Beans are healthy food and easy to grow in the summer garden. There are so many varieties to choose from. So, for a bumper harvest get busy planting your favourite varieties of beans in Spring and Summer and enjoy the harvest of tender beans well into Autumn.
Growth habits and planting needs
When selecting the type of bean to plant consider the space available, climbing varieties can grow over 2 m tall but there are dwarf varieties that have a compact habit that don’t need staking. So, there is sure to be a variety to suit the large or the small garden.
Preparation of the soil before planting is vital, as is the choice of a sunny, open location with good air circulation, to avoid fungal diseases of the leaves. It is important to dig the soil well, enriching it with a good quality, mature compost in a 2.5 cm thick layer and ensuring that it is well draining. Bean crops so should follow root crops in the crop rotation system so that the hungry leafy plants that follow them will have plenty of nitrogen.
Plant in rich well dug soil in full sun. Sow the seeds 5 cm deep and space them 15 cm apart. Space the rows 30 cm apart. Mulch well around the plant but away from the stem to conserve moisture and water well especially in hot weather. Harvest the beans in summer and Autumn.
Beans, like other legumes, fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and so do not require as much fertiliser, though they benefit from blood and bone dug in at planting time.
When planting, water the soil the evening before, soak the beans overnight and plant into moist soil. After that, water only once the seedlings have germinated to avoid the seed rotting. The plants need to be kept consistently watered during the growing season and not allowed to dry out in hot weather.
Beans are best picked when they are young, tender and and flat in shape. If left till the beans inside are large and the pod bumpy in shape, they may be tough and fibrous. Longer, cylindrical, varieties will also need constant picking so that they do not grow too big and fibrous.
Constant picking of the tender pods will ensure more beans develop and that the plant will be more long lived. Pods should not be allowed to dry on the vine during the growing period as this a signal to the plant that the season is over and promotes die back of the plant.
Some of the many varieties of beans to choose from:
1. Scarlet Runner beans
This bean is often grown for its beauty but it will reward the gardener with heavy crops of large pods. Grow them up a fence for a beautiful display.
Plant in rich well dug soil in a sunny location. Sow the seeds 5 cm deep and space them 15 cm apart. Space the rows 30 cm apart. Mulch well around the plant but away from the stem to conserve moisture and water well especially in hot weather. Harvest the beans in summer and Autumn.
How to cook Scarlet Runner beans:
Remember that like most beans, the Scarlet runner bean contains small amounts of lectin phytohaemagglutinin which is a toxin and so the beans should be cooked and not eaten raw.
The tender young beans can be steamed, boiled or stir fried, but the dried beans must be cooked for a long time and pre-soaked in the same way as you would prepare dried kidney beans. The careful preparation will destroy the natural toxin.
2. Blue Lake Beans
This popular and hardy, tall variety of bean, produces a heavy crop of round stringless pods 17 cm long that have a good flavour.
Sow bean seeds 25mm deep in well prepared, moist soil, and avoid watering for a couple of days, spacing the seeds 10-15cm apart. Allow 50-60cm between rows.
Keep the roots cool, by mulching with good quality compost and water well in hot weather.
Use canes or netting, or frames to support the growing plants.
Harvest: Summer and Autumn.
3. Snake Beans
Snake beans grow very tall and so can save space by growing up a trellis. The soil that they are planted in should be rich and have compost and well rotted animal manure added before planting.
There are two varieties of snake beans; black seeded which grow pods to 45 cm and the brown seeded variety that have longer pods reaching 60 cm.
Sow the seeds 1 cm deep and spaced at about 30 cm apart. It is best to plant in moist soil, then wait until they emerge to water again.
The seeds will emerge quickly and the beans mature for harvesting at about 60 days from sowing.
Snake beans can grow up to half a metre long in pairs and should be picked when they are about 30 cm and still young and tender. They grow in pairs so take care when harvesting so as not to damage the plant.
As the snake beans grow so fast they need to be picked frequently and at least every second day. By picking often you also ensure the longevity of the plant as new pods continue to grow.
4. Climbing Purple King
This is an outstanding climbing variety that are long and flat and give excellent yields. They are purple and turn green when cooked.
Grow the purple king beans in well prepared, rich soil in a sunny position. Sow 2-3 beans around each growing stake in Spring and Summer.
Sow the seeds 25 mm deep in moist soil and wait till they germinate before watering again. Space the plants 10-15 cm apart. Mulch well to keep the roots cool and to conserve water. Weed regularly to prevent competition for nutrients.
Keep well watered in hot conditions and harvest in Summer to mid Autumn
5. Dwarf Borlotti Beans
This great bean can be grown to be harvested as a a green bean when young and tender or it can be left to harvest as excellent dried beans.
The mature bean pod and the beans themselves have red stripes and spots making it is quite a distinctive bean.
Plant the seeds from Spring to late Summer sowing them directly into the well prepared soil at 25 mm deep and spacing them 30 cm apart.
Mulch well to keep weeds away fromthe roots and to conserve moisture and water well when hot. This is important when the flowers are forming.
To ensure continuous cropping late into the season it is important to pick the pods frequently.
6. Vitalis Bean (large flat continental bean)
This is an early climbing variety that has long flat pods about 25 cm long.
Sow seeds 25 mm deep, 10-15 cm apart in moist soil and do not water for a couple of days. Space at 50-60cm between rows. The seeds should germinate in 7-10 days
Water well throughout the growing season and mulch to conserve moisture and to stop weeds growing. These beans will need support for climbing using canes or netting.
The beans will be ready for harvest in 10 weeks from sowing. Pick often to keep the plants cropping continuously.
7. Broad Beans
Broad beans are hardy and easy to grow and are nitrogen fixing. Unlike other beans they do not have tendrils and grow on thick stalks.
Soak the seeds for 24 hours and sow directly into prepared beds at a depth of 5-10 cm with 15-20 cm between the plants. Space the rows 70 cm apart. Water them in well and then leave until the seeds have germinated, about 10-14 days.
The plants are tall and will become heavy when the pods grow so it is important to stake the plant to prevent them toppling over.
Water well especially when the pods are forming.
Harvest the pods when they are small so that they will be tender and keep harvesting so that the plant will continue to produce.
Like all beans, broad beans are nitrogen fixing so after the season is finished turn them under as a green manure crops.
An interesting heirloon variety:
Hidatsa Shield Bean – a not so common bean.
My parents have been growing these beans for a very long time so their origin was a mystery. People have always swapped seeds and this bean became a family favourite. We harvest the tender green bean pods to eat but they are also an excellent cropping bean for drying.
Originally I did not know the variety but after some research it turned out to be the Hidatsa Shield bean, an heirloom variety that originates in the USA. This is not surprising because all beans originate in Central and South America.
It is reputed to have been grown by the Hidatsa tribe near the Missouri River and is native to North Dakota. It is heat and drought tolerant and is a really productive bean.
It was grown in the Three Sisters Method and allowed to climb up the corn. In this system a mound is prepared about a foot high and four feet wide with a small depression in the centre of the mound to collect water.
Four corn seeds were planted on the mound and when a little advanced the beans seeds were planted in between the square formed by the corn. Finally the squash seeds were planted inside the square on the mound around the corn and beans.
This planting benefits all the plants. By planting his way, the beans will fix nitrogen for the heavy feeding corn, the corn will provide support for the beans and the squash will shade out weeds and keep the roots of all the plants cool, conserving moisture.
If you have the space in your garden experiment with local varieties and read up on the Three Sisters Planting method for the all the details
Here is a good site to start off your research and it includes diagrams to show how the planting is done:
If you are interested in the Hidasta Shield bean you may be able to find it available online.