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The Green Bean Backgrounder

Published: May 9, 2009

Gardeners, don’t get in too big a rush to get your green bean seeds in the ground. Most of us think of green beans as the prototypical North American vegetable, but actually the snap beans we eat today had their origins in the tropics of south and central America. That’s why they need to be planted late, when the soil is plenty warm, in order to germinate properly. If planted too early they may rot in the ground.

Before Calvin Keeney, “Father of the Stringless Bean,” developed snap beans for Burpee Company in 1889, most green beans were stringy, requiring lots of cooking to be edible. Keeney came up with Burpee’s Stringless Green Pod, which was popular until 1925 when Tendergreen came along. In 1962 Bush Blue Lake arrived as one of the greatest breakthroughs in snap beans. Blue Lake started out in California as a canning bean, but by the 1950s, Oregon researchers released new strains that were dark green, round, firm, straight, and stringless. Even with new varieties, many still find Blue Lake the best.

Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans were developed in 1877 from the Old Homestead, variety introduced in 1864. Although they are considered snap beans, they do become stringy if not picked in a timely manner.

Bush Vs. Pole
Gardeners now have a large variety of bush type and pole type beans to choose from. Bush beans develop more quickly and provide a more abundant harvest (50 or so beans per plant). They are easier to plant because they don’t require a structure to grow on. However, because they grow only two feet high, harvesting them can be hard on your back. Bush beans produce their crop all at once, so they must be planted at intervals to keep beans flowing through the summer. Unless you are feeding the whole neighborhood, don’t go overboard with planting bush beans.

Pole beans develop more slowly than bush beans. The weekly harvest is smaller but extends for a couple of months. Because they grow to 10 or 15 feet if allowed to, you don’t have to bend over to pick them, but you may need a ladder. Requiring less room, pole beans are suitable for small garden spaces and for small families. Green bean aficionados say pole beans are tastier as well, with a more nutty, bean-like flavor.

How to Plant
Sow bush beans 1 inch deep, about 1 to 2 inches apart in rows 2 to 2 ½ feet apart. Beans need room so that air can circulate and dry the plants of moisture that can lead to fungus. Be sure to keep soil moist after planting. Then thin to 3 to 4 inches apart when several inches high.

Sow pole beans in mounds 3 feet apart. Place a stake in the center of the mound and surround with three or four seeds planted 1 inch deep around the pole. Keep the soil moist and expect to see sprouts within a week.

Fertilize beans with 10-20-10 fertilizer at time of planting and add fertilize throughout the growing season.

Nutrition
Green beans are surprisingly nutritious. A half-cup serving of boiled green beans provides about 13 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K and 10 percent of vitamin C. Also, about 8 percent of vitamin A and dietary fiber. Green beans even provide omega-3 fatty acids, about 2.5 percent of the daily requirement in a half-cup serving, in addition to manganese, potassium, folate, tryptophan, iron, copper, vitamins B1, B2, and B3, calcium, phosphorus, and protein.