Beans are quick-growing and exceptionally prolific, producing tender, tasty pods over many weeks. Grow them from seed for no-fuss plants that will crop repeatedly. In this short video, we share invaluable tips from the pros to help you grow a bountiful crop of beans this summer.
Types of Beans
There are two main types of bean: bush beans and pole beans.
- Bush beans are quick growing and can be succession sown every few weeks to provide a long cropping season throughout summer. They are useful for filling in any gaps in your beds, and can even be successfully grown in containers.
- Pole beans need more space and strong supports to help them climb, but they produce a lot more pods. Pole beans can be further divided up into green beans (snap beans) and runner beans. Green beans have smooth, pencil-shaped pods, while runner beans have slightly coarser pods and will continue cropping a few weeks later than green beans.
Most beans are green, but look out for varieties producing red, purple or yellow pods.
See more about growing different bean varieties.
All beans are best grown in a sunny spot in well-drained soil that was improved with compost or well-rotted manure the previous fall. Or, dig out a trench about a foot deep where your beans are to grow. Fill it with composting ingredients (for instance vegetable peelings and spent crops), top it with leaves then cap it off with the excavated soil. By spring all that organic matter will have rotted down and the soil will be in perfect bean-growing condition.
Keep your beans well watered in dry weather. Mulching the soil around the plants helps to both keep the ground moist for longer, and keep weeds down.
Planting Bush Beans
Plant beans four to six inches apart, in rows that are 18 inches apart. Plant two beans per planting hole, about two inches deep. Make the first sowing one week before your last expected frost date. Sow more beans every three or four weeks until midsummer. Thin out the weakest of each pair of seedlings.
For an earlier start (up to a month before your last expected frost date), sow in a greenhouse or cold frame. Use deep plug trays or pots, and a general-purpose or seed-starting mix. Transplant your beans outdoors only when you’re certain there’s no more chance of a late frost. Harden seedlings off a week in advance (ideally using a cold frame) by leaving them outside for a few hours more each day.
Bush types rarely need much support, but you can support plants that are heavy with beans on short canes, twigs or peasticks to keep the pods off the ground.
Try planting beans alongside earlier crops left to bloom. For instance, radish, cilantro and arugula flowers will help confuse pests such as aphids and attract pest predators like hoverflies.
Planting and Supporting Pole Beans
Plant pole beans at least six inches apart, with rows two feet apart. Traditionally, beans are grown against parallel rows of bamboo canes that are joined to a horizontal cane where they cross at the top. Bean teepees are also very popular and attractive.
A bean frame is an alternative option. Instead of leaning into each other, the canes lean out and are fixed to a rectangular frame at the top, which is supported on posts. Because the canes lean outwards, the beans hang to the outside and are easier to pick.
Pinch out the tops of pole beans once they’ve reached the top of their supports to stop them becoming unruly and to divert the plant’s energy into producing more pods.
Once your beans are ready, it’s essential to remember to pick them regularly, while they’re still young and tender. If you leave them too long they’ll turn stringy and tough. If you stop picking, the plants will stop producing pods.
Near the end of the season it’s a good idea to allow a few pods of open-pollinated (heirloom) varieties to dry out on the plant. Shell the dried pods, then bring the beans inside to finishing drying out in a well-ventilated place. Once fully dried, store the beans in paper envelopes labeled with the variety and date. Next year you can plant them to grow more beans for free!
See the Almanac Guide to Growing Beans for detailed information about planting, growing, and harvesting beans.
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