I don’t know about you, but beans are one of my favorite summer crops to grow! Growing up as a kid, I always loved snacking on simple snappy green beans – cooked or raw! Later as a gardener, I was thrilled to discover how many stunning and interesting varieties of beans there are to grow. Purple, yellow, spotted, long, flat, short… Homegrown beans are a far cry from boring. The best part is: growing beans from seed is very easy to do, and they mature quickly! You can even grow beans in containers.
Read along to learn how to grow beans. I suggest growing beans from seed, so we’ll go over exactly how to do that – including how to prepare the seeds for planting, the ideal location and conditions to grow beans, and care through harvest time. I’ll also share our favorite bean varieties to grow, the difference between bush beans and pole beans, trellis and training options, the concept of succession planting, and last but not least – our favorite ways to preserve our bean harvests!
Don’t worry! If you do choose to plant started nursery seedlings instead, pretty much all of the same tips apply. Ready to grow some beans?
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BEAN TYPES & VARIETIES
What is the difference between bush beans and pole beans?
There are two main types of beans: bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans grow on shorter (errhm… bushy) plants, while pole beans grow on long trailing vines. Therefore, pole beans need some sort of tall trellis or support structure to climb. On the other hand, bush beans stay relatively upright on their own and generally do not need support. There are pros and cons to both types, depending on your personal preferences and garden space of course. We like to grow both types!
Pole beans usually take slightly longer to mature than bush beans. Yet once they do start producing beans, most pole bean varieties are indeterminate, meaning they will keep on producing new beans for the entire growing season. Trained up trellises, pole beans are awesome for small gardens. For example, you could plant a single skinny row of climbing pole beans along the backside of one garden bed on a trellis. The space they take up in the bed and soil is minimal, but you’ll be blessed with an abundance of beans for many, many months.
Bush beans grow and mature more quickly than most pole beans. This means you’ll be harvesting beans sooner, which can be great for places with very short growing seasons or to use as a quick filler crop. However, keep in mind that most bush bean varieties are determinate in nature. Rather than continually producing, determinate plants put off most of their fruit over a shorter duration of time. Then, the plant will steadily decline in productivity and should be removed or replaced. Bush beans are quite compact so you can fit many in one garden bed (or large container), though they do inherently take up more soil space than vining pole beans.
Snap, Shelling, & Dry Beans
Beyond bush or pole varieties, beans can be further broken down into three categories: snap beans, shelling beans, or dry beans. Some types can fall into several of those categories, depending on when you harvest them! For example, Scarlet Runner beans can be enjoyed as a fresh snap bean when harvested young, but can also serve as a dry storage bean if allowed to mature longer and dry on the vine.
Your typical green bean is a snap bean. They’re eaten whole, pod and all. Snap beans should be tender, crunchy, and when picked at the right time, not tough. We mostly grow snap beans, which includes various colors of “green” beans, Romano beans, and other good fresh-eating stringless varieties. Our favorite snap bean varieties: Musica Romano and Blauhilde (pole beans), along with Provider, Dragon Tongue, Borlotto di Vigevano, and Royal Burgundy (bush beans). Yet there are SO many other stellar varieties to explore!
Shelling beans are ones where you’d remove the outer pod, but consume the inner individual beans while fresh and green. Lima beans and soy beans (edamame) are popular shelling beans (though they can also be dried).
Finally, dry beans are those that you allow to mature completely until the inner bean is hard and dry. The pod is discarded, and the beans are perfect for long-term dry storage at room temperature. Dry beans need to be rehydrated and/or cooked before eating. Common dry bean varieties are black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans, though there are some amazing heirloom varieties out there too.
HOW TO GROW BEANS
Optimal Bean Growing Conditions: Sun, Soil, Water & Fertilizer
The majority of beans grow best in a location that receives full sun and ample warmth. At least 6 to 8 hours of sun is ideal. Be sure to check the description of the exact varieties you’re growing though, as some may have varying preferences. For instance, Scarlet Runner beans grow quite well in partial shade and prefer slightly cooler weather than other beans.
Beans are not needy feeders. In fact, too much nitrogen can cause a lot of leafy growth but a lack of bean development! So think twice before reaching for fertilizer. If your soil is already decently rich with compost and organic matter, you may not need to amend the soil at all before planting beans. If anything, add some fresh compost, worm castings, and/or a small sprinkle of mild, balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer to provide essential micronutrients and minerals.
Otherwise, all growing beans need is consistently moist but well-draining soil. They don’t like to dry out, but also dislike standing water or a soggy root zone.
