Snap beans–also called green beans–are tender annuals best planted shortly after the last frost in spring. Snap beans are grown for fresh eating or for canning.
The color of snap beans can vary. Green beans are green but other snap beans can be yellow, purple, or speckled depending on the variety. Yellow snap beans are sometimes called wax beans.
The pod size of snap beans can vary as well; some are just 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) long others are 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) long or longer, and pods can be round or flat.
There are two types of snap beans, bush types, and pole types. Bush beans grow low as a free-standing bush. Bush snap beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. they are ready for picking in about 60 days and the harvest time lasts a week or two. Pole snap beans are a good choice when you have very little garden space; they grow up to 8 feet tall or more. Pole beans have a longer harvest season than bush beans and they produce more pods.
- Five Ways to Quick Cook and Serve Snap Beans
- How to Harvest and Store Snap Beans
- How to Can Green Snap Beans for Beginners
- Green Snap Beans with Galic
Here is your complete guide to growing snap beans.
Bush snap beans and pole snap beans
Snap beans—bush and pole varieties–are harvested young and tender; you eat them pod and all. Bush snap beans are mildly flavored; pole snap beans have a more pronounced bean flavor. Both will be tender if harvested young when the pod tips are still soft, both will be tougher if left on the plant too long.
Bush beans are determinate—meaning they grow to a certain size (about 2 feet tall), blossom, turn out a single flush or harvest of beans, and then die. Bush beans come to harvest almost all at once then pickings quickly dwindle. Pole beans are indeterminate—meaning they continue growing through the season, require support as they vine, and flower and produce pods through the season spreading bean production out over the length of the season.
Bush beans are a good choice if you want your crop to be ready almost all at once for canning or freezing. A succession of bush bean plantings will give you a higher yield continuously through the season. But one pole bean plant will yield more pods than one bush bean plant.
Plant bush beans every 10 days or so for a continuous harvest throughout the season, or plant bush beans early in the season for a harvest before pole beans are ready or late in the season to claim one more heavy harvest ahead of frost.
Snap bean quick growing tips
- Direct sow snap beans in the garden just after the average date of the last frost in spring.
- To get an early start on the season, sow snap beans indoors as early as 3 or 4 weeks before the average last frost date for transplanting into the garden a week or two after the last frost–when all danger of frost is past.
- Bush snap beans are compact growers, about 24 inches (61cm) wide, and tall.
- Pole snap beans are tall growers, as tall as 8 to 10 feet (2.4-3m) growing on a trellis or support.
- Pods on bush beans come to harvest over a two-week period; pole bean plants will produce pods for a month or more.
- For continuous fresh harvest through the growing season, sow a succession crop of bush snap beans every two weeks.
- Snap beans can continue in the garden until the first frost in fall.
- Beans will not set pods in temperatures above 80°F (26.7°C).
Where to plant snap beans
Plant snap beans in a spot that gets full sun throughout the spring and summer, is out of the reach of a constant breeze, and drains well. It is best not to grow beans in the same ground within 2 or 3 years as diseases are likely to harbor in bean refuse. But if you have few alternative growing spots and there was no disease in that spot this past season you can plant again in the same spot once the soil has been enriched.
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.
- Grow beans in full sun, 8 hours of sun or more each day. Beans will grow in partial shade but the harvest will not be full.
- Grow beans in well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
- Prepare planting beds in advance by working 2 to 3 inches (5-7cm) of aged compost or aged manure into the soil.
- Avoid planting beans where soil nitrogen is high or where green manure crops have just grown; these beans will produce green foliage but few beans.
- Beans prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
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Snap beans planting time
Snap beans demand warm air and soil to grow. Sow beans in spring after the soil has warmed to at least 60°F. To get off to the quickest start, start bean seeds indoors two to four weeks before the last frost. While the seeds are germinating indoors, place black plastic sheeting over the growing bed to warm the soil in advance of transplanting starts. Bean seeds will rot in cold, wet soil, and frost will kill seedlings; there is little advantage to putting beans in the garden until the weather has warmed.
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.
