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Mar 5

Spotlight Edible Of The Day: Beans

Posted by HGEL on 5 Mar 2011. Filed under  Spotlight View Comments

“Make the ground say beans.” Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond

Family –

Fabaceae (alternately Leguminosae) is commonly known as the legume family, pea family, bean family or pulse family. The legume family includes many important crop species such as pea, alfalfa, clover, common bean, peanut, and lentil. Many plants in the legume family have the ability to fix nitrogen which is a wonderful gift to the gardener or farmer. For example, the root system of soybean, a typical plant in the legume family, has this quality. Nitrogen fixation occurs in the root nodules that contain bacteria (Bradyrhizobium for soybean, Rhizobium for most other legumes).

Scarlet Runner Beans

Common beans originated in South and Central America and were widely used by Indians throughout North and South America. Today, the most popular types with home gardeners are snap beans, romano or Italian beans, and lima beans. Each of these types divides further into two kinds: low growing (bush beans) and tall growing (pole or runner beans).

  • BUSH: Bush beans are popular type because they stand erect without support, yield well, and require the least work. Green bush beans were formerly called “string beans” because of the fiber that develops along the sutures of the pods. Plant breeders have reduced these fibers, and green beans—pole or bush—are now referred to as “snap beans.”
  • POLE: Specializing in gardening in small spaces, HGEL prefers pole to bush because of its vertical growth habit which makes it a much more space efficient choice. Plus…they usually bear over a longer period than the bush type thus yielding more in the same space. Pole beans will not inter-weave themselves through horizontal wires, and so vertical supports must be provided. The scarlet runner bean is an HGEL favorite for its beautiful flowers that have the additional benefit of attracting hummingbirds. Scarlet runner beans prefer mild, moist growing conditions similar to those found in coastal regions.

Climatic Requirements –

Beans are warm-season crops that require full sun for good growth and yield. Wait to plant beans until after the last predicted spring frost in your hardiness zone, then consider waiting a bit longer. Beans will not germinate well when the soil temperature is less than 60o F (70o for lima beans). Optimum soil temperature for highest germination for beans is between 60-77 F.


Use a soil thermometer to track the temperature of the soil in your vegetable garden. Insert the thermometer probe to the depth you will sow seeds (1-2″). Test the temperature in the morning. When the soil temperature reaches a consistent reading for at least three consecutive days, you can use the link above for the PDF on minimum soil temperatures for various crops to see what you can plant.

Here are some great resources on soil temperature:
Is It Time to Plant Vegetables? Ask Your Thermometer (Oregon State Univ.)
Soil Temperatures for Vegetable Seed Germination (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities

To improve growth rate from seedling time gardeners can place a plastic mulch, either black or clear, on the soil two to four weeks before planting to speed up the soil’s warming.

Relationship between soil temperature on germination rate and seedling emergence:


Soil Requirements –

Although they will grow in a wide variety of soils, a sandy loam is best. Beans grow best in well-drained, fertile, and friable (crumbly) soil so seedling emergence is not inhibited. Beans, especially limas, germinate slowly and grow poorly in cool, wet soil. Maintain the soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.8 and follow the recommendations of a soil test, thoroughly incorporating fertilizers, rotted manure or compost into the soil bed before planting.

Cultural Practices –

Seed bush beans 1 to 11⁄2 inches deep and 2 inches apart in rows spaced 15 to 18 inches apart; seed limas 1 inch deep if soil is heavy and limas to 4 to 6 inches apart. Seed pole beans 4 inches apart and space slender poles 12 inches apart or set up a trellis system of woven wire between sturdy posts.

It is better to irrigate the soil several days before planting seeds rather than to irrigate right after planting. Seed should not be soaked before planting. The sudden application of water causes cracking and could result in poor germination and diseased, weakened plants.

Make successive plantings of green bush beans 10 to 14 days apart until about mid-July. Plant pole beans, limas, soybeans, shell beans and field (dry) beans only once, since they require a full season to mature.

