How to Grow Organic Beans
Growing Organic Beans
Beans - whether green beans, snap beans, heirloom beans or any other kind of beans - are easy to grow organically. They need warm temperatures, full sunshine, and fertile soil to grow at their best. While there are insect pests that will eat the leaves of bean plants, they generally don't harm the beans themselves, and most organic gardeners simply skip the pesticides and add plenty of compost to the soil for fertilizer. The secret to growing organic beans is to enrich the soil well before planting your garden beans, and to rotate your crops so that you don't grow beans in the same location each year.
What Kind of Beans Should I Grow?
There are many different kinds of beans to choose from when you decide to grow beans organically. These include:
- Snap Beans or Pole Beans: Many people grew up with these kinds of garden beans. They grow on a vine and need a pole to twine around, hence the name "pole bean." A trellis or wire mesh fence can also be used to support these beans. They produce prolific amounts of bean pods which are best when picked and eaten fresh or canned to enjoy later.
- Bush Beans: When space is at a premium, bush beans are the perfect choice. Instead of twining up a pole or another support, they grow in a bush-like shape and produce beans on the main plant.
- Lima Beans: Very popular in the south, lima beans grow easily in warm, humid climates.
- Heirloom Beans: Many heirloom beans produce unusual seeds that can be made into stews, soups and chilis. Jacob's cattle, Yin Yang, and many others are speckled, wattled, black and white and unique colors. You can also grow beans such as kidney beans, garbanzo beans and others. Many heirloom beans are best dried and used from storage. The pods mature and dry on the vine, then are picked when mature and the bean seeds allowed to dry after being separated from the pod.
What about yellow beans, purple beans and all the other fancy varieties you see in gardening catalogs? The great thing about growing beans organically is that they all need pretty much the same thing. So have fun and experiment with pretty colors - a plateful of healthy, antioxidant-rich green beans is a delicious summer meal.
Organic Gardening for Beans
Choose a spot in your garden for your organic green beans that receives six or more hours of sunlight per day. You can grow green beans in partial shade, but they are more prone to mildew type diseases and may not yield as good a harvest as beans grown in full sun. Whenever possible, choose a spot that receives full sun.
Enriching the soil is very important for growing organic green beans. If you have a compost pile, dug up your best compost - the kind that looks like crumbled chocolate cake and is filled with fat, healthy and happy worms. That sounds gross, but it's the best compost there is. My dad used to call it "black gold" and he would say "It's worth it's weight in gold!" To your plants, it's better than gold, because it is filled with beneficial macro and micro nutrients as well as microorganisms that enrich the soil.
Dig in as much compost as you can and loosen the soil to a depth of about six inches. Mix the compost in well.
Dig a trench and plant bean seeds directly into the garden soil after all danger of frost is past. The soil temperature should be steadily in the 60s and 70s when you plant beans. They won't germinate if it is too cold.
Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep and follow the directions on the back of the bean package for spacing. Some varieties need more space than others. Cover the bean seeds with soil, pat the soil with your hand, and water well. Water beans regularly to supplement rain water.
You don't need any special fertilizer for your green beans. If you notice bugs eating the leaves such as Japanese beetles, don't worry too much. Use a floating row cover, which is like a see-through mesh fabric that allows light through but does not allow insects through, if your beans are plagued with insects. Use it only after the beans have flowered and begun to produce pods, however. Floating row covers keep out good pollinating insects as well as bad bugs, and if you keep our the pollinators, your bean plants won't produce seed pods.
Harvesting and Storing Beans
Pick bean pods when they are young and tender. Pick them frequently as many bean plants will produce a second and even a third crop after you pick the first beans. Many varieties of beans can be dried, and beans can be canned using a pressure canner according to directions. They are excellent when canned and are great for quick salads or meals during the wintertime when you are craving fresh, organic produce. Canning your organic beans will also save you quite a bit of money during the winter months.
Beans grown for soups such as various heirloom bean varieties, garbanzos and the like should be allowed to dry while on the plant. Let nature dry the bean pods completely. Then pick the dried pods. I like to separate the dried husk of the pod from the edible seeds inside at my kitchen table. I spread paper towels on the table and use two bowls, one filled with the dried pods and the other for the dry seeds. I separate them over the paper towels and compost the dried husks of the bean pods. The dry beans are placed in clean, dry canning jars and labeled with the date so I can use them within the year
Organic Pest Control for Green Beans
There are several kinds of beetles that will go after bean plants. Most chew the leaves, and some suck the liquids from the leaves. Organic gardeners usually choose not to use conventional pesticides. As previously mentioned, floating row covers can discourage hungry pests, but there are other organic gardening practices you can use to prevent insect damage.
- Companion planting uses other plants to repel in sects as well as enhance yield for certain plants. Marigolds, calendula and rosemary are good companion plants for beans. Calendula and marigold are said to repel many insects.
- Neem oil is an organic oil made from the neem tree of India that can be used on the leaves of bean plants. As with any organic oils or sprays, follow the directions on the bottle for use. Neem oil is also good for roses.
- Traps - Traps for beetles may be helpful to contain or control heavy infestations.
As an organic gardener, my choice is to leave my plants alone as much as possible. Sometimes the bean leaves look like lace, but they still produce plenty of edible green beans. For more information on green bean care and growing tips, contact your local County Cooperative Extension or check out Organic Gardening magazine.