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 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 beans (P. vulgaris communis) have a different life strategy: they too produce an abundance of beans, but not all at once, rather over a very long season, from midsummer until things cool off in the fall. 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 both: a few bush beans for the first harvest and a few pole beans to feed your family for the rest of the season.
And 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, red 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. They prefer full sun and warmth and may need a bit of protection from the wind in colder climates.