- Beans grow best in warm weather. Beans will grow in temperatures as low as 50°F and as warm as 85°F (10-29°C), but the ideal temperature for sustained plant growth is about 72°F.
- The optimal growing soil temperature for beans is 60° to 85°F (15-
- Start beans indoors as early as 3 or 4 weeks before the average last frost to get a head start on the season.
- Start beans indoors in biodegradable peat or paper pots that can be set whole into the garden so as not to disturb plant roots. Beans may not survive transplanting if their roots are disturbed.
- Set transplants in the garden two weeks after the last frost date.
- Start beans from seed in the garden two weeks after the last frost.
- Sow bush beans every two weeks for a continuous harvest or follow bush beans with longer-maturing pole beans.
- Beans will not set pods in temperatures above 80°F (26.7°C). Time your plantings to avoid hot weather.
- Beans can continue in the garden until the first frost in fall.
- In mild-winter regions, beans can be sown in autumn for winter harvest.
More tips: Beans Seed Starting Tips.
Bean seed pre-planting treatment
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 specifically 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 and spacing snap beans
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.
Ahead of planting, you can prepare the planting location by digging a trench 18 inches wide and about 12 inches deep. Loosen the soil with a garden fork then add a 3 to 4-inch layer of aged manure or compost to the bottom of the trench. You also can add bone meal or hoof and horn fertilizer (which improves root growth and soil structure) or blood meal (which contains slow-release nitrogen for green growth). Then fill the trench with 3 to 4 inches of soil and a second layer of compost and then the remaining soil. You will now have a planting bed or row slightly raised above the surrounding garden ground—it will be quick to drain (beans like well-drained soil) and quick to warm in spring (ensuring rapid seed germination).
Water the seedbed before planting; this will aid germination. Plant seeds bush beans 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in all directions, or thin plants to 6 inches apart. Plant bush beans 3 inches apart in containers.
- Plant bean seeds 1 to 1½ inches (2.5-3.8cm) deep, a bit deeper in loose, sandy soil.
- The minimum soil temperature for starting bean seeds in the garden is 50°F (10°C) or greater; warm soil is essential for bean growth.
- Plant bush beans 3 to 4 inches apart; set rows 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart.
- Plant pole beans 4 to 6 inches apart; set rows 30 to 36 inches (76-91cm)apart.
- Pole beans also can be planted on small hills or mounds–5 or 6 seeds to a hill; space hills 40 inches (101cm) apart.
- Pole bean vines grow best with support. Set trellis support, teepee poles bamboo poles, stakes, or other supports in place at planting time.
- Bean seeds will germinate in 8 to 10 days at 70°F (21°C).
- Thin to the strongest seedlings from 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) apart. Remove weaker seedlings by cutting them off at soil level with scissors being careful not to disturb the roots of the remaining seedlings.
- Beans can be crowded at planting time; they will use each other for support.
- Grow 4 to 8 bean plants per household member.
Planting bush snap beans
Bush beans can be planted in single rows–create a shallow furrow and sow a seed every 3 to 4 inches; in 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.
- Sow the first row of bush snap beans about a week after the last frost in spring.
- Presoak bean seeds for 1 to 4 hours in just lukewarm water before you plant them.
- Plant bush snap beans 1 inch deep and 3 to 5 inches apart. Space rows 12 to 24 inches apart.
- A half pound of seeds will plant a 50-foot row.
- Plant bush beans in containers at least 12 inches deep with 6 inches between plants; germination occurs in 7 to 14 days.
- Sow succession crops of bush snap beans every 10 days through the spring.
Planting pole snap beans
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.
- Plant pole snap beans in early summer, a few weeks after the last frost; pole snap beans are more sensitive to cold than bush snap beans.
- Plant pole beans in a straight row at the base of a trellis or other support, or group a few seeds at every pole it planting a bean tripod or other supports.
- Plant pole snap beans 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart.
- A half pound of seeds will plant a 50-foot row.
- Pole beans grow well in containers; set a trellis or other support in place at sowing time. Use a container that can support a trellis and a large plant.
Pole beans are heavy producers for the relatively small area of garden space they require.
