Snap beans are eaten as a green pod.
Pole beans climb, but can also be snap beans.
Shelly beans are beans that have begun to mature–the green maturing seeds are harvested young and cooked like fresh peas.
Dry beans have matured and dried in the pod and are soaked before cooking.
Wax beans are any bean pods that ripen yellow.
String beans are eaten in the pod–beans in pods once commonly had strong stringy tissue where the two halves of the pod came together. (Today most string beans are actually stringless.)
Lima beans are flat and oblong and are also called “butter beans”; they grow best in warm regions. Fava beans–also called “broad” or “horse” beans–look like fuzzy lima beans but grow best in cool regions.
Runner beans are not common garden beans or lima beans; runner beans are not pole beans–but they are climbers. Runner beans are their own species and to prove it they wrap themselves counter-clockwise around poles or stakes.
Beans are second only to tomatoes in popularity among home vegetable gardeners.
Here are a few tips common to all beans to take into the bean growing season:
• Soil. Beans grow best in loose, well-worked, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. (But beans will grow in soil that is sandy, rocky, and even clayey.) Turn your soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and add aged compost in advance of planting. Bean diseases proliferate in wet soil that is slow to drain so adding organic matter to the bean patch is important.
• Temperature. Don't plant beans too early. Bean seeds will rot in cold, wet soil, and bean plants will die if touched by frost. Wait to sow beans until the soil temperature reaches 60°F–about two weeks after the last frost. Wait to set out bean starts until nighttime temperatures average 55°F or greater. Most beans, except fava beans, prefer air temperatures of 70° to 80°F; favas like it cooler.
• Pre-Planting. If you are planting where beans have not grown before, dusting seeds with a Rhizobia bacteria inoculant can boost production. Rhizobia bacteria powder is available from seed companies and is sold specific to beans, peas, lentils and soybeans; tell the seller what you are growing. Also: soaking or pre-sprouting bean seeds in water may cause them to rot.
• Planting. Sow bean seeds 1 inch deep in spring. In summer after the soil has warmed, you can sow beans seeds a bit deeper, but no deeper than 2 inches. Sow seeds with the “eye” down. Sprouting beans push folded leaves up through the soil and spread them before they emerge. Heavy, wet soil or crusted soil will impede bean sprouts and can break shoots while sprouting. Light, sandy and compost-rich, well-drained soil is ideal for growing beans. Work compost into the top 6 inches of the planting bed. If your garden has heavy clay soil, sow beans in raised beds.
• Bush Bean Sowing. Bush beans can be planted in: single rows–create a shallow furrow and sow a seed every 3 to 4 inches; double rows–create two shallow furrows 4 inches apart and set seed every 3 to 4 inches in each row (set your soaker hose between the two rows); wide rows–create a row or planting bed 15 to 18 inches wide and sow seed 3 to 4 inches apart in all directions across the wide row setting each seed one inch deep. Raised beds can be planted in wide rows or double rows.
• Pole Bean Sowing. Pole beans grow easily on 1- or 2-inch diameter poles with rough surfaces–for easy climbing. Use poles no higher than 6 to 7 feet for ease at harvest time–you can use taller poles but then you'll need a ladder at harvest time. Pole beans will climb to the top of the pole and then head back down, so a 4 or 5 foot pole works best for most people. Sow 5 or 6 beans around each pole one inch deep; later thin to the strongest 3 or 4 plants per pole. To get started the beans started, train the vine tendrils up the pole.
• Succession Cropping Beans. Make three or four bean plantings at two- or three-week intervals for an uninterrupted supply of fresh beans. For a late crop, sow seed five or six weeks before the first fall frost date.
• Watering Beans. Keep beans evenly watered during germination and flowering. Water beans gently to a depth of 4 to 6 inches (stick your finger in the soil to check). Even watering is very important during pod development. Conversely, overwatering can cause beans to drop their pods. Water at the base of plants; overhead watering can spread diseases. Avoid touching plants when the leaves are wet. Water early in the day to reduce evaporation. A bit of wilting in the afternoon does not mean plants are under-watered; if plants are wilted in the morning, water immediately.
• Feeding Beans. Beans are light feeders. A well-composted planting bed will provide all the nutrients bush beans need. Additional fertilizers are not necessary for bush beans. However, pole beans will appreciate an extra boost when pods form. Give pole beans a side dressing of compost tea when pods form. If you are unable to compost the planting bed, mix a nitrogen light fertilizer such as 5-10-10 into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil just before planting. Follow the fertilizer directions or spread about 3 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet Phosphorus will promote strong roots and potassium will help beans bear frui and resist disease.
• Weeding. Beans are shallow rooted so just keep the soil lightly cultivated to stop weed germination and growth. Bean leaves will soon shade the garden bed and slow or stop weed growth. Mulch with straw, dry leaves, or compost if weeds persist.
• Bean Diseases. Prevention is the best solution to bean diseases–fungal diseases (such as rust), bacterial blights, and viral diseases (such as bean mosaic). Plant in well-drained soil; don't overwater; rotate crops, and plant disease-resistantvarieties
• Bean Harvest. Pick snap beans when pencil-size or smaller and tender. Pick snap beans before pods become lumpy. Harvest bush beans daily to encourage production; the more you pick the more the plant will blossom and produce more pods. When seeds are allowed to develop in the pod, plants will slow production. Pinch off bush beans with your thumbnail and fingers; don't pull or jerk beans from the plant. Use scissors to harvest tougher pole and runner beans. Shell beans are harvested after the beans have begun to swell in the pod. Dry beans are picked when seeds rattle in the brown pods.
• Bean Yield. Beans yield about 50 quarts per 100 feet of row. (Eight ounces of bean seed will cover a 100-foot row.) Grow 10 to 15 bush beans per person. Grow three to five pole beans per person.
More beans growing tips at How to Grow Beans.