The Gardener's Companion: How to plant and grow green beans::Growing half runner green beans
One of the staples of our garden each year is green beans. In truth it is the one of the few green vegetables my children will eat. Plus, my wife and I grew up in families that included this vegetable in a good portion of our meals, so it became an important part of our diets.
Growing up, my wife and I learned how to plant, harvest and prepare these vegetables for long term storage. These methods allowed our families to have home grown produce throughout the winter months, even until time for the next harvest. There is something about a home grown bowl of green beans as compared to a store purchased one that I feel makes the effort worthwhile.
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There is not a tremendous amount of preparation to grow green beans. You can purchase bean seeds at your local hardware or farm store. Once you have the beans you must prepare your ground, making sure to work it with either a powered cultivator or a hoe so that it is loose enough to allow you to make a row ditch to plant the bean seeds in.
Some people will “soak” their bean seeds overnight before planting, with the expectation of shortening the time for the seeds to sprout. Personally I do not do this, but know it will help if you are determined to get things going immediately. I feel gardening is a leisure activity and do not allow myself to get so keyed up over results.
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I have seen instructions in print about how to plant bean seeds, which will say so many inches apart within the row. My father did most of his planting by hand, dropping the seeds so that there were no more than a couple of inches between them. The last few years I have been using a device that has a seed disc mounted in a little seed reservoir and it will drop the seeds and partially cover them as I plant. This is a much more precise and definitely a faster process.
After the seeds are planted, I usually go back and pull part of the dirt from one side of the row to partially cover the beans. Then I will take a bucket with granular fertilizer, usually 10-10-10 and sprinkle it over top of the freshly covered seeds. This fertilizer may not be used until there is some precipitation in your garden, but it is there to help when the seeds begin to sprout.
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There are so many types of beans it would be difficult to cover all their specific and individual qualities, so I want to focus on a couple of types: bush beans and the kind that will climb. Specifically, we grow two varieties which are Tenderettes and Half Runners. Between these two beans we cover the interests of the majority of people in my growing region.
Tenderettes are a type of bush bean, or type that grows into a freestanding vine. These beans are heavy producers and provide a bean that does not have strings to deal with at harvest. Many people in my area would rather not have to struggle with the task of stringing, which can be a considerable investment of time and effort.
Conversely, however, the other type Half Runners definitely will have strings to take care of at harvest. Also, these vines are climbers and do better if planted in a spot where you provide them with something to climb on as they mature. Ideas for this can be fencing or corn crops, where the vines can latch on and “pull themselves up off the ground. If nothing is done, these fast growing vines will reach a point where gravity takes over and they will slump over to the ground, making their production much less and picking a very difficult proposition.
When you purchase bean seeds, most packs will have an estimated amount of days necessary for the beans to mature to the point they are ready to be picked. Keep in mind these estimates are under ideal conditions where the ground is warm and adequate moisture is present. If these factors are varied, so will the actual time until the beans reach maturity.
Judging whether your crop is ready to be picked is a subjective exercise. My wife and I are veterans of this process, so we can usually just look at the vines and make this determination. Truly, it relates to how full you want the bean pod to be. Half Runner lovers like a full pod, while bush beans are usually better before the beans get very large.
Also, the larger the bean the tougher the hull will be. This is something you will learn as you experiment with growing beans. It may take a couple of tries to figure out just what point is the best for you and your crop.
Your beans won’t likely mature all at one, so you may have to arrange several harvests to accommodate your crop. Usually your first harvest will be lighter, but will take some of the mature pods from the vine, which will redirect the energy to other less mature ones, which will cause you to have several rounds of harvest. This can be spread out over a few weeks, but really depends on weather factors such as moisture and amount of sunshine your vines receive.
To actually "pick" the beans you will go out to your vines and take the pod in your hand and gently pull it loose from the vine. I say gently because the vines are usually tender and can easily tear loose from the plant or the ground, depening on how deep the roots have grown. As the crop matures, you may be able to grab several pods simultaneously to shorten your time to harvest.
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Once you have picked your beans, it is necessary to prepare them for storage. Even if you plan to cook some of these beans right away, you still need to prepare them the same way as you would for long term storage. This can be a labor intensive process, but we usually invite neighbors or family members over to spread the work and make it more enjoyable.
The string beans will have strings on both edges of the bean. At one end of the bean will be the portion that connected to the vine. At the other end will be a pointed tip which is where the bean began growing. To “string” these you simply pull against these ends toward the opposite end of the bean pod. Once you have pulled the string from each end, you will take the bean pod and snap it in several pieces. Depending on the size of the bean, this may be several sections. Usually you want no more than two beans in each section.
With the string less beans all that is necessary is to snap the ends off and then break them into the smaller sections. Obviously the string less beans will take a shorter time to prepare for storage. We typically grow more of these beans for that reason along with the fact that we prefer the taste of these over the Half Runners.
There are two ways of storage I want to cover. Some people wash their beans and insert them into freezer bags before placing them into the freezer for long term storage. We prefer canning the beans in pressurized glass jars. This process involves using what is called a pressure canner to cause the glass jar to “seal” in the beans so they will keep for a period of a few years.
The beans that are sent to the freezer will require more preparation when the time comes to cook them, meaning you will need to boil them for at least an hour. In comparison, the “canned” beans will only need to be cooked about half as long to make them ready to eat. Again, your personal preference when trying both methods will determine which suits you best.
This should help you get started in growing your bean crop. There are probably steps that are so automatic to me that I have either skimmed over or ignored completely, so be sure to ask an experienced gardener if there is something you don’t understand.