Generally, varieties of snap beans that have a maturity date of 55 to 70 days. In cooler climates, plants may require an additional 15 to 20 days beyond the maturity date printed on the package.

Beans and peas are legumes and can produce some of their own nitrogen. To supplement this at planting, add a 10 percent organic nitrogen fertilizer. Excessive nitrogen can cause plants to produce large amount of leafy growth but fewer beans so be careful not to over-do.

I stress that just by adding organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost to the soil you will increase the level of nutrients, improve soil microbial activity, and increase water-holding and nutrient-holding capacity. Organic matter also improves the physical condition or texture of the soil for cultivation and improves soil structure so the surface of the soil does not crust. Any soil can be/should be improved through the addition of organic matter. As HGEL has often advised, cover crops are also an important, inexpensive way to add organic matter to the soil, and much of plants N needs can be met via cover cropping.


Crop rotation is an important cultural practice for beans to avoid disease problems. Rotate crops by alternating the location of bean plantings with a different crop each year.


Like peas and peanuts, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, beans are usually self-pollinating.


Beans grow poorly in wet or water- soaked soils. Bean plant root depths average 2 feet. Apply 1 or 2 inches of water (adjust to climate) at weekly intervals, filling the root zone at each watering and allowing the root zone to dry partially between waterings. Adequate moisture is especially important from flower bud formation to pod set. Too much or too little water, or excessive heat, causes blossom and pod drop. Extremes in soil moisture can also lead to malformed pods in which only the first few seeds develop, leaving the rest of the bean pod shriveled. Water early in the morning to allow plants to dry quickly and reduce opportunity for disease infection.

Weed Control and Mulching:

Use shallow cultivation for weed control. Deep cultivation close to the plants will damage the root systems and reduce yield and quality. During the growing season, control weeds by mulching and handpulling. These strategies are the best means of control in a small planting. During the winter and spring months, periodically check the planting for the development of winter weeds that should be removed. Many organic growers apply natural mulches such as straw, leaves or compost around the plants, after they become established, to control weeds. This practice is labor intensive but it conserves soil moisture, attracts earthworms and eventually enriches the growing area with organic matter and nutrients.

Organic Pest/Disease Control

Here is a link to UC Davis IPM site about some common pests and diseases of Curcurbits:

Pest Management


Pest problems will vary depending on where you’re gardening. In many areas Cutworms, Mexican Bean Beetle and Japanese Beetle are the major insect pests of beans. In years when cutworms are numerous delay planting until the second week in June. To control Mexican Bean Beetles, begin checking young plants for signs of yellow egg clusters on the undersides of leaves or yellow, wooly larvae on the outside of leaves. Handpick and destroy.

Some bean varieties resist Japanese beetles, others are highly susceptible. Although many pesticides are registered for Japanese Beetles, they often will not provide effective control especially during years of heavy infestation or in Japanese beetle-prone areas. In such cases, consider growing bush beans under spun-bonded polyester “floating row covers” available at most garden centers.

Disease Management:

To prevent bean diseases select disease-resistant varieties, thin plants to allow good air circulation in the bean row, practice good weed control and do not work in the garden or harvest beans when the plants are wet. Bean diseases include seed rot, damping-off, seedling blight, root rot, sclerotinia (white mold), curly top, bean common mosaic, and bean yellow mosaic. To control fungal and soilborne bacterial diseases, rotate your planting site. Resistant varieties are the best defense against the viral diseases. Look for varieties described as resistant to bean common mosaic.

