Growing Crops: Beans (Shell or Dried)

…as opposed to the “green beans” meant to be eaten fresh. Shell beans are the dried (or canned) beans you think of when you make bean soup or bean dip or chili or refried beans. They don’t grow much differently than their “green” cousins. The main difference is in when you harvest them.

Shell beans also come in bush and vine varieties. Some of the bush varieties you can find are Adzuki, Black Turtle, French Horticultural, Great Northern, Hutterite Soup, Jacob’s Cattle (or Dalmation), Kabuli Black (a Garbanzo variety), Kidney, Soldier, Swedish Brown, Tongues of Fire, Vermont Cranberry, and Yellow Eye. Vine or climbing varieties include Cannellini and Pinto.

Shell beans are also less common to find in seed form. Unless, of course, you consider the fact that the bean IS the seed. Yes, you can grow bean plants from those bags of dried beans you find at the supermarket. If you can find organic dried beans, so much the better to start with. Pay a visit to Gardens Alive and Nature Hills Nursery by clicking on their banners at the top of this page to see what varieties they have to offer.

Best Climate to Grow: Warm and relatively dry, with protection from the wind. They will not thrive in exceptionally cold, wet climates.

Light Requirements: Lots of sun. Grow lights if growing indoors without benefit of a sunny window.

Soil Requirements: Beans grow best in moist, fertile soil that has a neutral pH (as close to 7.0 as possible), so compost is the ideal soil amendment, if needed.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Compost will do great double-duty as fertilizer and moisture-saving mulch. Keep your beans watered; drip irrigation is highly recommended.

When to Plant: Sow directly into your garden outside once the temperature of the soil has reached at least 65 degrees F and there is no longer a danger of frost. Do not sow them all at once; plant a portion of them once a week for a period of four weeks so that you are not stuck with a glut of beans to harvest all at once and then none later.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Directions for planting may vary with each variety, so check your seed packet. Generally you should plant the seeds, whether they are bush or vine beans, 1–1½ inches deep, two seeds per planting hole. You will keep the stronger seedling and remove the weaker to the compost pile once they have sprouted. Plant them 12 inches apart (6 inches if growing a dwarf variety), with at least 18 inches between the rows for bush beans and 3 feet between the rows for vine beans – you have to be able to get in there to harvest them! For the vine beans, have your trellises in place before you plant the seeds.

Container Requirements: With the exception of garbanzo beans, most bush and vine beans will do just fine in containers, though the vine varieties tend to be more productive outside in the ground. A medium-sized container about 1 foot deep on a sunny deck or in a sunny window should be sufficient. Make sure the soil is rich with compost and kept moist at all times.

Harvesting and Storage: You can harvest shell beans two ways. The first method is to wait for the pods to mature (but not dry out) and then use the beans inside fresh – though they will still need to be soaked overnight and then boiled before eating to remove any toxins. You will need to snip the beans with garden shears regularly before they become too dry (a few days a week), otherwise they will stop producing more beans.

This brings us to the second method. Stop irrigating the beans and allow them to dry up on the vine. When the pods are dry and leathery and shrunken around the beans inside, harvest them, remove the beans from the pods, and allow them to dry completely to the point of being as hard as small pebbles. Freezing the dried beans before storing them in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place should kill off any larvae from bean weevils. Save some for replanting next year; use the rest for cooking.

Pests to Monitor: Bean Weevils, Blackfly, Greenfly, Mice, Slugs, Snails. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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