Planting Green Beans
In this section I will discuss several aspects of the first step in how to grow green beans: planting them. This section will cover culture of green beans; preparing the soil for how to grow green beans; whether to start green beans indoors or plant them directly in the soil; when to plant green beans; companion planting for how to grow green beans with other vegetables, and trellises and other support structures for green beans.
1. Culture of Green Beans
Green beans are a warm season crop and can be grown in all parts of the United States and most of Canada. They should not be planted until the soil has warmed up. In the South and Southwest United States, you can learn how to grow green beans during the fall, winter, and spring. In the Deep South, you can learn how to grow green beans throughout the winter. During overly hot, dry, or wet weather, the plans often lose the flowers or pods. Green beans grow best between temperatures of seventy and eighty degrees Fahrenheit and need about one inch of water every week.
Beans are legumes and as a result they enjoy association with bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air into a form the plant can use. These bacteria can be purchased in a pea and bean inoculants, available at garden centers and online. If the area has never grown beans or peas before, some of this inoculant can be dusted onto the moistened – but not soaked – seed. If the area has grown beans before, it is usually of little value to add additional inoculants. Beans therefore require less nitrogen than some other vegetables, and if they are planted after some other early vegetable is harvested, the residual fertilizer is usually enough. Heavy applications of manure or fertilizer high in nitrogen can induce a large amount of vine or bush growth but often will delay the maturity and yield of the bean pods.
2. Preparing the Soil
Green beans will grow poorly if the soil in your garden is overly acidic, so it is important to test the pH of the soil and correct it, if necessary, to a pH between 6.5 and 7.0 the year before you plant them. Soil testing kits are available at most garden centers, or you can opt to send soil samples to an extension lab, which will test the soil’s pH as well as its nutrient content, and provide you with a full report on both, as well as suggestions for soil amendments. Of course, the amendments will be different for different garden beds that have various vegetables in them – tomatoes prefer more acidic soil, for example.
You can raise the pH of your soil so that it is less acidic a few different ways. The best ones involve adding pelleted or dolomitic lime to the soil. Till the lime into the soil while you are double digging the beds, and be sure to enrich the soil by adding plenty of compost as well. Make sure the soil has plenty of potassium and phosphorus. Nitrogen is less of a concern, because the beans will make their own nitrogen, which they will then pass on to the soil.
As always, I highly recommend constructing raised beds for your beans. Raised beds improve air circulation in the soil as well as drainage, but more importantly for green beans, they allow the soil to warm up faster than below ground soil. If the average soil temperatures in the garden bed are below sixty degrees Fahrenheit, the germination of the green beans will be suboptimal. You can either construct a raised bed with four walls that you then fill with soil to a depth of twelve to twenty four inches, or you can simply mound a mixture of well finished composed and topsoil over your garden bed until it is about eighteen inches high at its peak. This will also increase the total surface area of your garden bed, allowing you to plant more vegetables in the space than you otherwise could.
3. How To Grow Green Beans Indoors
Green beans are one of the easiest seeds to start, and you can start them indoors with a fairly simple procedure. In fact, germinating a lima bean or any other bean is a great activity to do with kids, because it allows them to witness seed germination first hand. Using this activity, you can teach kids some basic lessons about plant life. For this activity, you’ll need a few lima beans, a paper towel, and a plastic sandwich bag.
Soak the lima beans overnight. Moisten the paper towel until it is damp, but not soaking wet. Then place a few of the Lima beans in the paper towel. Fold the paper towel over the seeds so they are snugly covered. Place the damp paper towel with the seeds in the plastic sandwich bag. Leave the sandwich bag in a warm place. Check on it after a day or two to see if the seeds have started sprouting. Make sure the paper towel stays evenly damp. After a few days you should see some growth. Talk to your kids about the conditions needed to germinate the seeds. You can also experiment with different conditions. Place some seeds in a dry paper towel along with those that are in a moist paper towel, and ask your kids which ones they think will germinate and why.
Whether or not you decide to do this activity with children, you may decide to get a head start on the growing season by starting your beans indoors. You do not necessarily have to start your beans in the manner described above; that method is primarily designed so that kids can see how the seed develops into a germinating plant. Instead, you can plant beans in biodegradable pots about a week or so before the last frost date, and then plant these directly into the garden.
4. Direct Sowing of Green Beans
Of course, green beans are prolific growers, so starting them indoors is not entirely necessary. If you choose to plant them directly in the soil, plant each seed exactly one inch deep, and space them about one or two inches apart. Pole beans and bush beans do not mind being crowded together, so while you may find that you will need to thin them somewhat as they mature, this close company will not harm them.
