Here’s something that every veggie grower will find useful. I’ve discovered how to grow more green beans (a.k.a snap beans) in your garden without a larger space. You don’t need to plant more seeds, or use a special fertilizer to get higher production from bean plants in your garden. Get better beans, harvest flexibility, and a dual crop too. The secret? The variety you grow.
I’ve grown a number of different bean varieties over the years. After helping my mom harvest her bush beans throughout my childhood, I stuck to pole beans once out on my own. It’s too hard to find all the beans so close to the ground, and they’re always caked with dirt. If you want a huge harvest from a bush bean, I hope you’ve got a large area to plant them in, or are prepared to replant when the first set is exhausted. Bush beans are ready to harvest all at once, because the plant is determinate. Once they reach a certain height and width, the action is over.
Climbing beans, are the opposite. They are vines that grow larger all season, and give you a lot more plant, more spots for blooms and fruit. They will continue to set new pods at a steady pace as long as you keep them picked. The harvest is more sporadic, giving you a longer picking season, and spreading out preserving your abundance to a reasonable pace that’s easier to work into a busy schedule. Pole beans are perfect urban gardeners with super limited space, because you plant them much closer together too. They’re fine grown 6 inches apart, which means you cram quite a few in a large container like an Earthbox, tub planter, or tote.
So, after sticking with the ‘best’ traditional varieties in seed catalogs for a long time, I tried something new this year. The listing said ‘super productive’ and very tasty. Besides they were cool lookin’ all marbled with purple. They turn plain green when cooked, but make the veggie patch much prettier, especially with the pink flowers… so much jazzier than the standard white blooms.
It wasn’t long before there were enough fresh beans for dinner. I’m used to them producing plenty for meals and some for the freezer too, but I have to say that this heirloom variety known as Rattlesnake surpassed my wildest expectations. I was done putting up beans for winter use in short order – weeks before everyone else, and the row just kept pumping out beans like crazy. I remembered the catalog also said they were a great dried bean too. Never tried that before. Lets see if they are, so I let them do their thing, only picking a few for dinner now and then.
Now normally with this crop when you stop picking, green beans slow down at producing. Their job has been fulfilled. They’re busy setting seed instead of flowering. Which is why you’re supposed to pick your beans regularly, well that and if you let them get too big they are tough and stringy. Not this variety. It just kept pumping out beans – lots of them. And when you cram 2 packs of seed into a 16 foot long row that translates to a mountain of beans. The new growth kept flowering until frost hit.
Another benefit to growing the Rattlesnake variety is that the beans stay tender to a much larger size than any others I’ve grown. The pods can be over 6 inches long with rounding beans inside while remaining stringless. Which is great if you get several rainy days strung together, or forget to pick for a few days. If you do that with most green beans, a lot of them will have passed the desirable point when you get back out to the garden. And these plants are pretty drought tolerant too. They do grow taller than many pole bean plants – reaching up to 10 foot long. Not that you need your poles or trellising that tall. Beans are avid climbers. If they run out of support they grab each other. Give them 6 feet and they’ll be fine.
The neighbors thought I was just letting all these beans go to waste. No one grows snap beans to harvest dried beans, unless they’re saving seed for next year’s garden. I was advised that these were just plain old dried beans like you make baked beans with. Hmmm… those beans are white, and these are spotted, which means the neighborhood gardeners are wrong. Time for a little research. Guess what – Rattlesnake Beans are a pinto bean hybrid, a pole bean crossed with pintos many years ago. So I’m growing refried beans, not Great Northern or navy beans. They will still be good in soups, just not as the main ingredient.
As you can see, it amounted to more than a hill of beans in the end. Next year’s seed, and a whole lot more. How many pounds of beans are in there? I have no idea. I haven’t found the time to shell them yet, but I will once winter sets in, and update this post with the data. There’s no hurry, because they’re naturally preserved.
Green beans produce tender pods ready for picking 60 days after sowing your seed, and dried beans in 90 days. The later the bean develops – the later in the season it will reach the properly dried stage. If you’re going to harvest dried beans for winter cooking, or save seed to sow in spring – you have to leave the pods on the plant until they’re completely dried. The shells will be crisp, even withered. Don’t save any that aren’t unless you’re going to cook them right away. They won’t sprout, even if you do manage to keep them from rotting.