Growing Green Beans
Beans require different considerations for home versus a commercial crop. They
are a warm-season crop and one of the most popular vegetables grown by home gardeners.
They are one of the oldest cultivated plants and classified as a legume, along
with peas, peanuts and lentils.
Some bean varieties, such as bird egg horticultural beans, lima, kidney and navy beans, are grown to be shelled and either processed (shell beans) or dried (dry beans). Snap or green bean varieties are harvested when the pod is tender and both the husk and bean are consumed. Some varieties are suitable for multiple uses.
Among snap beans, bush varieties grow in an upright form that does not need to be trellised and work exceptionally well for small spaces, such as raised beds, planters and square-foot gardens, or for gardeners who would rather not deal with the effort and expense of staking. Pole and half-runner bean varieties require a trellis, cage or stake as their vining can easily reach over 15 feet. They can be trained upward to prevent the grower from having to bend over during harvest. Half-runner varieties spread out and require extra room.
Not all snap beans are green; yellow beans are often called wax beans, and other varieties can be purple, pink, red or striped (Dragon Tongue and Rattlesnake). Some varieties of purple beans, such as Burgundy, turn green when cooked.
|Days to harvest
|Very dark green pods; can be mechanically harvested
|Produces a concentrated set of dark green beans
|West Virginia heirloom pole bean which can be harvested green or dried
|Excellent quality with dark green pods; can be mechanically harvested
|West Virginia heirloom bean with 5- to 6-inch pods
|Dark green filet bean; erect plant
|Stringless pole beans with excellent flavor and yield
|Medium-green pods; excellent for hand-picking
|Pole Romano-type with 10-inch pods; excellent flavor
|Days to harvest
|Heirloom half-runner with medium green pods and excellent yield
|Straight 8-inch pod typically harvested when young and tender
|Compact filet bean with excellent yield
|Heirloom half-runner with excellent yield
|Heirloom half-runner with large pods that stay tender
|Produces 5-inch flat pods
|Purple pods with green interior
|High marketable yield and quality
|Medium-green half-runner with excellent disease tolerance and yield
Beans are warm-weather crops, requiring a soil temperature of 60 F for proper germination, and cannot tolerate frost. Planting in soil with a temperature that’s too cool can result in poor germination and seed rot. Beans prefer direct sunlight for eight to 10 hours per day. Most bush varieties mature between 50 to 65 days with some pole varieties taking up to 70 days and some dry bean varieties taking as long as 110 days to mature. Planting additional rows every two to three weeks will ensure a continual supply of beans throughout the summer, or plant multiple varieties with different harvest dates if you prefer to try different types of beans. Maturity date, spacing and variety information will be indicated on the seed pack.
Bush beans will not need support, but pole beans will. Installing supports at planting will prevent potential injury that might occur to small plants if installed later. Supports can be as simple as poles with connecting wires or twine for the beans to climb horizontally or fencing panel grids. Beans can also climb vertically up tent-like structures or vertical wires. Vertical trellising can make beans easier to pick for those with limited mobility as well.
Soils and Water
Beans prefer a slightly acidic pH of 6 to 6.5 and soils that can retain some water, such as silty loam or with some clay content. Sandy soil will dry out too fast. It is important to keep the seed moist while sprouting; beans will form a taproot. Adding organic matter, such as compost, before planting can increase the water holding capacity of soil. Developing beans need a consistent moisture supply for ideal yields; to prevent drought stress, irrigation may be required. Typically, beans require at least an inch of rain per week for optimal growth and development. Under dry conditions, they need to be watered two times a week. Measuring rainfall with a rain gauge or using a trowel to check soil moisture at a depth of 6 inches will help determine whether plants need supplemental water. Lack of moisture restricts plant growth and seed development; mulching plants can deter weed germination while conserving water for the bean plants. However, excess humidity can lead to fungal and bacterial disease infections.
Beans are legumes and can “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, so they do not need high nitrogen supplementation. Unnecessary nitrogen can create excessive plant growth and can hinder flowering and seed production. A soil test is the best option to determine what nutrients are needed. The WVU Soil Testing Lab offers free soil testing for West Virginia residents. Without testing recommendations, add 5 pounds of 5-10-15 fertilizer per 100-foot row at planting and again four weeks after seeding.
Early and regular cultivation while plants are small can control most weeds between rows. Beans have both a taproot and small shallow roots, so it is important not to cultivate near the plant. Proper plant spacing will typically reduce weeds after a few weeks of plant growth. Beans can be mulched to reduce weed competition.
Maturity time varies widely depending upon varieties and desired usage. Snap beans destined to be steamed, stir-fried or even eaten raw may be harvested when tender before beans fully mature. Filet beans are slender varieties designed to be harvested with little bean development. Snap beans to be canned or frozen are generally harvested when the pods are still tender, but the beans have started to develop inside. Waiting too long increases the fiber content and decreases the flavor of the beans. Once snap beans bloom, most plants will have beans two weeks from flowering. Daily harvest increases production and ensures that beans don’t get too mature before harvest. Once picked, snap beans should be processed or refrigerated within a few hours or quality may decline.
If harvesting dry beans, it is easier to pull the entire plant once the beans are ready. They can then be pulled off and shelled. The beans are fully mature when pods are thin, tough and will separate easily.
Snap beans are high in vitamins A and C and are a good source of fiber. They are fat free and low in sodium, with 1 cup of raw green beans containing about 31 calories. Snap beans contain only about 2 grams of protein per serving; however, many dried beans, such as pintos, cranberries and white beans, contain up to 17 grams of protein per serving.
