There’s something for everyone to love about growing beans! From the ease of getting a good harvest to the delicious recipes you can make with the fruits of your labor, it’s hard to ignore all the good reasons to make beans a mainstay in your garden.
Bush beans or pole beans – which type is best to grow? Both sides have pros and cons in the battle of pole versus bush beans; it’s important to know as much as possible about each growing style to ensure you make the right decision for your needs. First, let’s clarify something about beans.
When people usually talk about beans, they are speaking about their varieties. Green beans, black beans, kidney beans, blue lake beans, etc. They are all different varieties of legumes. In this article, what we are discussing is related to their growing habits, a totally different topic. So let’s discuss why you might choose growing pole beans over bush beans.
Bush Beans Vs Pole Beans – Which Is Better?
Whether bush beans or pole beans work better will ultimately depend on your own time availability, space requirements, and resources. Growing bush beans is perfect for gardeners with less time, experience, and resources, as they’re easier to grow and stand up to the elements a little better than pole beans.
But for those with the expertise and time to make it work, growing beans on bamboo poles can be far more rewarding in the long term. Ultimately, both types of growers are worth trying, and based on your preference, you can decide. It may come down to how much room and beans you want to grow. If you really want beans in the wax bean family, they are bush bean plants.
Bush Bean Basics
When growing bush beans, you won’t need as much room or extra equipment, which is a good reason to choose bush beans. What makes them bush beans is that they grow tightly packed like a bush. This bushy plant may get a bit high but generally not more than two feet tall. When you plant bush beans, they must be spaced about three to six inches apart, much closer than many vegetables. When planting multiple rows two to three feet, the plants grow better with some spacing. It will also make it easier for you to tend to them and harvest the beans later.
All you need is a handful of seeds and ground space. Plant seeds about half an inch deep in well-draining soil. They germinate for six to 10 days and need warm soil, about sixty-five degrees. They do very well during those hot summers in most areas of the country.
An inch of water each day will be enough to sate their thirst. Be sure to water in the morning so your little seeds can get their drink in before the hot sun burns away the water. Your bean plants will thank you for it. Add fertilizer as needed throughout the growing season.
Nothing else is required, as beans are solid and independent plants capable of thriving with little help. They tend to do well in wind conditions, unlike pole beans.
Bush beans will grow in a compact space close to the ground, making them easy to protect and maintain. In fact, some say they’re the ideal plant for beginner gardeners due to their durability and low maintenance requirements. And their natural durability and fast growth rate make them ideal for organic gardens.
Harvesting Bush Beans
After all that work, choosing which beans to plant, preparing how much space in your garden is needed, planting your bean plant, fertilizing, and warding off plant diseases, you figured it was time to sit back and watch your plants grow finally. Not done yet!
Since beans produce fairly quickly, you will be back at it picking those beans very soon. The beans will ripen all about the same time, so it’s important to harvest bush beans as soon as they are ready. For most bush beans, you will harvest in about two months from germination.
You’ll need to carefully monitor each pod’s color, size, and firmness to ensure you don’t miss the optimal picking time. Your bean plants will give you a continuous harvest (up to a point) if you keep picking them. Giving you fresh beans to be eaten fresh or cooked.
Choosing which level of ripeness to harvest beans is a matter of personal preference. Some folks like to harvest just ripe beans for a crunchy texture. Others prefer to let the pods hang on the bush for a little while for a softer texture and more distinct flavor.
Be sure to read up on your chosen variety for the best results. In smaller garden beds, to maximize your harvest, pick them once they are of the varieties’ size.
Below are a few heirloom bush bean varieties to consider. All will do better in full sun, grow in zones 3-11, and are ready to harvest from sprouting bush bean seeds in approximately 60 days.
- Cherokee Wax – These long waxy yellow pod bush beans produce abundantly and are disease-resistant.
- Dragon Tongue – Superb flavor stringless yellow pods with purple streaks.
- Kentucky Wonder Bush – Flavorful 9 inch long that is a prolific producer of tasty green beans. Unfortunately a favorite of the Japanese beetle.
- Landreth Stringless – Bursting with full flavor and snap, these green beans provide bountiful juicy pods.
- Tendercrop – 4 Inch long beans that are heavy producer that is resistant to the mottle & mosaic virus.
Top Crop – A favorite to can or freeze, 6 inch stringless pods of round meaty beans.
Perfect Pole-Grown Produce!
Unlike bush beans, pole beans grow vertically. Your pole beans need a trellis or “pole” to grow. Hence the name pole beans. Plant pole beans and produce tendrils that will snake around almost anything, even other plants or themselves.