Choose a spot in full sun, loosen the soil to a depth of 1 foot, and add a 4-inch layer of aged compost or organic soil amendment—but not manure (beans produce their own nitrogen).
Plant 5 seeds around the base of 8-foot poles. Space the poles 3 feet apart. Set each seed 1 inch deep with the eye or scar facing down. If your garden is in a windy spot, create a tripod—three poles, buried at the bottom and crossed half to two-thirds from the top (for easy harvesting).
Water deeply after sowing beans; you won’t need to water again until the seedlings emerge—unless the soil dries out. Once the plants emerge keep the soil moist and protect seedlings from birds and snails.
When plants are 3 to 4 inches tall thin to the strongest three on each pole. Help each seedlings begin to wind around the pole.
Pole beans will be ready for harvest 10 to 11 weeks after sowing. Beans are ready for picking and the tastiest when the seeds swell and just become visible in the pod. Pick beans consistently to keep your crop producing. Pole beans will keep producing until they are knocked back by frost.
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 snap 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 underwatered; if plants are wilted in the morning, water them immediately.
Water beans lightly after they emerge from the ground; increase watering when beans flower and give them the most water as harvest nears; let the soil just dry out between waterings.
- Grow beans in soil that is evenly moist. Give bean plants 1 to 1½ inches (2.5-3.8cm) of water each week.
- Do not soak seeds in advance of planting and do not over-water after sowing. Bean seeds may crack and germinate poorly if the soil moisture is too high at sowing.
- Keep the soil evenly moist during flowering and pod formation. Beans in dry soil will not flower or set pods. Beans in constantly wet soil will suffer root rot.
- Rain or overhead irrigation during flowering can cause flowers and small pods to fall off. Overhead watering also will leave beans susceptible to disease.
- Mulch to conserve moisture once the soil temperature is greater than 60°F (15.6°C).
Feeding snap 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 fruit and resist disease.
- Beans are best fertilized with aged garden compost or commercial organic planting mix. Both are rich in plant nutrients.
- Beans fix their own nitrogen; they set up a mutual exchange with soil nitrogen-fixing bacteria which produces the soil nitrogen beans require.
- Fertilizing beans with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer will result in green leafy growth and few pods.
- Avoid using green manures or nitrogen-rich fertilizers in advance of planting beans.
Companion plants for snap beans
- Plant bush beans alongside celery, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, rosemary, strawberries, and summer savory.
- Plant pole beans with corn, rosemary, summer savory, scarlet runner beans, and sunflowers.
- Do not plant beans with onions, beets, or kohlrabi.
Caring for snap beans
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.
- Cover plants with floating row covers if nighttime temperatures dip below 40°F; row covers will also exclude insects.
- Set poles, stakes, or trellises in place before planting pole beans. Select supports that are tall enough for the variety being grown.
- Keep weeds away from beans; weeds compete for soil moisture and harbor pests and diseases.
- Cultivate around beans carefully to avoid disturbing the shallow roots.
- Do not handle beans when they are wet; this may spread fungus spores.
- Do not grow beans in the same spot every year. Rotate beans to plots where lettuce, squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or collards have grown in the past year or two.
Growing snap beans in containers
- Bush beans can be grown in containers, but you may need several containers for a practical harvest.
- Beans will grow in 8-inch (20cm) wide and deep containers or larger.
- Set pole beans toward the back of your container garden so that they do not shade smaller plants.
Snap bean pests
- Beans can be attacked by aphids, Mexican bean leaf beetles, flea beetles, cucumber beetles, bean weevils, leafhoppers, mites, and slugs.
- Aphids, leafhoppers, and spider mites can be sprayed away with a blast of water from the hose or controlled with insecticidal soap. Look for eggs and infestations and crush them between your fingers and thumb. Pinch out and remove large infestations.
- Mexican bean beetles, cucumber beetles, and flea beetles can skeletonize leaves. Hand-pick adults, larvae, and egg masses. Spray large populations with insecticidal soap, canola oil, kaolin, or soapy water. Spray the whole plant. Early in the season exclude these pests with row covers.
