Beans are a staple in many home gardens and are very easy to grow. Beans come in a wide variety of type: bush beans, pole beans, snap beans and shell beans. They also have some different needs in terms of planting, growing and harvesting. Some may take longer than others to reach maturity, but the life cycle is the same for just about all of them. They are annual plants and must be replanted each year.
Bean plants begin as seeds. The seed is actually the dried bean itself. They are planted in the spring, outdoors, after the threat of frost and at the time appropriate for the specific variety. Beans start in shallow holes, only 1 inch deep. Most are spaced 4 to 6 inches apart, except for pole bean varieties, which are planted four seeds to a hill.
Bean seeds germinate in seven to 10 days when temperatures remain above 65 to 70 degrees. Because of the shallow planting depth, seedlings emerge almost immediately after germination. Depending on the variety, they should be thinned to 6 or 8 inches apart once they reach about 8 inches tall. They will begin to fill out and become dense if they are bush-type beans, or they grow upward, seeking support to climb on, if they are pole-type beans.
Care of Plants
Bean plants require very light watering when first planted, approximately 1 inch per week. Seedlings need a moderate amount of water. It is not until blossom and pod production that they require heavy amounts of water. Well-drained, fertile soil is preferred by all bean plants. Because of the shallow root system, bean plants are easily choked out by other plants and weeds. Vigorous weeding is required.
When the plant has reached maturity, somewhere between 60 and 90 days, depending on the variety, blossoms will form. These will drop off and pods will develop. Pods grow quickly. For snap beans like green, yellow or wax beans, the diameter of the pod is the harvest indicator. It should be about ¼ to 3/8 inch in diameter. No bulge from the beans inside should be visible in the pod. Shell beans, however, develop longer. Pods will appear swollen and beans are easily visible. Dry beans, like kidney, pinto and navy beans, are left on the plant until the pods dry out and turn brown and crisp.
All forms of beans can be left to dry on the plant to make seeds. Once the pod is dried out and brittle, the beans can be easily shelled and left to air dry until no impression is left when the bean is bitten. These can be stored in a cool, dry place to use as seed stock for next year's garden. In the case of dry beans, they can be stored for later use.