A bountiful harvest of beans can be preserved by pickling, freezing, canning or drying. Regardless of method, beans will need to be strung before preservation if they are not a stringless variety.
To freeze snap beans, harvest tender beans before pods have overmatured, break off ends and rinse. Cut into segments or freeze whole depending on preference. Blanch by placing beans in boiling water for three minutes, then transferring immediately to ice cold water. Drain, dry and pack into freezer bags, freezer containers or vacuum seal. Blanching stops enzyme action in vegetables, which preserves the flavor, color and texture when freezing. Freeze quickly and keep frozen until use, which should be within 12 months for food safety and best quality.
Snap beans are a low acid vegetable and must be canned under pressure to prevent botulism. Wash beans, break ends off and snap into pieces 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. Cover beans with water and boil for five minutes. Hot pack jars loosely almost to the top of jar. Cover with water, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Pressure cook pints for 20 minutes or quarts for 25 minutes with 15 pounds of pressure on a weighted gauge or 12 pounds of pressure on a dial gauge. Depending on the variety and maturity, about 14 pounds of beans will yield 7 quarts. For more information concerning home food preservation, see the WVU Extension Food Preservation webpage at https://extension.wvu.edu/food-health/home-food-preservation/canning.
Dry beans can be harvested when they rattle in the pod. For small quantities, plants may be pulled when the pods are dry and can be popped open by hand. The beans can then be placed on a screen and sorted for foreign material, pods, dirt and broken beans. Beans can be air-dried and then stored in an airtight container or frozen. Snap beans also can be dried in the Appalachian tradition of leather britches. Wash, trim ends and thread beans horizontally with a needle through a long thread. Hang the chains of beans to air dry thoroughly. Once dried, they can be left on the chain until ready to cook or kept in a sealed jar.
Diseases, Insects and Other Issues
Maintaining the overall health of plants, practicing crop rotation, using resistant varieties, removing infected plant material and never saving seed from diseased plants can help prevent problems. Use pesticides for control only as a last resort.
|Plants produce few or no bean pods; leaves appear distorted and possibly
|Do not use infected seed; control vectors, such as insects or aphids; crop
|Common Bacterial Blight
|Irregularly shaped scalded lesions, which may have a yellow margin; pods may
have brown lesions and a yellowish secretion
|Crop rotation with beans only planted in the same location every three or four
years; do not reuse infected seeds; regular use of copper sprays every seven
to 10 days may provide some prevention; seeds treated with streptomycin have
some protection against bacteria
|Small water-soaked spots most visible on the underside of leaves which may
have a yellowish halo; pods may also become infected
|Bacterial Brown Spot
|Looks like halo blight, but as the symptoms progress, tissue dies, turns brown
and may fall out, leaving holes; pods also may have brownish spots
|Seedlings may wilt and die; older plants may show yellow and brown discoloration
and leaf dropping
Brown to black sunken lesions on leaves, stems and pods; humidity increases prevalence
Use resistant varieties; remove and destroy plants; fungal sprays may have limited
Small brownish spots with spores that will rub off
Occurs in warm, humid weather; rotate location and use different seed; fungal spray
may be beneficial
White or gray powdery spots on leaf surface; leaves may turn downward and fall off;
distorted fruit/seeds also may occur
Mildew resistant varieties are in development; proper plant spacing provides good
air circulation; fungicides are available for treatment and prevention
Fungal disease that exists on the seed and in the soil; white cotton-like masses
with red/brown margins; more common in edible dry bean varieties
Seed treatments are available; rotate fields with non-legumes; destroy infected plant
tissue; use copper fungicide preventative spray when conditions favor disease
Mexican bean beetle
Larvae feed on roots; primary damage is from adults feeding on leaves, creating holes,
which is especially damaging to young plants; beetles can spread viruses
Plant in late June to reduce damage by avoiding peak beetle season; handpick adults
Chemical treatment: s pinosad, pyrethroids, neem, malathion
Various larvae damage plants by eating large holes; cutworms eat near the soil surface
Handpick adults; removing debris from garden can reduce cover for adultsChemical treatment: spinosad, carbaryl, permethrin (if necessary, can be applied to the lower portion of the plant)
Mites pierce leaves and suck plant juices, leaving a stippled or webbed appearance;
mites also damage bean pods
Spray plants with hard stream of water; limit dust and weeds near fields
Recommended Variety Table From: Jett, L., Commercial Horticultural Specialist, West Virginia University Extension Service. Market Green Bean Production in West Virginia.
Jett, L. (2021). Growing, Harvesting and Preserving Appalachian Heirloom Beans. CCD-WVU-FS-2, ANR-HORT-21-001. Lexington, KY: Center for Crop Diversification, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Available: http://www.uky.edu/ccd/sites/www.uky.edu.ccd/files/appalachian_heirloom_beans.pdf
Jett, L., Commercial Horticultural Specialist, West Virginia University Extension Service. (2020). Using Trellises to Improve Harvest Efficiency of Heirloom Indeterminate Green Beans in West Virginia.
We Can Vegetables Food Preservation. https://extension.wvu.edu/files/d/df1c3966-f274-49ec-927f-fa14e252d2e9/we-can-vegetables.pdf. Reviewed by Cindy Fitch, Ph.D., R.D., retired Families and Health Programs Director. (2009).
Bean Disease Resistance Table. Cornell University. April 2012. Vegetable MD Online. http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/Tables/Bean_GreenTable.html
Author: Jodi Richmond, WVU Extension Agent – Mercer County