- Protect bean seedlings from cutworms by placing open-bottom cans or containers around each seedling.
- Control slugs with diatomaceous earth spread around the base of plants.
More tips: Bean Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.
Snap 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-resistant varieties
- Beans are susceptible to powdery mildew, anthracnose, blight, black spot, and mosaic virus.
- Plant disease-resistant varieties.
- Keep the garden clean and free of debris. Weeds and debris can host insects that carry disease.
- Avoid overhead watering of beans; wet conditions leave beans susceptible to fungal diseases. A common disease is downy mildew, a fungal disease that causes a white or purple downy growth on the undersides of leaves.
- Avoid handling plants when they are wet so as not to spread fungal spores.
- Remove diseased plants; put them in a paper bag and put them in the trash.
- Beans are susceptible to many soil-borne diseases; rotating beans so that they do not grow in the same location more than every three years will reduce soil-borne diseases.
- Spray-mist beans with compost tea or a mix of 1 part skim milk to 9 parts water; both are anti-fungal solutions.
- At the end of the season following harvest, it is best to remove each entire plant so that pests and diseases do not overwinter in the garden.
Harvesting snap beans
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.
Pick snap beans when the pods are immature—the tip will be soft; eat snap beans very soon after harvest for the best flavor.
- Bush beans will be ready for harvest 50 to 60 after sowing.
- Pole beans will be ready for harvest 60 to 90 days after harvest.
- Pick green or snap beans when pods are young and tender, about 3 inches long, or just before seeds begin to bulge and grow plump.
- Bean pods that are bulging will be past their peak.
- Cut or snap beans off of the plant; be careful not to tear pods from branches.
- Continue to pick pods before they become mature so that the plant will continue flowering and producing new pods.
- When seeds mature on the bush or vine, the plant will die.
- Avoid harvesting beans when the weather is very hot or very cold.
Snap bean yield. Snap 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.
Harvest tips: How to Harvest and Store Beans.
Storing and preserving snap beans
- Unshelled green beans can be kept for up to one week in the refrigerator.
- Store beans in plastic bags or moisture-proof, airtight containers. Do not wash beans before refrigerating.
- Shelled beans can be blanched and frozen for up to 3 months.
- Snap beans can also be dried on the vine or off the vine in a dry place. Drying beans in the pod work best. Once dry, store both shelled and unshelled beans in a cool place.
Snap beans in the kitchen
- Eat edible pod snap beans raw or lightly cooked.
- Use snap beans in casseroles, braises, soups, and quiches.
- Use fresh-shelled snap beans in soups, stews, salads, and vegetable side dishes.
- Dried beans can be soaked overnight and served as a vegetable side dish or added to salads, soups, stews, and stir-fries, or used as a main dish.
Snap bean varieties to grow
The most commonly grown beans are the green or snap bean and the yellow or yellow wax bean variety. Most green or snap beans have been stringless since 1894 when Burpee introduced the stringless green pod bean.
Heirloom snap bean varieties
Pods on bush beans come to harvest over a two-week period. Stagger the planting of bush varieties for a continuous harvest. Pole bean varieties will produce for a month or more.
- ‘Kentucky Wonder’: an heirloom pole bean variety that produces 8-inch long pods on 6- to 8-foot (1.8-2.4m) long vines.
- ‘Bountiful’: bush bean to plant for those extra early summer harvests and also late summer plantings for harvest before the first fall frost.
- ‘Bush Blue Lake’: bush plants with heavy yields of flavorful pods that are tender and crisp.
- ‘Fortex’: “filet” beans with dark green, extra slender 7-inch (17cm) pods.
More recommended snap bean varieties
- Green or snap bush beans: ‘Astro’ (53 days); ‘Blue Lake’ (56 days); ‘Contender’ (53 day); ‘Derby’ (55 days); ‘Gator Green’ (55 days); ‘Greensleeves’ (56 days); ‘Provider’ (53 days); ‘Slenderette’ (53 days); ‘Tendercrop’ (53 days); ‘Tendergreen’ (57 days); ‘Tendercrop’ (53 days); ‘Triumph’ (52 days); ‘White-Seeded Provider’ (50 days).
