful.
Pole beans are even more sensitive to cold than bush beans, so, as mentioned above, be absolutely sure you wait until after your last expected frost to plant (be patient, you’ll be happy you were!)
NOTE: Lima beans are EXTREMELY frost-sensitive, so be extra careful about planting them after the weather has warmed significantly. If you live in a shorter season area, as I do, plant a bush variety, as they mature in under 75 days. Pole or vining varieties can take up to 130 days to mature, which won’t work in many northern areas.
Pole beans are more or less continuous producers, and can give you a crop throughout the summer.
I planted a combination of bush and pole beans last summer (in separate areas of my garden) and it worked very well. I had some for fresh eating for quite a while, but also a nice concentrated harvest for preserving as well.
You’ll want to plant your pole beans about 2″ deep. They take a bit longer to germinate, but you should expect to see some little bean plants poking through the soil in about 2 weeks.
I highly recommend that you have a trellis in place before you plant your pole beans. If you need help with how to build one, head here to sign up for my email list and you’ll receive FREE plans for an easy-to-build trellis that I use for my peas, beans and cucumbers every year.
Care of Beans in your Garden
This is the easy part! Beans are so easy to grow, they barely need any help at all!
The one thing beans need is moisture, particularly when they’re first planted and when they just begin to set blossoms. Be sure to give them at least an inch of water a week during these times. Otherwise, yields may suffer.
As we discussed, beans make their own nitrogen. However, it doesn’t hurt, about midway through the season, to side dress them with a bit of compost or some kelp or seaweed extract. They don’t need the nitrogen, but some potassium and phosphorus, as well as the other trace minerals found in these fertilizers, are helpful.
As with most other plants, giving your beans a nice layer of mulch after they’ve started to come up will help with water retention and keeping the roots cool when temps heat way up.
Fava Beans (Vicia fava)
Fava beans are much different than the other beans I’ve talked about in that they’re extremely cold hardy, down to 15F. It’s even possible that they’ll overwinter in my Zone 6b garden. I haven’t tried it yet, but might this year.
If you want to plant in spring, do so when you plant peas. If you want to try to overwinter them, plant them in the fall.
Pests & Diseases
**Sigh**, yes, we have to talk about these, although they aren’t a huge problem with beans.
Beans can be bothered by aphids, cucumber beetles and bean leaf beetles. If you’re not familiar with bean leaf beetles, you can find some good pictures here. Cucumber beetles are elongated yellow beetles with large black spots and really long antennae. You won’t have any trouble recognizing them, they’re very distinctive.
The nice thing about the beetles is that they’re easily hand-picked and drowned in soapy water. This is definitely the easiest and best way to get rid of them.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, if you have aphids, dust your bean plants with flour. It constipates the bugs (*giggle*). You can also plant catnip near your beans as aphids don’t like it. Aphids DO like nasturtiums, so planting them as a trap crop is also an option.
All that said, I’ve grown beans for years and never had a problem with any bugs other than the occasional beetle. If you’re growing lots of native flowers and herbs, you’re going to have enough beneficial insects floating around your garden to take care of many of your garden pests.
Want to know more about some of the beneficial insects you may find in your garden? Check out my Beneficial Predatory Insect post here. If you’d like some recommendations on shrubs that can attract beneficials, you can find that info in my post here.
If you grow beans for drying, you may discover you have a problem with bean weevils. Unfortunately, you won’t find this out until after you store them and find holes all through your beans.
HOWEVER, it’s really easy to deal with bean weevils. Wanna know HOW easy?
When you harvest your beans, throw them in the freezer for at least 5 days to freeze the little buggers. That’s it!
As with most plants, the best way to prevent disease in your beans is to plant varieties that are resistant to disease. If you’re wondering how you would know, check out this sales page from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that shows you all the resistances this variety has.
As I’ve mentioned (more than once!), you should ALWAYS rotate your crops, meaning that beans (or other legumes) should not be grown in the same spot in the garden every year. A 3 to 5 year rotation is ideal, the longer the better. Obviously, if you have a very small garden, do the best you can. Even an every other year rotation is better than nothing.
Also make sure you don’t plant your crops so closely together that there’s no air flow. Good air flow goes a long way towards preventing disease, especially fungal diseases such as downy mildew and rust.
Another good practice is never to work in your crops when they’re wet. First thing in the morning when dew is still on the leaves is a really BAD time to work in your plants, as the water gets onto your fingers (along with accompanying spores), and then you transfer them to other plants.
Same goes for your pruners. Be sure to wipe them with an alcohol wipe between plants, especially if disease is suspected.
Beans can be susceptible to anthracnose, bacterial blight, mosaic virus, rust and downy mildew.
It’s best to pull up and dispose of any diseased plants, although, honestly, I don’t worry about a little bit of rust or downy mildew towards the end of the season. I know that I’ll rotate my crops the following year, so a bit of rust or mildew isn’t going to turn into a ton of rust or mildew, and it doesn’t hurt the plants to any great degree if it’s mild.
You may need to treat rust and downy mildew more seriously in warmer or more humid areas. I leave that to you, but here in the Northeast, they don’t seem to be a big problem.
Please don’t plant your beans with onions or garlic. They don’t like each other!
Beans like carrots, cauliflower and radishes, which are supposed to help them grow. You can also try growing them close to potatoes, which should help repel bean beetles. Any herbs, plus snapdragons and marigolds are generally beneficial.
If you’d like more information on companion planting, as well as crop rotation, and a really cool (if I do say so myself!) printable Garden Journal, head on over here to check it out.
Last, but not least, seed saving. If you’re growing common, long or soybeans, you don’t have to isolate them by more than about 25 feet as they’re not commonly pollinated by bees.
Fava, lima and runner beans can be bee-pollinated, so if you’re growing them all and want to save seed, you’ll need 1/2 mile of isolation to be sure you don’t get any crossing. Bees prefer lemon balm and basil to bean blossoms, so you can always plant them to see if you can discourage pollination.
By the way, you’ll still get beans, because whether they tend to be bee-pollinated or not, they’re also self-fertile.
It’s ideal to leave your beans right on the plant to mature and dry if you’re going to save them to replant the following year. However, if there’s going to be prolonged rain or a frost, pick them and dry them indoors.
I hope my post on growing beans has been helpful for you. Again, if you’re not an email subscriber and you’d like all the cheat sheets for the crops of the week, head here to sign up. I’ll never spam you, but you’ll get lots of goodies and a weekly newsletter.
Posts Related to Growing Beans
- Growing Organic Peas
- Growing Beets Organically
- Growing Delicious Salad Crops
- Growing Potatoes Organically
- Growing Raspberries
- Growing Brassicas (cabbage family crops)
- Printable Garden Journal
- Beneficial Predatory Insects
- Planting Shrubs for Beneficials
You’ll find several pinnable images below, be sure to pin me for later! As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!