A New England heirloom bean, the soldier bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) plant has a relatively short growing season of only around 100 days. The beans dry naturally on the bush for easy picking and utilizing later. The soldier bean is a popular addition in culinary dishes such as soups, stews and baking. It grows well in regions that offer a dry fall to facilitate the pod drying process, according to the Purdue University Extension.
The soldier bean plant was popular in the early 1800s in New England gardens. It received its name due to its unique appearance. The bean is entirely creamy white with tiny reddish markings where the bean attaches itself to the pod. The reddish markings were believed by early New England gardeners to resemble the redcoat patterns of an English soldier.
The soldier bean plant grows as a large bush that quickly attains a height of 2 feet with a 2-foot spread. The plant prefers a planting location in full sunlight with well-draining soil. It does not tolerate a wet root system for an extended time period. Because the plant grows as a large bush it does not require staking or a trellis for support but can easily stand on its own. It grows well in cool climates and can tolerate drought for a short duration.
Soldier bean plants grow best when planted when the springtime daytime temperature tops 60 degrees F. Plant the soldier beans at two-week intervals throughout the summer to stagger the period of bean harvest. Soldier beans do not require soaking in water prior to planting, unlike other bean varieties. Place the bean 1 inch below the soil's surface to encourage fast germination.
The soldier bean plant belongs to the legume family. It has the unique ability of producing nitrogen in the surrounding soil with the aid of Rhizobia bacteria, which lives on the plant's root system. The bacteria fixes nitrogen into the surrounding soil which aids in the soldier bean plant's growth. Due to the bacteria producing nitrogen in the soil, the home gardener should abstain from using high nitrogen fertilizers on soldier bean plants or the plant will produce all foliage with no bean production.
Exceedingly high temperatures and elevated humidity can damage the soldier beans prior to harvesting, according to the University of Florida. In dry climates, the beans easily dry on the bush and can be hand picked. In humid or wet climates the bean plants often need to be pulled from the ground and hung upside down in a dry location to dry so the soldier beans can be harvested with minimal damage.