- Yellow wax bush beans: ‘Brittle Wax’ (55 days); ‘Cherokee’ (55 days); ‘Earlywax Golden Yellow’ (50 days); ‘Goldcrop’ (50 days); ‘Gold Mine’ (47 days); ‘Gold Rush’ (54 days); ‘Kinghorn’ (50 days); ‘Pencil Rod’ (52 days); ‘Sunrae’ (55 days); ‘Wax Romano’ (59 days).
- Purple bush beans: ‘Purple Queen’ (55 days).
- Green pole green or snap beans: ‘Blue Lake Pole’ (65 days); ‘Kentucky Wonder’ (60 days); ‘McCaslan’ (65 days); ‘Northeaster’ (60 days); ‘Scarlet Emperor’ (100 days); ‘Scarlett Runner’ (65 days); ‘Yard Long Beans’ (80 days).
- Yellow and purple pole snap beans: ‘Cascade Giant’ (60 days); ‘Kentucky Wonder Wax’ (65 days); ‘Purple Pole’ (65 days) ‘Yellow Annelino’ (60 days).
Other bean varieties
There are other bean varieties that can be grown in your bean patch. Here are a few:
- Shell beans: ‘Borlotto’. ‘Chevrier’, ‘French Horticulture Bean’.
- Dry beans: ‘Great Northern White’, ‘Jacob’s Cattle’, ‘Vermont Cranberry’.
- Lima beans: ‘Fordhook 242’, ‘Henderson Bush’, ‘King of the Garden’.
- Fava bean: ‘Broad Windsor’, ‘Aguadulce’, ‘Con Amore’, ‘Loretta’, ‘Sweet Lorraine’, ‘Windsor Long Pod’.
- Chickpea: ‘Chickpea’, ‘Garbanzo’, ‘Gram’, ‘Kabuli Black’.
- Cowpea (Black-eyed pea): ‘California Blackeye #5’, ‘Dixie Lee’, ‘Elite’, ‘Mississippi Purple Crowder’.
- Kidney bean (variety of common bean): ‘Borlotti’, ‘Caparron’, ‘Cranberry’, ‘Yin Yang’, red and white kidney beans are also called cannellini beans.
- Runner bean: ‘Scarlet’, ‘Scarlet Emperor’, ‘Ousidepride’.
- Soybean: ‘Early Hakucho’, ‘Envy’.
More snap bean varieties:
- Black Valentine: black pods to 6 inches long, heirloom (from 1897), does well in cool soil; 50 to 70 days to harvest.
- Blue Lagoon: sweet, tender, dark green pods to 6 inches; 56 days to harvest.
- Blue Lake 274: long round, dark green pods, 5 to 6 inches long, 18-inch tall plants; 52-60 days to harvest.
- Contender: plump, curved pods, 5 to 7 inches, bushy plant, tolerates heat; 40 to 58 days to harvest.
- Derby: AAS Selection, tender, 7-inch green pods; 55 days to harvest.
- Earli-Serve: straight, tender, 4-inch pods, pick when young; 45 days to harvest.
- Florence: straight, tender, 6 ½ inch pods, disease resistant; 50 days to harvest.
- Goldcrop: shiny, yellow 5 to 6 inches, stringless pods; 45 days to harvest.
- Goldkist: long slender, golden-yellow pods, harvest when young; 59 days to harvest.
- Nickel: dark green, stringless pod to 4½ inches; 52 days to harvest.
- Provider: medium green, fleshy pods to 5 inches, dependable early; 50 days to harvest.
- Roc d’Or: yellow wax bean, long, straight round pods, buttery flavor; 57 days to harvest.
- Roma II: Italian green bean produces flat, flavorful 4 ½ inch pods, big yields; 59 days to harvest.
- Royal Burgundy: curved, round purple pods, 12 to 15 inches, bush, turns green when cooked; 50-60 days to harvest.
- Royalty Purple Pod: tolerates cool soil and partial shade, 4 to 6-inch pods; 52 days to harvest.