Beans & Nitrogen
The reason that beans don’t need a lot of nitrogen added to the soil is that they make their own! Like all legumes, beans have the ability to draw in or “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it in their roots. This is done through specialized bacteria called Rhizobia that colonize their root system. The stored nitrogen is then available for the growing beans along with other nearby or future plants. Therefore, I always suggest to cut bean plants out at the soil line at the end of the season (rather than yanking the whole plant out) and thereby leave the roots in place. Fava beans are a bit different than bush or pole beans, but are another stellar edible nitrogen-fixing cover crop that we love to grow.
Starting Beans from Seed or Seedlings
Beans are one of those finicky plants that don’t like their roots ruffled. That is why I suggest starting beans from seed, sown directly in place in the garden. Truth be told, we have started beans in advance in our greenhouse before! And they grew. However, we’ve found it to be true that beans directly-sown outside “take off” and thrive faster than those that are transplanted as seedlings. When their roots are disturbed, they easily shock and stall.
If you do choose to start your bean seeds indoors, do so only 3 to 4 weeks before they’ll be planted outside. Also start them in large enough containers that the seedlings will not become root bound in the meantime. For example, in petite 4” nursery pots rather than tiny cell 6-packs. Thin them down to one bean seedling per container early by trimming away the unwanted sprouts. Don’t pull them apart. Finally, if you buy seedlings at the nursery, choose the smallest and most tender looking ones you can find! Bigger isn’t better. You can find more tips for starting seeds indoors here.
Quick Tips for Sowing Beans Outdoors
- Ideally, sow your first bean seeds directly outside about 2 or 3 weeks after your average last spring frost date. Check your Homestead and Chill planting calendar if you aren’t sure when that is! If you’re growing bush beans, be sure to read the “succession planting” section to follow.
- Before planting, soak the bean seeds in de-chlorinated or filtered water for several hours, up to one day. This helps promote a speedy germination.
- After soaking, plant the bean seeds about 1 inch deep in pre-moistened soil. Follow the recommended spacing between seeds/plants that is listed on the seed package of bean variety you are growing.
- Beans need a minimum soil temperature of about 60 degrees to germinate (sprout) and will do so even more readily when the soil is in the 70s. Be patient with them! Like most seeds, beans also need consistent moisture to germinate. Try to keep the top inch of soil evenly moist during germination – but not soggy!
- Once they start to peek their beany little heads above the soil line, the tender seedlings are prone to attack from birds and other pests. That is an issue in our garden at least, with any small sprouts! Therefore, you may find the need to protect the seedlings until they reach at least several inches tall and can better fend for themselves. We cover our beds with wire hoops and floating row covers of fine insect netting. Wire fencing or individual plant covers (e.g. cloches) could also be used.
- Remember to thin seedlings down to just one sprout per hole once they’ve emerged. Cut the unwanted ones; don’t pull.
- And now they’re off! Once they start to grow, beans need very little effort or care – aside from water, and support for pole beans.
Supporting Pole Beans
There are many ways you can provide support for climbing pole beans. They will cling to just about anything. We use our inexpensive DIY remesh trellises to support growing pole beans. Other options include making a bean tee-pee, letting them wind up individual stakes, on an arched trellis, or even up sunflower stalks! Whatever style you choose, plan to go tall! Many pole beans can easily reach heights of 8 feet or taller.
Growing Beans in Containers
Due to their compact nature and affinity for well-draining soil, beans grow very well in containers too! For example, you could choose to plant a handful of bush beans in a large pot or grow bag. To get the most bang for your buck, I would personally opt to grow pole beans in a container instead. That way, you can expect the maximum harvest from a small space – always an awesome thing! Get creative with your pole bean support system here, such as surrounding the container with a tall cylinder cage/trellis, or creating a bean teepee in the middle! Another excellent option to maximize your season’s harvest is to grow bush beans in succession.
Succession Planting Bush Beans
As we already discussed, bush beans are shorter-lived than pole beans. They are also really quick to mature! This combination makes bush beans the perfect choice for succession planting. Succession planting is when you continually start or sow new seeds in a staggered timeframe over a growing season.
It would go a little something like this: Start your first round of bush green beans in the early spring. Once that first round of plants emerge and grow for several weeks to a month, pop in another set of seeds somewhere. That way, as the first group of plants produce and then decline, the new round is coming up hot behind them – ready to take their place as a provider! You can continue to do this several times throughout the growing season, keeping you flush with bushels of beans. If you’re working with limited space and can’t start a new round in a different location, you can also sow new seeds between the already-mature bush bean plants. When the new sprouts pop up, cut down the older declining ones to give the new guys sun and space.
