Our summer vegetable garden is a lush space filled with tall tomato vines, many shades of salad greens and endless sweet root crops. But for me, it’s always been about the beans. I typically plant an assortment of bush and pole types, as well as soybeans, garbanzo beans (chick peas) and broad beans.
The bush types are low growing and self supporting, while the vigorous vines of the pole beans need a teepee, A-frame trellis, fence or another type of structure to climb. I even sow a few pole or runner bean seeds at increments along our garden fence to soften that necessary structure, which provides support for the rampant vines, adds architecture to the garden and most importantly keeps out the bean-loving deer.
Owen Bridge, the owner of Annapolis Seeds in Middleton offers nearly 50 varieties of heritage beans for home gardeners. Some are best picked as snap beans, while others can be allowed to dry on the vines for a bumper crop of dried beans. “One of my favourites is ‘Lazy Housewife’,” says Owen. “Developed in 1810, it was the very first stringless snap bean.” A pole bean, ‘Lazy Housewife’ has fast growing vines that will quickly scale a trellis or bamboo teepee. The tender, green beans are produced in abundance and can grow up to 10-inches long.
Another Maritime seed company, Hope Seed offers nearly 20 varieties of heritage beans, including Dragon’s Tongue, Mennonite Purple Stripe, Thibodeau de Comte Beauce and the oddly named, Goose Gullet, a rare bean with ties to the 18th century Acadians.
Dried and shell beans are simply beans that are grown for their seeds, rather than their pods. If left to mature on the vines, most snap beans will produce a good crop of shell or dried beans. And most dried or shell beans can be picked young and eaten as snap beans. This may seem confusing, but the important thing to remember is that while snap beans are fast growing (bush types need just 50 to 60 days to mature), shell beans need a longer growing season (60 to 70 days) and dried beans need even more time (85 to 100 days).
The key to growing great beans is simple. Just pick a sunny spot in the garden with well drained, moderately rich earth. Dig some compost or aged manure into the soil prior to planting and direct seed your beans, as they don’t like to be transplanted.
As the bean plants emerge, make sure they get at least an inch of water per week, but avoid wetting the leaves when irrigating as this can increase the spread of disease. Try to water early in the day so that any foliage that is splashed has ample time to dry before nightfall.
Harvest as soon as the pods are smooth, crisp and while the interior seeds are still very small. The simple rule of thumb for snap beans is the more you pick, the more you’ll get! Therefore, once the harvest begins, keep on top of production by picking ripe pods every day or two.
It’s not too late to get our and plant your own bounty of beans. Just head to your closest seed company and pick out a few varieties to try. Enjoy!
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.