The bean has always held a special nostalgia for me. Some of my fondest childhood memories include standing at the kitchen sink helping my grandma snap beans after an afternoon of climbing the apple trees in her backyard. There’s something about that repetitive movement and the sound of snapping that still brings me comfort in my own kitchen as an adult—which is why it’s a vegetable I always have in my summer garden.
Regardless of your own food memories, I’m here to encourage you to grow them in your garden, too! They’re simple to grow and are feverish producers—and you don’t need a full-fledged homestead, either (small-space dwellers, I’m looking at you). If you’ve got a pot, there’s a bush bean ready to reward you.
There are a lot of bean varieties out there to explore, and the hardest part about growing them can be deciding which ones to pick from the seed catalog. So, get ready to start dreaming up spicy green bean salads, smooth fava bean dips, homegrown edamame snacks…heck, you could even try your hand at some gorgeous Greek gigante beans, and save them for fall stews!
Since there are so many bean varieties, it can be hard to know which type might work best for your growing conditions. The most important things to know are the differences between two basic bean groups, pole and bush beans. From there, you can explore the flavors, textures, and colors that excite you most.
These climbing vine varieties can reach 10 to 15 feet in height, which means they’ll need some sort of support as they grow. They offer a longer harvesting window, producing pods as they climb (usually 6 to 8 weeks), so if you have the vertical space for it, this is a great bean to grow all summer long.
Far more compact (topping out at about 2 feet), these varieties are great for smaller spaces and patio gardens, as they do not need any support as they grow. Usually planted in double rows and perfect for raised beds and containers alike, they produce during a shorter 3 to 4 week window, making succession planting a consideration for longer harvesting windows throughout the season.
Snap, Shell, And Dry Beans:
The most commonly grown beans are snap varieties, which are eaten whole, tender, and young while the beans are still small. Shell beans like edamame and fava are removed from their pod and enjoyed fresh or steamed. Finally, dried beans are left on the plant to dry before harvesting, and can have an incredible shelf life when stored properly.
Green, Wax, And Purple Beans:
These podded varieties can also be broken down into color categories. The “green” in green beans (the most commonly grown) actually refers to its immature, soft texture instead of its color, while wax beans have a waxier texture and, in some cases, yellow pods. Purple beans are gorgeous hanging from the vine, but it’s worth noting that they lose their color once cooked.
No matter what kind of bean you decide on, they all have the same basic needs (outside of spacing and trellis support): full sun and rich, warm, loamy soil with good drainage. Beans don’t typically enjoy being transplanted, so it’s recommended they be sown in place well after the last frost. I personally like to soak my bean seeds overnight before planting them to kick-start germination, but it’s not necessary. If you happen to impulse-buy a perky pack of bean seedlings at the nursery, don’t fret—just take extra care not to disturb the root balls when placing them into the ground.
The amazing thing about beans is they don’t need much else, including fertilization, and, in fact, are incredible for your garden’s overall soil health. They improve soil with the bacteria that create nodules in their roots while converting atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen, which is released into the soil to be shared by neighboring plants. This is why many gardeners plant legumes as a rotation crop to revitalize overworked soil. Plants are amazing, my friends, and the humble bean is no exception!
If you’re growing in a container, make sure you’ve got a pot that’s at least 12 inches deep, and with great drainage. Unglazed pots and wine barrels are ideal as they allow extra moisture to evaporate, avoiding overly damp soil and root rot. As long as you plant in full sun and stay on top of your watering routine, you should have no trouble.