You will need a small trellis for each pole bean plant, or construct a larger trellis that extends the length of all your bean plants so they have something to grab and grow on. They will grow and extend their vines, most often higher than 10 feet tall and sometimes higher than 15 feet! With an equal distance in width.
Although growing beans this way is a little more of a challenge than simply leaving them to grow on the bush, the rewards are greater, with far more beans available come harvest time. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could grow pole beans by placing your pole next to other high-growing plants like corn or sunflowers, encouraging the beanstalk to wind around them and allowing the different plants to complement each other.
Planting and Harvesting
Pole-grown beans are delicious, plentiful, and easy to grow. But if you want to get the best of your bamboo-borne legumes, you can give them a little helping hand to ensure you get quality results. While beans will naturally improve soil quality and don’t need too much of a nutrient boost, preparing the soil with aged, organic compost before planting to prevent soil crusting is a good idea.
When it comes to harvesting, the pods will ripen at slightly different times depending on several factors, including their position on the pole. To ensure you get a maxed-out harvest, keep a close eye on the pole, returning every day or two to harvest newly ripe beans. As with bush beans, it’s up to you to decide which level of ripeness suits your taste and your chosen variety of beans.
Protecting Pole Beans
Although pole-grown beans will give you better rewards, they sometimes need a little extra help to keep them safe. After all, a strong wind could knock down your 15-foot pole and uproot the plant, meaning all your work was for nothing! But keeping them safe with a little extra effort is not too hard.
Firstly, ensure your trellis system is firmly rooted in the ground. It may need a few extra supports made from metal or some other sturdy material to ensure the pole doesn’t snap under pressure.
But for best protection, make use of a windbreak. This could be a wall, fence, or even a hedge. Ensure your windbreak has some holes or gaps, allowing a little wind to pass through to gently break the force of the gust.
Below are a few heirloom pole bean varieties to consider. The bush and pole beans chosen do better in full sun & grow well in zones 3-11. The bean be ready from bean seed to harvest in between 60 – 75 days. These climbing vines will grow between 5-10 feet tall.
- Kentucky Wonder – It’s often marketed today as “old homestead”. The 7-inch pods are stringless with fabulous flavor when young.
- Blue Lake Stringless Bean – This heritage stringless grows 5 1/2 inch long snap bean pods with a full body flavor.
- Rattlesnake Pole Bean – Attractive & drought resistant variety do well in sandy solid. Purple striped 1 foot long pods.
- Climbing French Bean – 4–7 inch delicious pods will produce dark purple shiny seeds when fully matured.
- Purple Podded Pole – Great for canning or fresh, these 5-7 inch long stringless beans are high-yielding.
- Romano Bean – Flat 6 inch long beans can be left to fully mature and be used as a dry bean. Flat & stringless these beans are resistant to mosaic virus.
The benefits of bean growing to extend far beyond the time these yummy veggies spend on the bush or pole and even months after being harvested. Like all legumes, beans play a crucial role in promoting soil health. They have nitrogen using atmospheric N2, which they turn into N4 and release into the soil.
This makes them a great crop to plant with other heavy nitrogen feeders. The nitrogen will also remain in the soil for succession planting. Crop rotation is always a good idea, but with bush beans and pole beans, vegetable gardening considering their nitrogen injection abilities, is just smart.
Beans plants also compete with weeds and other unwanted pests for nutrients, keeping the soil clean and organic. It’s actually a great time investment. The time you would have spent keeping the ground free of weeds otherwise can now be invested in growing healthy and nutritious beans.
Watch That Frost!
Although beans are pretty durable plants, able to stand up to rain, hot weather, and even the occasional bug attack, there’s one thing every aspiring bean grower should watch out for frost.
Even a light frost is likely to completely wipe out your beans, whether grown on a bush or a pole. That’s why it’s important to check the weather in your area and only plant after the last spring frost has passed, normally in late April or early May.
You can use plenty of resources to find the optimal planting time, including almanacs and online forecasts. As long as you keep a close on that date, there’s not much else you need to do to protect your beans. But if you’d like to get a head start on the cold weather, you could cover your chosen patch of ground in advance, ensuring it’s nice and warm when you plant your seeds.
Whichever way you choose to grow beans, it’s sure to be a success if you take your time and stay patient with the growing process. They’re fast-growing and durable plants, so as long as you’ve made good preparations, you can sit back and wait for a bumper bean bonanza!