Bush type beans should be planted one or two inches apart in rows that are eighteen to thirty inches apart. You will eventually have to thin bush type beans to tow to four inches apart. Pole type beans should be planted in rows two to four feet apart, near a support structure (more on that in the next section). Pole beans can also be planted in hills three feet apart with six seeds per each hill. The hill is then thinned to four or five plants, and a support structure is built over the hill.
5. Trellises and Vertical Gardening
Pole beans will need some sort of support structure to grow on. There are a number of different options for this, and the one you choose is dependent on the amount of space you have available to work with, the amount of effort you want to put into it, how many plants you are growing, and how functional versus how aesthetically pleasing you want it to be.
The easiest method for trellising pole beans is to plant them in a hill as described above, and then place three or four stakes around the base of the hill, tying their tops together to form a teepee or wigwam structure. If you are growing a number of pole bean plants in rows, then I recommend building what is called a post trellis. The post trellis is constructed by driving stakes or posts that are six to eight feet long into the ground, and then attaching a crosspiece to the tops of them. You can then run twine from the top of the post trellis to stakes that are pushed into the soil, and then form a grid of twine by interweaving lengths of twine through the upright lengths of twine at intervals of about a foot each.
Alternately, you can use preexisting structures in your garden to train pole beans on. If this is your first year learning how to grow green beans, you may decide that you do not want to construct an elaborate structure for them to grow on. Green beans will readily attach themselves to whatever structure they can find, so if you plant them close to a wrought iron or chain link fence, they will certainly make use of it. Wooden fences can be a bit trickier, as they will have a harder time grasping on to them.
For certain varieties of pole beans, it can be a very good idea to build a trellis that slants, such as the teepee structure discussed above. Certain varieties can grow to be as much as nine feet tall, which can make building a tall enough trellis, as well as harvesting them, quite difficult. But if you build a trellis that is angled so that you can reach the top of it, both of these problems are solved.
6. Companion Planting
Another really wonderful way for how to grow green beans is called companion planting. Companion planting is simply the practice of planting several different vegetables together in such a way that they benefit from one another’s presence. They can be planted together so that one provides shade for the other, or so that one attracts pollinators to the other, or so that one repels pests from the other. Green beans are uniquely suited to companion planting for several reasons.
First of all, because green beans replace nitrogen in the soil, it is a great practice to plant them along with other plants that need a good amount of nitrogen. If you do this, you will save on the amount of fertilizer you need to provide to your vegetable garden bed. Vegetables that need a lot of nitrogen include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, potatoes, Swiss chard, and leeks. Of course, just about every other vegetable you plant in your garden will need some nitrogen, so this benefit will be afforded to any one you decide to plant green beans near.
Second of all, because pole type green beans need a trellis on which to grow, there are two plants in particular that are excellent additions to your pole type green bean garden bed. These are corn and tall sunflowers. Planting a few pole type green beans around each stalk of corn or tall sunflower will allow them to grow on a living trellis. The result, especially if you use sunflowers, is a stunningly beautiful natural trellis for your garden.
There is a particular method of companion planting that was developed by the indigenous peoples of North America (in particular, the people of the Iroquois Nation) for how to grow green beans. They grew corn, pole type green beans, and squash together in the same garden bed. The corn, as I have mentioned, provided a living trellis for the green beans to grow on. The broad squash leaves provide a natural mulch by shading out weeds and the spiny vines of the squash also discourage pests from approaching the corn and beans. And the green beans not only provide nitrogen to the soil for the corn and squash, but also helped to support the corn stalks and prevent them from blowing over in high winds. The Iroquois called this planting method the Three Sisters.
If you would like to learn how to grow green beans using the Three Sisters method, I will explain how to do it. First, choose a site that receives full sun. Amend the soil with lots of well aged compost or manure. With a string, mark off three rows that are ten feet long and five feet apart. In each row, make mounds for the corn and beans. Each mound should be eighteen inches across with a flat top, and the center of each mound should be five feet from the center of the next mound. Plant four corn seeds in each mound, in a six inch by six inch square. When the corn is six inches tall, plant the bean seeds. Plant four to six bean seeds in a square around the corn seeds. In between the corn and bean mounds, build mounds for the squash that are the same size as the corn and bean mounds. Plant the squash at the same time that you plant the corn. When the squash seedlings emerge, thin them to only two plants per mound. You will have to weed the area until the squash develops trailing vines and large leaves. And that is it! Now you know how to grow green beans in the method that was used by some of the first people to cultivate them.