Grow Your Own Beans
“The difference between a cow and a bean is a bean can begin an adventure”
– Stephan Sondheim-
Jack had something going for him when he traded his old cow for those magic beans – had it been broccoli or celery, we doubt he would have woken up the next morning with the same success. Beans are very fast and easy-to-grow; strong and prolific. It is certainly the veg to plant to lure your kids into the wonderful world of gardening and growing your own organic food.
Green beans can be divided into 2 groups according to their growth habit:
- Bush or Dwarf beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) have a low-growing, compact and bushy habit, as the name suggests. They spread rather than climb and require more space, but are great ‘fillers’ in the vegetable patch.
- Runner or Pole beans (Phaseolus coccineus) have a climbing habit and need to be supported. Because they grow up, they require less space and are very suitable for small gardens. Runner beans produce over a longer period than bush beans.
Spilling the Beans
Beans don’t transplant well and are best grown directly from seed sown in early Spring (mid-September) when all danger of frost has passed. Successive sowing should be made every 3-5 weeks for a continuous bean supply with the last sowing done in early February, in time for beans to be harvested before the first frosts.
Beans like a well-drained soil, so prepare the beds for sowing by removing all weeds and stones and digging a thick layer of compost and a generous amount of bone meal into the soil. This has to be in a full sun position with at least 6 hours of sun per day.
Bush beans: Sow 12-15cm apart in rows that are 50cm apart. Sow two seeds per planting hole at the depth indicated on the seed packet. If both seeds germinate, remove the weakest of the pair. Bush beans might need a bit of low support in the form of twigs or canes to lift the plant slightly when the beans get too heavy. This type of bean bears fruit for about 3-4 weeks and then dies down. Plan successive sowings with that in mind.
Runner beans: Before sowing, erect the structure that has to support the climbing beans, be it in the form of a teepee, a trellis, wire fence or a special bean frame. Sow the seeds 15cm apart with a space of 60cm between rows. Sow 3-4 beans at the base of each support. Remove the weakest 2 seedlings when they have 4 true leaves and train the little vines up the supports. Once the beans have reached the tops of the support, pinch out the growth tip. Runner beans bear pods over a longer period than bush beans (about 5 weeks); therefore successive sowing will be less frequent.
Check out our video on Sowing Seeds by clicking the Play icon below:
Water the seeds daily and once they have germinated, keep the seedlings and plants moist, but not waterlogged. This is especially important from when flowering start right until harvest time. Water beans at ground level and avoid spraying water on the leaves as this could lead to fungal and other foliar diseases.
Spread a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Because of their nitrogen-fixing abilities, beans don’t generally need regular fertilizing. A very light application of organic 6:3:4 or 8:1:5 can be made once the seedlings are about 10cm tall. After that, just keep an eye on the leaf colour – it should be a healthy mid-green colour. If the leaves turn pale or yellow, do another light application of fertilise or compost or drench the soil with a seaweed- or fish-based liquid fertilizer. Too much fertilising will result in lanky growth and lots of healthy foliage but a poor yield.
Runner beans should be ready for harvesting 8 to 10 weeks after planting and bush beans after about 7 to 8 weeks. This is what makes beans such a rewarding vegetable to grow! Pick the beans while they are still tender and tasty. If you leave them on the plant too long, the beans will become stringy and dry and a lot of the nutritional value will be lost. The more you pick the more you’ll get!
Harvest the beans by pinching the soft stem between thumb and forefinger or cutting with a sharp knife or secateurs – avoid yanking them off the plant.
Beans loooove Savoury (winter and summer) and a few sprigs of these, added when cooking beans, will impart an irresistible flavour. Beans also thrive around marigolds, beetroot, carrots, celery, cucumber, mealies, petunias, potatoes, strawberries, and all plants belonging to the cabbage family. For more on companion planting click |HERE|
Fennel, Dill and all members of the onion family.
Beans will benefit all plants growing near them as they fix nitrogen into the soil. After harvesting, when the bean plants die down, dig them into the soil to make this nitrogen available in the soil. Follow a crop of beans with a crop of leafy vegetables like spinach or cabbages to reap the full benefit of this treasure.
Native American tribes have been growing what they call ‘The Three Sisters’ for centuries – a perfect combination of vegetables that provide support to each other and complete sustenance to the grower. This type of companion planting consisted of:
Sister #1: Maize or mealies which offered support to the beans – as sisters do.
Sister #2: Pole beans which harvested nitrogen from the air and fixed it in the soil for all three sisters to enjoy.
Sister #3: Squash which formed a living mulch at the feet of the other sisters, keeping the soil cool and moist and warding off creepy crawlies with its prickly leaves.
Fun for little Human Beans
Create a teepee with long wooden stakes and plant runner beans around it to cover the structure. Plant mint, Corsican mint or pennyroyal on the inside of the teepee to create a ‘carpet’ or line with artificial lawn. Trim away a bit on one side to form a small entrance. Now isn’t that just the perfect hideaway for a busy little body?! In autumn the beans can be replaced with peas.