- Slenderette: dark green, slender, 5-inch pods, erect bushes; 53 days to harvest.
- Venture: long green, curved, lumpy pods, 5 to 6 ½ inches, easy to grow; 48 days to harvest.
About snap beans
- Common names for green beans include green bean, snap bean, string bean, French bean, wax bean, pole bean, bush bean, stringless bean
- Botanical name: Phaseolus vulgaris
- Origin: South Mexico, Central America
- 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.
Types of beans for home gardens
Beans are legumes whose seeds or pods are eaten but are not classified as peas or lentils (which are also legumes). For the record, legumes are plants with double-seamed pods containing a single row of seeds.
Beans can be divided into two main groups: those that can be eaten pod and all, called green or snap beans, and others that are shelled for their seeds and eaten either fresh or dried, called shell beans or dried beans.
Green beans are the immature pods of the most tender bean varieties. Green beans are fleshy and entirely edible.
Green beans are sometimes called snap beans because of the sound their fresh pods make when broken in half. Green beans are called string beans if they have a fibrous string that runs down the side. Most modern green beans are stringless.
There are dozens of varieties of green beans. Green beans are the most widely planted bean type. Green beans include the haricot vert, scarlet runner bean, winged, and yard-long bean. Snap beans are not always green. They can also be yellow or purple. Yellow snap beans are sometimes called wax beans for their waxy color.
Beans that grow past the tender pod stage to maturity can be picked for just the seed inside. Beans grown for their seeds to be eaten fresh or dried are called shell beans or shellies.
Fresh shell beans are beans that swell in the pod to their maximum size but have not yet started to dry. Shell beans eaten fresh before they dry include the azuki, butterbean, chickpea, cranberry, fava, flageolet, lima, scarlet runner, soybean, winged, and yard-long bean.
Dry beans are beans left to mature and then dry on the vine. The seeds of dried beans are sometimes called soup beans. Dry beans are shelled and then usually soaked in water before cooking. Dry beans include the black or turtle bean, Great Northern, kidney, cannellini, navy, pinto, red, and white bean.
Bean types and classifications
Azuki bean or adzuki bean
Azuki bean or adzuki bean (Vigna angularis): small, somewhat square bean shelled at the plump green stage or allowed to dry on the vine and shelled; small red bean dried. Slightly sweet tasting. Used by Chinese and Japanese cooks in steamed rice dishes. Also used to make red bean paste. Annual native to Asia and related to the southern pea. Pods grow 4 to 5 inches (10-12.5 cm) long. Requires 120 warm growing days. Climbing bean.
Black bean or turtle bean
Black bean or turtle bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): medium-size, jet-black dried bean used in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. Earthy, meaty flavor and a mealy texture. Used in soups, stews, salads, and bean dips; served with pork, rice, and greens. See Dry and Horticultural Beans.
Bush bean is a bean-growing term. Bush beans are determinate plants, meaning they grow to a certain size and then blossom, fruit, and then stop growing. Bush beans grow in a bush-like form to about 15-24 inches (38-60 cm) tall. Bush beans produce edible pods within 60 days and the harvest usually lasts just two or three weeks. After two or three heavy pickings, bush beans are finished. They will then go into decline at which time they can be pulled up and composted.
Butterbean or sieva, civet, or seewee bean
Butterbean or sieva, civet bean (Phaseolus lunatus): a creamy yellow (butter-colored) bean similar to a lima bean but smaller. Blotched seeds turn dark when cooked. Popular in the South. Climbing bean.
Chickpea or garbanzo bean
Chickpea or garbanzo bean (Cicer arietinum): short, swollen pods about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long and contain 1 or 2 wrinkled buff-colored seeds. Seeds have a firm texture and nutty flavor. Use raw in soups, stews, and salads, and roasted and eaten as a snack. Also called ceci. Originally from southeastern Asia, they are a staple in Mediterranean countries and India. Rich in protein and starch. Look more like vetch than peas or beans. Prefer dry heat. Bush bean.
