How to Choose and Grow Shelling Beans in Your Garden
There are hundreds of kinds of beans, but they're all legumes that are easy to grow and oh, so good for you.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in growing beans is deciding which ones to plant! Many people love to grow green beans (also called snap beans, and they come in a variety of colors besides green) to be cooked and eaten shortly after harvest, although they can be frozen or canned for later use. But, there are more types out there that can be a great addition to your culinary garden.
Shelling or dry beans are an easy way to grow food that you can store for cooking later. The bean roll call includes black, black-eyed pea, broad, butter, chickpea (garbanzo), cowpea, kidney, fava, Great Northern, lima, navy, pinto, red, string, and many more. Choose the ones you and your family like best.
Bush Beans vs. Pole Beans
Bush beans are the most popular type of shelling beans to grow. They produce fresh pods that make a snapping sound when you break them into pieces. Although bush beans take more space, they need less staking, weeding, and watering. They produce most of their crop at one time, although bush bean plants kept picked generally will continue flowering and producing some vegetables throughout the summer. To keep a consistent crop of bush beans growing, plant every two weeks throughout the summer.
Pole beans are a good solution for growing beans in a smaller space. Plant shelling beans up a 5- to 8-foot trellis or pyramid tuteur to support the long vines. Each bean plant yields two to three times more beans than bush beans but only a few at a time.
Tips for Growing Shelling Beans
Practically foolproof, shelling beans require only one skill: timing the harvest correctly. The rest of the process is easy for even beginner gardeners.
Start with Support
Beans have one of two growth habits—bush, meaning they top out at 36 inches tall, or pole, which grow 6 to 8 feet tall. Pole beans need support, but you can be creative about it. Wire cattle panels, bamboo stakes, and even cornstalks work. Whatever you use, set it up before planting time so as not to disturb roots later.
Starting Bean Seeds
Start growing shelling beans from seed. Bean plants don't like to be transplanted. For best production, place all bean plants in a location that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun a day.
Follow directions on your seed packet for how deep and how far apart to plant your seeds. Most types of beans will require seeds to be 1 to 2 inches deep in the soil. Give plants room to breathe: 8–10 inches between bush plants and 6 inches for pole varieties. If you garden with kids, teach them how to plant beans; the seeds are large enough for young children to handle.
Beans do not survive frost. Wait to plant beans until the danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. Cover plants anytime freezing temperatures are forecast.
Watering Shelling Beans
Once bean plants sprout, they should get about 1/2 to 1 inch of water per week in the form of rain or supplemental water. Space plants far enough apart for good air circulation. Avoid overhead sprinkling, if possible, to ward off mildew and fungus problems; use drip irrigation instead.
You don't need to fertilize bean plants. Especially avoid using nitrogen fertilizer, which promotes plant growth over production of bean pods. If you feel you must use fertilizer, choose one with a smaller first number of the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) numbers on the container, such as 5-10-10.
Keep bean plants well weeded so they're not competing for nutrients and moisture. Pull weeds when they're small; if the weed is allowed to grow large, pulling it can also uproot the bean plant.
Common Bean Pests
Deer are typically the biggest concern. The organic spray Deer Off works but needs to be reapplied every 30 to 90 days and as new growth emerges. You can also try homemade deer repellents to keep them away from your crop.
Harvest dry or shelling beans late in the growing season when the pods clearly show the bean seeds inside. The pods should be allowed to dry on the plant until just before frost.
To capture beans at their shelling stage, pick when pods feel leathery but pliable. If they snap, it’s too soon. Beans themselves should have only a little give. If the beans are mature but not dry, simply pull out the plants and hang them in a warm, dry place. Once dried, the beans can be removed from their pods and stored for later use.