Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Your Best Beans

For those gardeners who have never tried growing beans, you're missing out on a wonderful vegetable that's easy to grow and highly productive. They come in about as many colors, shapes and sizes as you can imagine, and no matter how big or small your garden is, chances are, there's a bean that will meet your needs. Even for gardeners who are a little behind on this year's planting, never fear. Beans can still be planted as late as June for a decent late-summer harvest. With a few easy steps, you'll be well on your way to growing your best bean plants ever.

Beans are a member of the legume family, a group of nitrogen fixing plants. This means that they have the unique ability to pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil. For this reason, nitrogen-loving plants like tomatoes will usually thrive in spots where bean plants resided the year prior. For extra healthy, vigorous plants, dampen the seeds and coat with nitrogen inoculant before planting. Nitrogen inoculant is a black, grainy substance that aids the plants in their early growth stages. It's very inexpensive and can be found at most specialty gardening stores. If you have leftover nitrogen inoculant at the end of the season, throw it away. You won't want to use it the next year, because most of the bacteria will have died by then. Nitrogen inoculant is only good for one planting season.

Bean plants generally fall into one of two categories: bush and pole. Bush beans are low, bushy plants that usually grow to about knee high. They are known to be highly productive, usually providing several pickings over a two to three week period. Successive plantings of bush beans will provide a continuous harvest throughout the summer. Pick pods daily to keep the plants as productive as possible. Once the plants are done producing, it's usually best to go ahead and remove them from the garden all together. Be sure to avoid handling the plants or picking pods in wet weathe r, as this will spread disease.
Pole beans come in as many sizes and varieties as bush beans; however, they are a climbing plant that grows on a trellis or other structure. Pole bean plants are known to be vigorous growers and heavy producers. When planting, it's a good idea to go ahead and install your trellis or other support structure at the same time, because the plants will grow so rapidly. Pole beans will generally produce for a longer period than bush bean plants, provided that the pods are picked while they're very young.

Aside from the two primary categories of bush and pole, bean plants can also be broken down into two other categories: snap and shell. Snap beans are those whose pods are edible. When harvesting them, you'll usually want to use the produce as quickly as possible, while they are still fresh. Use them the same day they're picked, if possible. Snap beans are wonderful steamed, baked, stir fried, or even eaten raw, and are also a good choice if you want to can some of your fresh vegetables.

Shell beans, on the other hand, are surrounded by tough, inedible pods that must be removed prior to consumption. Pinto, black, red, and kidney beans are all examples of shell beans. Harvesting these plants is a somewhat different process. Shell beans should be allowed to ripen and dry while still on the plant before harvesting. Wait until the pods turn brown and the plant begins to die. Then pull the entire plant up from the ground and put it in a hot place so it can dry out for about a week or so. At that point, you can open the pods and remove the individual beans. Spread them out on cookie sheets and place in a 175 degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. This will kill off any potential pests. Finally, the dried beans can be stored in airtight containers. When you're ready to use, reconstitute in water overnight and cook as usual.

Beans make a wonderful addition to any home vegetable garden. If you've never grown them before, give them a try! A packet of seed will cost you only a few dollars at most, and you'll yield pounds of fresh produce for eating, canning, or drying. Anyone who has ever tasted homegrown beans knows that the result is definitely worth the effort.

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