The National Garden Bureau has proclaimed 2021 as "The Year of the Garden Bean" also known as green beans, although they come in a variety of colors. Garden beans well deserve there celebrity status as they are the second most popular vegetable grown in the home garden. Tomato being first, of course.
According to the University Extension Vegetable Planting Calendar (publication G6201) the time to plant a spring crop of green beans in Mid-Missouri is April 15 to May 20. I usually try to plant them as early as possible to avoid pests and heat, both of which tend to diminish the quality of the crop. That being said, green beans are not frost tolerant so you have to be mindful of the weather, and as I write this, it looks like we might have a pretty late freeze.
With this year's seemingly wetter-than-usual April, I have not got my beans planted yet, which is unusual for me but maybe lucky this year. I like to plant early, but I will admit I have lost a crop or two to a late frost. They are easy to replant and worth the risk as far as I am concerned. Because green beans are not frost tolerant and do not do so well in high heat, many prefer to grow them as a fall crop. But who can wait?
There are many good bean varieties for sale at local gardening centers, and most sell varieties that have proven to do well in Mid-Missouri. If in doubt, the above mentioned publication gives varieties that have been tested for our area. Pod shape, size and color vary among varieties giving an assortment of choices to the home gardener.
One question often asked is: Which is better, pole or bush? The answer may surprise you — there isn't much difference between pole and bush beans. Many of them taste exactly the same, although some may argue that point, and there are even some varieties that have both a pole and a bush bean variety.
The main difference is the one you can see. Pole beans grow tall and need a support such as a pole. Bush beans grow about 1-2 feet high in more of a bush shape and don't require support. Bush beans will take up more garden space to produce the same yield as pole beans — something to keep in mind if you are limited in space.
One interesting fact about pole beans is some of the varieties produce a somewhat flattened pod instead of a rounded one. They taste the same, and this did not seem like a big deal until I tried to sell them. Most people do not seem to buy green beans that look like different. I even had the price marked down, and the bush beans with the rounded pods still sold out first at a higher price. Now, I make sure I get a pole bean variety that has a rounded pod.
Another difference is the time it takes them to reach maturity. Bush beans tend to mature a little quicker (50-60 days) than pole beans (65-75 days). However, pole beans keep producing as you pick them, whereas bush beans produce most of their fruit at the same time and then they are done for the season. As long as you keep picking your pole beans every couple of days, the plant will keep producing.
This latter difference makes the bush beans better for processing (freezing, canning, etc.) and pole beans better for fresh eating throughout the season. You can expect about 15 pounds of bush beans from a 30 foot row.
Both bush and pole beans are harvested before the pods are fully mature. Beans that are over-matured will be tough and stringy. Pods should be full size with small seeds and firm, crisp flesh when snapped. Pods are ready for harvest about seven to 14 days after flowering. Pick regularly as the plant will flower and mature the pods for two to three weeks on bush varieties and five to six weeks on pole types.
Whichever type and variety suits your need, be sure to plant some green beans this year for a fresh taste that can't be found in a can. If you can't decide between pole or bush, plant both. That's what I do. But I will confess, the older I get, the more I like pole beans because they are easier to harvest. Here is an interesting fact: Wisconsin, the leading green bean state, grows 300,000 tons annually.
Peter Sutter is a life-long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]