Beans: Tall or Short?

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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: the harvest is abundant, but short-lived. Photo: http://www.videoblocks.com

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 just keep on producing right through the summer. This is ‘Blauhilde’, a purple-podded bean. Photo: http://www.fullstackgardener.com

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.

Both bush and pole beans come in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes. Photo: http://www.heritagefoodcrops.org.nz

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. 

2 thoughts on “Beans: Tall or Short?

  1. Our growing season is so long that I do not like to bother with bush beans. I really don’t care if the pole beans start slightly later, since it is still plenty early enough. I do not like cycling new phases of bush beans in. I would rather just plant pole beans and let them go almost to the end of summer. I suppose they last into autumn in most climate, but our season is so long that they get tired by autumn.

  2. mickthornton

    I like the recommendation. I loved planting the purple pole beans least year for the first time. My season was cut short, literally, because of a rabbit that moved in and chewed through the lower vines. Thanks!

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