Cranberry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): plump, whitish-green pods with wine-colored streaks grow to about 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and ½ inch (1.3 cm) wide. Shelled beans can are mottled with reddish markings. Use fresh or dried. Add to stews and soups, especially Italian minestrone, or boil and serve as a side dish. Flavor reminiscent of chestnuts.
Dry and horticultural beans
Dry and horticultural beans (Phaseolus vulgaris): eaten green or dried for winter use; beans developed for green or dry shelled seeds; bred to be shelled when their large seeds reach full size. Believed to be the ancestors of snap beans. Young pods can be eaten as snap beans. Many varieties range in color from white to yellow, red, pink, brown, speckled, and black; some may be splashed with crimson or maroon. Best known dry beans are kidney, pinto, navy, and black turtle beans. Seldom grown in home gardens since they are inexpensive and commercially grown. The French flageolet is a horticultural bean grown in home gardens.
Fava bean or broad bean
Fava bean or broad bean (Vicia faba): large, flattened, light green pods grow 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) long and have a white-woolly lining. Eat the entire pods raw when half-grown with oil and salt or cooked like snap beans. Older pods are shelled; moist green beans inside should be peeled. Add to soups and stews or dress with butter or oil; serve cold as a salad dressed with vinaigrette. Require 70 days that are cool but frost free. Harvest in late spring and early summer. Some may be allergic to mature seeds.
Flageolet (Phaseolus vulgaris): small, creamy-white to pale-green seeds of a thin, flat, French shell bean with an inedible green pod; pods grow to about 3 inches (7.5 cm) long. A variety of haricot beans developed in France in 1872. Braise or add to soups and stews or eat cold as a salad with lemon and oil. Available dried.
Great Northern bean
Great Northern bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): medium to large, flat, kidney-shaped, white shell bean with a mild flavor. Used dried in soups, stews, baked bean dishes, and salads.
Green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): edible long, slender green pod bean, also called string bean because of a fibrous string that runs down the side. Modern hybrids are stringless.
Haricot bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): general term for a wide variety of beans that originated in America and were brought to Europe in the sixteenth century, including the red kidney bean and predecessor of the flageolet. Haricot often refers specifically to the small white bean used for baked beans.
Haricot vert (Phaseolus vulgaris): the French phrase for “green bean.” A slender (⅛ inch/0.3 cm in diameter) stringless bean, sweet and tender, with very small seeds. Use fresh: steam briefly then sauté in butter or oil or steam and dress with vinaigrette and serve chilled or at room temperature. Also called the French green bean and French bean.
Kidney bean or cannellini bean
Kidney bean or cannellini bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): kidney-shaped bean of a common shell bean, either red or white skinned with cream-colored flesh and bland flavor. White kidney beans are called cannellini beans. Meaty flavor and mealy texture. Use in salads and in simmered dishes such as soups, stews, and chili. Retains shape and texture cooked.
Lentil (Lens ensculenta); flat, disk-like seeds of a leguminous plant used dried. A lentil is not specifically a bean but is often lumped with beans. Lentils come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Puy lentil has dark green skin with blue marbling. The orange lentil, also called Egyptian lentil, is a dehusked brown lentil. Green lentil, also called continental lentil, is larger and slightly flatter. Dhal or dal is the general Hindi term for lentils. Add to soups and stews; boil until tender, drain, and dress with vinaigrette for a cold salad; or boil until tender, drain, and reheat with oil, butter, or bacon fat for a side dish.
Lima bean or butter bean
Lima bean or butter bean (Phaseolus lunatus): large, flat, kidney-shaped, light-green seeds that mature to creamy-yellow and can be eaten raw after shelling; waxy texture. Also used dried. Add to soups and stews; or boil until tender, drain and dress with vinaigrette and serve as a salad. Larger than butter beans but often crossed with butter beans. The lima bean is sometimes called the Madagascar bean. Native to Peru and named after the capital there, but pronounced “LY-muh.” Both climbing and bush forms.
Mung bean or green gram
Mung bean or green gram (Vigna radiata): small cylindrical olive-green seed used mostly for sprouting (edible bean sprouts) or for grinding to bean meal; green pods can be used as snap beans or mixed with green seeds shelled from fully grown pods. Bean is commonly green but also brown and black varieties. Favored in Indian, Chinese, and Asian cookery. A slender-podded relative of southern peas. Tolerate high heat and humidity and require a long, warm growing season. Bush type.