In an organic system pest and disease management is based on prevention. The goal is to have a healthy, balanced plant and soil system in which pest populations will be stay within tolerable limits. In a conventional system, synthetic pesticides may help a grower save the current crop from an immediate pest problem; however, in many cases, the problem recurs or another develops AND the cumulative effect of using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides is damaging to the environment, humans and animals. The organic approach is based on the theory that major pest problems usually occur when something is out of balance in the system. These are questions organic gardeners should ask themselves when things seem to be going wrong:

-Are the plants undernourished or stressed from growing too quickly?
-Is there a nutrient imbalance?
-Is the soil too wet or too dry?
-Has a good crop rotation been followed?
-Is there a diversity of plants to support beneficial insects?
Studying the problem and trying to determine why it occurred should help prevent similar problems in the future. This will, of course, take time to learn and develop. Unless gardeners refuse to use any pesticides, they may at times choose to apply some organic pesticides to save a specific crop.

A Word about the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach-
This is system is well-suited for organic production and one, as a Master Gardener, I always recommend. IPM is a system in which insects, diseases, and weeds are closely monitored, and different methods are used to keep pest populations at levels that are not economically damaging with minimal adverse environmental effects. IPM encompasses use of cultural and biological control methods, use of resistant varieties, and a VERY judicious use of pesticides. HGEL recommends that, In the event pesticides must be used, select ORGANIC ones with low toxicity, non-persistent residues, narrow spectrum of control, and low environmental impact.

How to convert an Inorganic Fertilizer Recommendation to an Organic (Univ. of Georgia)
A Resource Guide for Organic Pest and Disease Management (Cornell Univ.)

There are four regional IPM centers in the U.S. – North Central, Northeastern, Southern and Western.
Here is a link to a searchable database to find the IPM sites in your region:

There is no guarantee that once an organic system is established there will never be a disease, weed, or insect problem. Stressful conditions that a gardener cannot control will occur, such as weeks of endless rains, droughts, periods of extremely high temperatures, hurricanes, plagues of grasshoppers, or hail. Likewise, if an airborne disease invades your area, your plants will probably be infected. However, with careful observation and preparation, an organic system should progressively have fewer pest problems as years go by.


FRESH: Harvest snap beans while the pods are slender, before they begin to bulge or yellow. Harvest lima, shell, field, and soybeans for fresh use when the pods are well-filled. Pick snow pea pods while they are tender and when peas are just beginning to form in the pod. Harvesting every three to four days will prevent over-maturity and stimulate the plants to continue to produce new pods. Preserve bean nutrient quality by cooling as soon as possible after harvest.


Dry beans (shell, field, and soybeans) should dry on the vine as long as possible (until the first heavy frost, if necessary) before threshing and storage. Pulling the plants and leaving them in the sun, laid out on a barn floor, or hung in small bunches from a rafter for 2 to 3 days will hasten drying. A thoroughly mature bean is hard. Give one the “bite test” before putting dry beans into storage. A properly-dried bean is nearly impossible to dent.

Beans are easily canned, dried, or frozen.

Both lima beans and snap beans will freeze easily. For lima beans, harvest while the seed is in the green stage. Wash in cold water, shell, wash again, and sort according to size. Blanch small beans one minute, medium beans two minutes, and large beans three minutes. Cool rapidly in an ice water bath. Drain well, and freeze immediately.
To freeze snap beans, select young tender pods when the seed is first formed. Wash, and trim ends. Cut into 2- to 4-inch lengths. Blanch three minutes. Cool rapidly in an ice water bath. Drain, and freeze immediately.

Store well-dried (and insect-free) beans in a can or jar with a tight cover to keep out insects and rodents. Keep in cool, dry and dark storage.


The History of Beans

Posted by HGEL. Filed under Spotlight.

3 Responses to “Spotlight Edible Of The Day: Beans”

  1. Thank you , I love to read about other vegetarians and vegans as it gives me the strength to continue. I have about a thousand vegetarian feeds in my google reader, but I’m sure another can’t hurt!! I did manage to find a good lentil recipes here, but I’ll be sure to try yours too. Thanks!

    Posted by Chanel Corza on November 13th, 2010 at 2:36 pm Reply

  2. Magnificent web site. Plenty of useful info here. I?m sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks for your sweat!

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