Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

The Tall and the Short of Beans

There are two main types of garden bean (which you may also know as green bean, wax bean, string bean, or snap bean): bush beans and pole beans.

Bush bean

Bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris nana) are the most popular in home gardens. They’re a non-climbing mutation of the original twining bean. Curiously, they were not developed for the family garden, but rather for commercial production, specifically to allow for mechanical harvesting. Their dense, low, bushy habit is ideal for harvesting machines… and they were further selected to produce their entire harvest all at once (if they produced a few beans here and there, machine harvesting wouldn’t be possible). For the poor home gardener, therefore, it’s either feast or famine: one week, you have enough beans to share with the food bank; the following week, nothing at all!

Pole bean

Pole beans (P. vulgaris communis) have a different life strategy: they too produce an abundance of beans, but not all at once, rather gradually, over a very long season, from mid-summer until frost. The more often you harvest the pods (up to every two days), the more pole beans produce! However, they do need a support  they can twine around. A trellis, obelisk, teepee, etc. about 5 to 8 feet/1,5 to 2 m tall will do the trick. Even so, they require no more space in the garden that their dwarf brothers. As a result, you get three times more beans per square foot! And you don’t have to bend down to harvest them either! So, logically, pole beans would seem to the best choice for the home gardener.

Not so fast! Bush beans are usually earlier (50-60 days) than pole beans (65-75 days). So the wise gardener should consider planting a bit of both: a few bush beans for the first harvest and a few pole beans to feed your family for the rest of the season.

20150518CAnd don’t worry: you’ll find your favorite type of bean in both categories. Both bush and pole beans come in the full range of bean colors  green, yellow (wax beans), purple, and even speckled – and the full range of pod shapes (round or flattened) and sizes. So no more excuses: you need both types of beans for a productive vegetable garden!

Sow beans to about one inch deep (2-3 cm) when the soil has warmed up and there is no more risk of frost. In most areas, that would be… right about now!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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