Beans grow well in a variety of soil types and flourish with very little fertilizer. Choosing the right planting time often determines whether bean seed germinates and bean seedlings survive the first critical days of growth. Timing also affects yield, with the main harvest coming before or after the hottest part of the summer.
Beans need good drainage. Especially early in the season heavy soil and wet ground cause many bean seeds to rot in the ground. Adding generous amounts of rotted organic matter contributes to proper soil tilth and oxygenates the ground, preventing common fungal diseases from taking hold.
Where beans have not been grown before, sprinkling the seeds with legume inoculant before covering the row increases plant vigor. The inoculant provides the beneficial bacteria necessary for nitrogen fixing in the plant's root nodules.
Follow directions on the seed package carefully, paying close attention to both depth and spacing. Bean sprouts are fragile and in dense soil may be trapped or broken if planted too deep. After heavy rain check the row and cover any seed that washed out. Delay planting until after the last frost date for your area. If spring is wet and cold, wait until the weather clears and the ground warms.
Cool soil temperature and wet conditions cause many early planting failures. If an early planting fails simply plant again. Planting every 2 weeks until midsummer gives a succession of harvests through the growing season.
Fertilizing beans planted in healthy soil should not be necessary. Legumes fix their own nitrogen if conditions are right. Working in large amounts of raw organic material during Spring tilling can temporarily lock up soil nitrogen. If beans show yellowed leaves treatment with fertilizer gives them a needed boost. Over-fertilization may prevent plants from blooming. Since beans root shallowly, competition from weeds can stunt the plants. Careful cultivation with a hoe or tiller shifts the balance to the beans.
Snap beans--eaten at the green pod stage--reach harvest-ready size in only about two months. Picking the pods before the seeds mature causes many varieties to continue producing new flowers and pods. Beans grown for harvest at the shell stage--either green or dry in the pod--produce only one main crop. Most varieties stop flowering in the hot dry midsummer weather. When temperatures ease, healthy plants may bear again.
Choose bean varieties proven to do well in your climate zone. Hybrids produce well but new seed must be purchased each year. Many heirloom varieties of beans yield excellent harvests--growers save seed for next year as well as pick beans for the table. Some varieties provide edible beans at all three growth stages--green pod, green shell and dry shell. Since bean blossoms self-pollinate, several varieties grown together will still produce true seed.