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The bean has always held a special nostalgia for me. Some of my fondest childhood memories include standing at the kitchen sink helping my grandma snap beans after an afternoon of climbing the apple trees in her backyard. There's something about that repetitive movement and the sound of snapping that still brings me comfort in my own kitchen as an adult — which is why it's a vegetable I always have in my summer garden.
Regardless of your own food memories, I'm here to encourage you to grow them in your garden, too! They're simple to grow and are feverish producers — and you don't need a full-fledged homestead, either (small-space dwellers, I'm looking at you). If you've got a pot, there's a bush bean ready to reward you.
There are a lot of bean varieties out there to explore, and the hardest part about growing them can be deciding which ones to pick from the seed catalog. So, get ready to start dreaming up spicy green bean salads, smooth fava bean dips, homegrown edamame snacks . . . heck, you could even try your hand at some gorgeous Greek gigante beans, and save them for fall stews!
Since there are so many bean varieties, it can be hard to know which type might work best for your growing conditions. The most important things to know are the differences between two basic bean groups, pole and bush beans. From there, you can explore the flavors, textures, and colors that excite you most.
Know your legume
These climbing vine varieties can reach 10 to 15 feet in height, which means they'll need some sort of support as they grow. They offer a longer harvesting window, producing pods as they climb (usually 6 to 8 weeks), so if you have the vertical space for it, this is a great bean to grow all summer long.
Far more compact (topping out at about 2 feet), these varieties are great for smaller spaces and patio gardens, as they do not need any support as they grow. Usually planted in double rows and perfect for raised beds and containers alike, they produce during a shorter 3 to 4 week window, making succession planting a consideration for longer harvesting windows throughout the season.
Snap, shell, and dry beans:
The most commonly grown beans are snap varieties, which are eaten whole, tender, and young while the beans are still small. Shell beans like edamame and fava are removed from their pod and enjoyed fresh or steamed. Finally, dried beans are left on the plant to dry before harvesting, and can have an incredible shelf life when stored properly.
Green, wax, and purple beans:
These podded varieties can also be broken down into color categories. The "green" in green beans (the most commonly grown) actually refers to its immature, soft texture instead of its color, while wax beans have a waxier texture and, in some cases, yellow pods. Purple beans are gorgeous hanging from the vine, but it's worth noting that they lose their color once cooked.
Plot (and pot) needs
No matter what kind of bean you decide on, they all have the same basic needs (outside of spacing and trellis support): full sun and rich, warm, loamy soil with good drainage. Beans don't typically enjoy being transplanted, so it's recommended they be sown in place well after the last frost. I personally like to soak my bean seeds overnight before planting them to kick-start germination, but it's not necessary. If you happen to impulse-buy a perky pack of bean seedlings at the nursery, don't fret — just take extra care not to disturb the root balls when placing them into the ground.
The amazing thing about beans is they don't need much else, including fertilization, and, in fact, are incredible for your garden's overall soil health. They improve soil with the bacteria that create nodules in their roots while converting atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen, which is released into the soil to be shared by neighboring plants. This is why many gardeners plant legumes as a rotation crop to revitalize overworked soil. Plants are amazing, my friends, and the humble bean is no exception!
If you're growing in a container, make sure you've got a pot that's at least 12 inches deep, and with great drainage. Unglazed pots and wine barrels are ideal as they allow extra moisture to evaporate, avoiding overly damp soil and root rot. As long as you plant in full sun and stay on top of your watering routine, you should have no trouble. If you happen to have the vertical space, I encourage you to experiment with some pole bean varieties, too. I know people who love growing them as privacy screens and shade barriers for summer patios.
Perhaps the most important part of growing beans (specifically for the pole varieties) is to have a trellis ready come planting day. Most folks underestimate the need to have support early — what looks like a little seedling one day could be a floppy vine in distress the next. Here are a few ideas for support that you can source, or even DIY yourself.
These collapsible trellises are a great option if you need to store them flat come winter time. I love them because you can adjust the width of the frame quite easily to fit a number of vining vegetables, or to use in different locations as needed.
For those of you experimenting with trellising in containers, pyramid trellises are quite simple for smaller spaces. They're great for breezy areas as their circular structure can stand up to gusts better than others.
Essentially a tomato cage for beans, these can run on the pricier side but are a pretty basic plug-and-play option. Most also fold flat for storage, which is a bonus. If you're in the mood for a DIY, you could make your own version with some twine and wooden poles.
The simplest and most widely used trellis for its ease of customization, this consists of two posts placed within the borders of your growing area with hog wire or twine strung between them to provide support.
If you're looking for a trellis that doubles as a design accent, the garden arch is your friend! These can be made by purchasing a sheet of hog paneling from your local tack shop. For added visual interest, try growing a flowering vine or another vining vegetable like squash from the other side — or double up on your beans for double the harvest.
Pests and diseases
Whether it's the Mexican bean beetle, the Japanese beetle, or the bean leaf beetle, your plant's biggest nemesis will likely be . . . the beetle. The best way to tackle this problem is by detecting them early and dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. Make sure to check in on your plants each morning — when beetles are a little less active — until the problem is resolved. Protecting young plants with garden fabric is also a great way to prevent early infestations from setting in.
Other common ailments are Alternaria leaf spot, white mold, bean rust, and mosaic virus, which can be avoided by keeping leaves dry and trellising or pruning to allow maximum airflow between vines.
Speaking of beetles, why not try a few companion plants that will help keep those pests away? Adding catnip, marigold, nasturtium, or rosemary to your bean patch will deter flea and bean beetles. Another interesting bean BFF is potato, which keeps Mexican bean beetles away. In turn, the bean plants protect potato buds from the Colorado potato beetle. A win-win!
There are a few ways to properly harvest your crop for best results. The key to a bean bounty is to harvest frequently to stimulate production. It's also advised that you pluck your pods in the afternoon instead of dewy, damp mornings because the dry leaves limit the spread of potential pathogens and bacteria.
For snap beans, wait until you can see individual seeds bulge through the pod. When it comes to shelling beans, hold off until the pods are tough, but not dry. Finally, for your dry varieties, the beans should rattle inside the pod before you remove them from the plant.
Bush varieties have a much smaller production window, so remove and compost the entire plant once it stops producing. Pole beans, however, will continue to grow and produce until the first frost, so build those trellises tall and get your bean baskets ready!