Common Bean Plant Pests
A number of pests and diseases can damage bean plants, including aphids, thrips, spider mites, Mexican bean beetles, and various bacterial or viral diseases. Thankfully, we find our beans to be generally less pest-prone than many other plants in our garden! To support maximum plant health, provide beans even regular water and avoid wetting the leaves (such as with overhead water). Irregular water and wet leaves can lead to plant stress along with bacterial and fungal issues.
The approach to manage bean plant pests depends on what type of pest is present. Check the underside of leaves and try to ID the pest before taking action. If you’re struggling with aphids, thrips, or spider mites, you can either blast them off with a firm stream of water, or try our gentle DIY pest soap spray recipe. Dilute neem oil can also be effective at deterring a number of pest insects and fungal diseases, but needs to be applied correctly and with caution (learn how to use neem oil here). Otherwise, neem oil can easily burn leaves. Whenever I spot a Mexican bean beetle, I do my best to snatch it up and squish it by hand!
For more information and photos about common bean pests and diseases, see this excellent resource from the University of Minnesota. For more general tips on organic pest control, see our article: “25 Organic Ways to Stop Pests From Destroying Your Garden”.
Harvesting Fresh & Dry Beans
Now, it is time for the best part: harvesting your goods! To harvest beans, either gently pull to disconnect the bean stem from the plant, or use pruning snips/scissors to cut the stem and avoid breaking beans or branches.
For the most tender and delicious green snap beans, harvest them when they’ve reached the expected size – or even a tad on the small side. If allowed to sit on the plant for an extended period of time, the outer pod will become increasingly tough. Also, the more you harvest, the more energy the plant has to produce more beans! To harvest shelling beans, wait a little longer than snap beans. You should be able to see or feel the inner beans swelling to a good size within the pod.
Dry beans require the longest time to mature. Dry beans should be left on the plant until the pods are dry, and the beans rattle within the pod when shaken. Then, you can either harvest individual bean pods or cut the entire plant out and hang it upside down to continue to dry. You’ll eventually need to shell them to separate the inner beans from the pod – called threshing.
The beans should be completely dry and hard before moving them into long-term storage. Give one a nibble and see how it feels! If soft, continue drying the beans on a screen or other arid location until they’re very firm. Finally, transfer the dry beans into an air-tight container and store in a cool, dark and dry location. Yes, you can use your dry beans as seed for next year!
Preserving Green Snap Beans
Preserving dry beans (as explained above) is kind of a no-brainer. You grew them to keep in dry storage, after all! But what about preserving tender snap beans or green beans? You have several options. We love to ferment or pickle ours! Another simple idea is to freeze them whole.
Pickling or fermenting green beans
Green beans can be pickled in a classic vinegar brine, or preserved in a salt water brine to create lacto-fermented “pickles”. It’s no secret that we generally prefer to ferment things over using a vinegar pickling method. Fermentation not only maintains but enhances the nutrient, probiotic, and antioxidant content of the preserved food! However, we sometimes make pickled veggies with vinegar too – and they’re dang good! You can find our lacto-fermented dilly green bean pickle recipe here. Or, check out our quick and easy refrigerator pickled pepper recipe. (Follow the same process, but simply replace the peppers with green beans instead!)
How to freeze green beans
To freeze green beans, you can simply toss them into a large reusable air-tight container or ziplock bag and freeze them as-is. I suggest trimming off the stem end first so they’ll be ready-to-use later. For maximum nutrient preservation, blanch fresh green beans before freezing them. The quick exposure to heat stops certain enzyme activity that would otherwise degrade the texture, color, flavor, and overall quality of the beans with time.
To blanch green beans, first get your ice bath ready. Fill a large bowl of ice water, with enough room for the beans to eventually join the pool party. Next, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Quickly submerge the green beans in the boiling water for one to two minutes, carefully drain them, and then immediately transfer the beans into the ice bath to halt the cooking process. Once cool, drain the green beans and spread them out on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Now here comes a nifty trick that you can apply to freezing all types of produce: lay out the green beans on a baking sheet in a single layer, not touching as much as possible. Freeze the tray for a few hours or even overnight. Once they’re frozen individually, collect the green beans and put them all together in one air-tight storage container to go back in the freezer for good. Work quickly so they don’t defrost while you’re doing this. Why? The process of freezing things individually first prevents them from all freezing and sticking together in a big clump later! That is how they do it in commercial food processing. You can follow this same process to freeze shelled fresh beans, like individual lima beans or soybeans.
And that concludes this quick guide on how to grow beans.
Armed with information and ideas, I hope you’re blessed with bushels of homegrown beans this summer! Are you already growing beans? If so, what are some of your favorite varieties? Let us know in the comments, or ask any questions you may have! Last but not least, please spread the love by sharing or pinning this article.
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