Navy bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): small, oval, kidney-shaped white bean; a haricot bean. Use in soups, stews, baked beans, or marinated in salads. The name is believed to have come from its importance to the Navy’s shipboard kitchen stock. Also called Boston beans and Yankee beans.
Pinto beans (Phaseolus vulgaris): medium-sized, flat, oval seed, pink to beige with mottled brown spots; a variety of kidney beans. The name in Spanish means “painted” or “spotted.” Dried and used in southwestern and Mexican soups, stews, and chilis. The creamy texture when cooked; delicious puréed. Native to India where it is called toor dal. Also called crabeye bean and red Mexican bean.
Pole bean is a bean that grows on a vine and should be trained vertically on a pole or trellis. Pole beans grow quickly into large, full-bodied plants. These plants produce in about 60 days and will bear for several weeks. Young pole bean pods should be picked frequently so that the plant will remain productive. These plants are classified as indeterminate because their size and period of harvest vary.
Purple snap bean
Purple snap bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): a snap bean with velvety skin that is dark, dark purple. When cooked, this bean turns green.
Red bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): a medium-sized, kidney-shaped bean with dark red skin and flesh. Used dry.
Scarlet runner bean
Scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus): flat, broad, green pod and small red-streaked beige-colored seeds with purple and black markings; similar but more flavorful than the snap bean. Steam and serve hot with butter or oil, or cold with vinaigrette. Add to soups or mixed vegetable salads. Harvest when pods are 3 to 4 inches (7.5-10 cm) long before strings develop in pods. The plant looks like a pole snap bean with scarlet flowers. Climbing or “runner” bean requires a pole or fence; has bright scarlet flowers. Also known as Green Bean, Italian Romano Bean, or Stick Bean.
Snap bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): bean harvested while immature and the pod is edible. Snap beans include green or string beans, Italian Romano beans, yellow wax beans, and purple-podded beans. Pods range from 5 to 12 inches (12.5-30 cm) long and are oval, round, or broad and flat and green, yellow (wax beans), or purple. Most are stringless; heirloom varieties have strings and fiber. Use steamed, braised, sautéed, stir-fried, or pickled. Use in soups or mixed vegetable combinations. Bush and pole types.
Soybean or soya bean
Soybean or soya bean (Glycine max): pods are tan to black with soft outer fuzz; two to four beans inside from pea to cherry sized, can be red, yellow, green, brown, black, or mottled. Can be harvested green or left to dry; require soaking for several hours and cooking for 4 hours to be digestible; dry seeds are black or yellow. Use as you would lima beans or fava beans; shell and boil just like English peas. Native to eastern Asia; require 120 warm, frost-free days to mature.
White bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): a generic term for ivory-white skinned kidney-shaped beans; a delicate bland flavor. Varieties include marrow bean, great Northern bean, navy bean, and pea bean. Also called a white navy bean, pea bean, or haricot. Used in baked beans.
Winged bean (Psophocrapus tetragonolobus): green, purple, or reddish pods to 9 inches (22.5 cm) long with 4 fluted wings along the length. Edible pods are high in protein with a flavor similar to the cranberry bean and a starchy green bean texture; pods can be steamed; roast ripe or dry seeds to make them digestible. Native to the Old World tropics; does not fruit until early fall and requires a frost-free harvest period. Climbing type.
Yard-long bean or asparagus bean or Chinese long bean
Yard-long bean or asparagus bean or Chinese long bean (Vigna unguiculata): thin, green pods 18 to 24 inches (45-60 cm) long can be eaten like a snap bean or shelled. Use fresh in stir-fries or steamed. Slightly milder than a snap bean with a crunchier texture. Climbing bean.
Yellow snap bean or wax bean
Yellow snap bean or wax bean (Phaseolus vulgaris): a snap bean with a yellow color and somewhat waxy texture.
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- Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner
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- Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide
- Tomato Grower’s Answer Book
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