Friday, June 7, 2013

Survival Plant Profile: Bush Beans

Green beans!

Other than radishes, they're probably the most basic veggie you can grow. Reliable, productive, tolerant of poor soil and tasty, they are one of the first crops any new gardener should try.

Of course, there are many, many beans that fall into the "green bean" category. If it's called a "green bean," that basically just means it's a bean with an edible pod you eat while the beans are still unripe. If it's a variety you let hang on the plant until the beans are basically ripe, it's a "shell bean." Some varieties of shell beans are eaten while still soft, others are allowed to dry completely until you have "dry beans."

Beyond the "shell" or "green" varieties, beans also come in "bush" and "pole" varieties. Bush beans are usually small, squat plants that can stand without support. Pole beans are climbers and need trellises to do well. (A profile on my favorite pole bean, the snake bean, is here.)

Today I'm focusing on bush green beans since they're drop-dead easy. No trellises, no drying, no shelling. Plus, quite a few can be grown in a small space.

Let me show you the Bean That Got Me Gardening:



I was six and went to the store with Dad to buy some seeds. The yellow beans caught my eye... we bought them... and they went into my very first garden. Burpee's "Brittle Wax" beans.
I'm still growing them today (I like the big seed packages so I can plant successive crops - you can buy those here and I'll make like, $0.09 if you do! Yeeeehaw!) because they're consistent, productive and taste good. They're not the most flavorful bean we grow, but they look cool.

And speaking of cool - we grew these beans a few years ago in Tennessee. They're incredible:


Those are called Purple Romano beans. The purple color makes them really easy to see and pick on the plants, even though they turn green when cooked. I originally bought seed at a big box store... and never saw them for sale since, except online. Territorial carries them, and that's also where I stole the above image from: http://www.territorialseed.com/product/513/bush_beans

Beyond varieties - let's talk about culture. Beans like warm weather and will not stand freezing temperatures. Bush beans do not have the strong root system of pole beans, so they need a bit more water to stay happy. Plant your beans 1" deep and about 6" apart in rows roughly 12" apart and you'll do fine. In a week or less, they'll pop up and it's off to the races.

This little bed produces enough beans that you could serve them a few times a week.


Beans usually start producing pods in less than two months - and once pods start getting to picking size, keep them picked. If you don't, the plant will give up producing new pods. We planted a few small beds of beans this year and we're getting baskets of beans right now. Enough to eat every day, share at church and probably freeze as well.

Bush beans can be sown multiple times through the warm season and you'll get more beans that way. Plant a new bed every three weeks or so and you'll be rolling in tasty pods.

As for pests, you'll get stink bugs and maybe bean beetles later as the summer progresses. I don't worry about them unless we get a total plague. One year the bean beetles totally chewed through a bed I'd planted. Fortunately, we'd already harvested plenty of beans. It was my own fault they went nuts, though - I had planted the bean bed in a monoculture. Nice, even rows for the beetles to feast upon... nothing but beans for miles, man.

A voracious bean beetle.
If you get problems like that, I'd just just bury the plants 12" or deeper under some other crop area, bugs and all, wait a bit, and start over again. Or burn them. Or chuck them over the fence for your chickens to mangle. No big deal. Seed is cheap and beans grow fast. Beans are also a nitrogen-fixer, so planting them in front of demanding crops and on new ground is a great way to give your garden a boost of fertility. I throw beans into empty corners during the warm season, just as I do with peas during the cool season. They're tough enough to thrive without much care... and they feed the ground? Yep. All aboard the bean train!

But... the best thing about green beans? Letting your kids eat them right out of the garden, sweet and sun-warmed. When I pick a basket, I always acquire little "helpers" who wish to eat the beans. And since the pods are pesticide-free, nutritious and abundant... who am I to say no?

SPUDOMETER RATING:






4 Spuds!
 
Name: Bush green beans
Latin Name: Phaseolus vulgaris
Type: Annual
Size: 12 - 16"
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Pods
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Raw, cooked, pickled
Storability: Poor. Freeze or can to preserve.
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

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