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The Year of the Bean

The Year of the Bean

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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

As the season for the tender vegetables approaches, it is time to think about beans. Few garden plants have as many types and variations as beans, so you are certain to find some that suit your fancy. The National Garden Bureau designated 2003 as the Year of the Bean so read on to find out more about these excellent vegetables.

Garden beans come in four different types. They are snap beans, broad beans, green shelling beans and dry shelling beans. Snap beans are by far the most popular in this country as garden vegetables. These were formerly called string beans but plant breeders have eliminated the strings so the new name is much more appropriate.

This name comes from the sound they make when pods are broken. If the are fresh they make a nice “snap” when you bend them until they break. We grow snap beans to eat the pods fresh, canned or frozen.

Green shelling beans include the popular lima beans where we eat the young, green seeds inside the pods in the fresh or frozen state. Broad beans are flat beans that are very popular in Europe but are less common as a vegetable in this country.

Dry shell or dry beans include many popular types such as the pinto, navy, kidney and others. We grow these beans for the mature seeds, which dry in the pods on the vine before being shelled. Most gardeners do not grow these because of space constraints but Southeastern Utah near Monticello grows many pinto beans.

Snap beans are a variable lot. While most are green, yellow wax beans, purple beans and even other colors show up. In addition to the color variations, they are variable in how they grow and produce. Bush beans grow on compact stems while pole beans climb trellises or other devices.

Before breeders developed stringless beans, beans had fibrous strings along the seam of the pod and were aptly known as string beans. After picking, you had to remove the strings and cook the beans for a long time to soften the pods. This was time consuming and made the beans rather bland and tasteless. Because of this drawback, most beans were raised as shelled, dried beans, not fresh green beans.

In the late 1800s, breeders began to select varieties with improved characteristics. Calvin Keeney, from New York is called the "Father of the Stringless Bean." In 1898, he bred 'Burpee's Stringless Green Pod,' which was most popular variety until 'Tendergreen' came in 1925. Little happened with bush beans until the breakthrough 'Bush Blue Lake' bean was introduced in 1962. That variety combined the flavor of the 'Blue Lake' pole bean with a bush habit.

Gardeners demand new varieties frequently and every few years so new bush beans appear on the market. Pole beans were even slower to change. 'Kentucky Wonder', introduced in 1877 and is still a popular variety today. The pole bean 'Kentucky Blue' was an All-America Selections winner in 1991.

Beans belong to the legume family (Leguminocae), as do peas and soybeans. Legumes fix nitrogen in the soil making them a soil-improving crop. Most edible beans are in the genus Phaseolus. Snap beans are P. vulgaris. The genus name is from the Latin for kidney bean; the species name translates simply as common.

French beans are bush-type beans that produce very narrow, sometimes pencil-thin, pods. Romano beans, a favorite from Italy, are thicker and flatter than other snap beans. Wax beans have yellow pods, which look rather waxy but they do not taste like wax.

Beans are tender vegetables so do not jump the gun when planting them. Most years you can safely plant them when the apples are in full bloom. Wait until danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures reach 55 degrees or higher. That is usually late April or early May along the Wasatch Front.

They do not need extra fertilizer as long as you enrich the soil before planting. In our area, it is not necessary to add an inoculant when you plant to help increase the nitrogen-fixing ability and the growth of legumes. Save that step if you move to a state with acid soils.

Plant the seeds 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep. Bean seeds germinate well so plant the seeds 2-3 inches apart with rows 18 inches apart. Bush beans grow well in wide rows and can be planted on an 8x8 spacing for maximum yield.

Extend your harvest by making repeated sowings every two to three weeks until mid July in our area. Bush snap beans take 45 to 55 days to bear a crop, depending on the variety; pole snap beans begin to bear in 60 to 70 days.

Put pole beans on trellises or tepees on the north side of the vegetable garden, so the plants do not block the sun from other crops. Sow 6 to 8 seeds in a circle around each pole of a tepee, 1 pole bean seed every 3 inches along a trellis.

Harvest snap beans when the pods are 4 to 5 inches long (depending on the variety) and the seeds within the pod are just beginning to swell. If the seeds grow until they swell the outside of the pods, they are generally over mature.

Do not yank the pods from the stems because the stems may break. Hold the beans near the stem-end in one hand and gently pull each bean off with the other. Keep beans harvested or plants will stop producing.

Celebrate the Year of the Bean by including these vegetables in your plantings. These flavorful, nutritious and exciting vegetables are certain to add to your garden and diet this season.

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