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Beans are great plants for your patch because they are easy to grow and produce loads of food. They are a climber so are excellent where space is an issue.
Full sun is the order of the day for beans but provide a bit of temporary shade cover in super-hot, dry, windy weather. As most beans are climbers (unless you go for the dwarf or “bush beans”), you need to think about that before you whack them in. They need support as they get up to about 2m high. A wire trellis, fence lines, frames or similar can be used to prop them up. Why not make a tee-pee, or an A-frame walkway to grow your beans along? They look awesome, the kids will love them and they’ll add some real height and interest to your patch.
Soil for beans should be rich, deep, pH neutral and organic. Compost is perfect for soil preparation. You could also use an organic, complete pelletised fertilizer at planting time. Mulching your bed is really important but ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the stems of the beans. Soil needs to be well-drained but note that beans don’t really like sandy soils very much. So improve your sandy soil with nicely aged compost.
Feeding beans is totally unnecessary except for a bit of blood and bone sprinkled around at planting time. Make sure seedlings don’t come in direct contact with the Blood and Bone. Beans have a wonderful relationship with bacteria in the soil that enables them to ‘fix’ their own nitrogen from the atmosphere. Feeding beans with a nitrogen rich fertilizer can harm these bacteria and also reduce bean production… all in all a pointless exercise. Feed with a seaweed tea at flowering time to promote higher yields of tasty beans!
The biggest water issue with beans is not so much under-watering but over-watering. That’s right, people are killing their bean stalks with love! Over watering is a significant issue if planting beans from seed or when seedlings are very young. Leaves can become really yellow if drainage is poor and the plants are getting too much water so keep an eye on this. When planting seed, whack them in a damp (not soaking) soil, then leave them for a few days. Soaking seeds of beans in water before planting is totally unnecessary and is a waste of time and water.
Depending on the varieties of beans you have planted, expect to be chowing down on bundles of beans between 12 – 14 weeks (10 weeks if you’ve gone the dwarf varieties). Pick bean pods when they are young, tender and at their tastiest. Do this before the seeds have swollen to make the pod lumpy and they’ll taste better. It’s best to harvest manageable numbers of beans regularly as this will promote more flowering and more tasty bean pods. I collect beans every three days… this seems to work out pretty well.
Beans are simple to grow, but it doesn’t mean that they are without their issues. We’ve seen that they don’t like too much water, dislike too much fertilizer and hate being touched by mulch. There are a couple of other things to keep an eye on, like fuzzy stuff on the leaves. This is probably powdery mildew and this can be caused by humidity, water on the foliage or poor air circulation. An easy solution is when you plant your beans to give them some “personal space”. We all need room to breathe, beans included. Try to avoid watering the leaves as another good preventative measure.
Halo blight is another funky fungal issue and first appears as leaf spots with holes. Leaves will eventually progress to becoming light green with dark green veins and it will eventually kill infected plants. The best thing to do here is to remove and destroy all infected plants (but not into the compost). Plant your replacement bean seeds in a different spot.
Let’s talk green manures. Green manure is essentially a crop grown in a patch (or on a farm) that acts to improve the nutrient content and organic matter in the soil. Beans, peas, clovers, lupins and alfalfa are all legumes – plants that have a relationship with nitrifying soil bacteria. So growing any of them will assist in “fixing” atmospheric nitrogen and returning it to the soil. With leguminous green manures, the idea is to plant seeds of these plants (they can be bought premixed) and let them grow until they begin to flower. I then whack them with the whipper snipper, and allow the slashed plants to lie on the surface of the soil or just tilled in. Do not plant in your green manure bed for at least 6 weeks after slashing. Green manures are a great, sustainable way of improving your soil.