My grandparents grew up eating leather britches. When they told stories about their childhoods, they sometimes talked about the strings of green beans hanging in the smokehouse to dry alongside jars of blackberry preserves and pickled watermelon rinds. These humble green beans didn’t just help keep them fed during the Great Depression. They co-starred in fond childhood memories of Thanksgiving meals and early morning rabbit hunts.
How we store them changed. Most of us freeze or can them unless we’re planning a backpacking trip. We may flavor ours a little differently or steam them instead of boiling them. Despite all the food fads, green beans still hold a place on our table. The ones we grow ourselves still taste better than the ones at the supermarket.
Green beans fall into three main categories:
- bush beans,
- pole beans, and
- half-runner beans.
As long as you select a variety suited to your area and plant them before the summer heat sets in or after it lets up, they’re relatively easy to grow. Keep them watered, protect them from bugs, and harvest when ready.
If you have chickens, put up a temporary fence around your beans before you let them free range. Our hens prefer young green bean plants over grasshoppers.
Beans love following a green manure cover crop like rye grain, but they should not follow a legume cover crop.
Incorporate 50-80 lbs/acre nitrogen, 50-100 lbs/acre phosphorous, and 60-80 lbs/acre of potassium during pre-planting. Larger pole beans may need additional nitrogen.
Some publications recommend split-applying the nitrogen and potassium with half during pre-planting and half 3-6 weeks after sowing. That said, beans are one of the fastest-growing crops with some bush bean varieties maturing in only 48 days. Longer maturing varieties may benefit from split application, but shorter ones likely won’t.
During pre-planting, check your sulfur, boron, and zinc levels as low levels may reduce your yields and adjust based on a soil test.
If your soil has low magnesium levels, add 25 lbs/acre of magnesium before sowing.
Green beans, also known as snap beans, grow throughout zones 2 through 10. They detest summer heat. In colder regions, row covers or low tunnels may be necessary for early crops. Fall plantings may also benefit from row covers for both frost and insect protection.
In the spring, sow your beans when the soil temperature is between 60 and 65⁰F. During their growth period, your ideal daytime temperature is in the mid-80s with lows in the upper 50s. Blossom drop occurs at 90⁰F, which means the existing beans will continue maturing, but new ones are unlikely.
For fall beans, sow when the soil temperature drops below 85⁰F. In zones 8 and 9, starting beans in soil blocks indoors may help overcome early fall heat issues. However, the blocks should be transplanted within days of emergence.
Pole Beans and Half-Runner Beans
Pole beans need support. String trellises, trellis netting, fencing, and corn stalks all work. Get the trellis in place before the beans run. Otherwise, you risk breaking your plants. I prefer erecting trellises during planting.
Row spacing: 4-5’
Seed spacing: 2 – 4”
Planting depth: ¾ – 1”
Drill seeding rate: 40-50 lbs/acre
Row spacing: 30-36”
Seed spacing: 1 ½” – 2 ½”
Planting depth: ¾ – 1”
Drill seeding rate: 70-80 lbs/acre
Normally, you plant beans based on a 3-year rotation. However, if you have problems with root rot, you need to use a 4 or 5-year rotation.
During production, green beans need about 1 ½ to 2 inches of water per week. This does not mean you should water them daily. Instead, you need to keep an eye on soil moisture and water as needed.
For most gardeners, a cheap, analog soil moisture sensor with a depth of 6” will do the trick. When the moisture meter indicates the soil is dry, apply 1/2” of water. You can also test the moisture with a shovel and your hand.
Dig down 6”. Take a handful of dirt from the bottom of the hole and squeeze it in your fist. Moist soil stays together. Dry dirt crumbles.
Market gardeners should consult their local extension office about their area’s centibar readings and consider using a more advanced monitoring system.
Weeds are one of your greatest enemies when growing green beans. Start with a weed-free seedbed and then control weeds throughout the growing season with mechanical cultivation like hoeing.
Some growers swear by the stale seedbed method. To do this, prep the area at least 2 weeks before planting. Let the weeds sprout and kill them either with mechanical cultivation or an herbicide. Then continue with your pre-planting and sowing.
Special Considerations for Fall Green Beans
Most root-knot nematode damage occurs during the summer and early fall because nematodes are most active when the soil temperature is above 60⁰F. The further you are in the growing season, the more critical nematode resistance is. Depending on whether you expect an early cold snap or summer-like temperatures in October, you may also need cold or heat resistance.
Additionally, you want a variety that produces quickly. Unless you have the greenhouse space, fall pole beans will probably remain a pipe dream.
In southern Georgia, contenders produce well during the fall. If you’re uncertain about which varieties perform best in your area, call your local extension office or look up “green beans” on your state extension’s website.
Sow fall beans about 1-1 ½” deep. The extra depth helps protect them from the summer heat. If you typically experience dry falls, a light mulch will help your seedbed retain moisture.
Spring beans do not always require regular insect spraying. When they do, it’s typically at the end of the growing season or after a spell of warm weather. Fall beans are a different story.
Fall green beans grow when insect and disease pressures are at their highest points. Plan on spraying for insects at least once per week. Lightweight floating row covers (0.5 oz/sq yd or under) are particularly helpful for insect control. If you require greater frost protection, consider a low tunnel instead.
Harvesting, Storage, and Marketing
Most growers harvest their beans when they reach the same diameter as a pencil. However, young green beans are prized for their tenderness. Short and slender, these beans are often marketed as haricots verts here in the States.
Harvest your beans early in the morning. Dispose of any damaged, overmatured, or rotting pods. Regardless of whether you hand harvest or use a mechanical harvester, clean all equipment, including crates, after use. Always wash your hands before picking.
After harvesting, hydrocool your beans as you would lettuce or use forced air. The ideal temperature of your beans is 41-45⁰F. The longer you wait to cool your beans down, the shorter their shelf life. A 12-hour wait sacrifices 3 days of shelf life.
Store green beans at 41-45F, 95-99% relative humidity. They keep for 8-12 days.
At the Market
Since heat significantly reduces their shelf left, do not display your entire crop. Don’t display more beans than you sell in 1 hour. Create a smaller display basket or crate for your beans. Place it in a cool, shaded part of your booth. Replenish this from the cooler as needed throughout the day.
Snap or french your green beans. Then freeze or can them. Traditionally, green beans were air-dried. Dehydrated beans are also known as leather britches or shuck beans.
Save the bean scraps for your compost pile or give them to chickens.
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