Copyright 2009 by Jean English
If rain, cold, slugs or rot got your first planting of snap beans this year, it’s not too late to plant again. Most bush snap beans mature within one and one-half to two months, so you can plant enough in early July to harvest several meals worth of fresh beans in late August and early September and to freeze more for winter use.
Snap beans are so called because the fresh pods snap when broken. They’re eaten when the seeds inside the pods are immature.
Grow bush beans in a well-drained soil that has been amended with a sprinkling of compost and that has a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
Beans are legumes, so they have the ability to associate with soil bacteria that “fix” nitrogen (i.e., convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms plants can use). Just before planting, you can moisten your bean seeds with water and sprinkle nitrogen-fixing bacteria (available from seed companies) on them to help ensure that they use this “free” nitrogen. The moisture on the seed helps the bacteria stick to the seed.
Sow bush bean seeds 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep, and about 3 inches apart within rows. Rows can be about 2 feet apart. A 2-ounce packet of seeds will sow a 25-foot row, approximately.
Should the soil ever dry out this summer, you may have to ensure that your bean plants get about an inch of water per week. Gardeners are often advised to mulch to conserve soil moisture. In the case of bush beans, do not mulch with grass clippings, since the clippings cling to bean pods at harvest and are difficult to wash off.
Should the summer continue to be damp, avoid walking through your bean plot when the foliage is wet; otherwise you may spread bean diseases from plant to plant.
Most varieties of snap beans should be harvested when the pods are 4 to 5 inches long and the seeds inside the pods are just beginning to swell. (Variety descriptions in seed catalogs list exceptions; some beans can grow longer and still be tender and tasty.) Pull the bean pods with one hand while you hold the bean plant with the other so that you don’t pull the plants from the soil.
Snap or cut off the ends of the pods and cook the beans whole or snapped in half. One way to enjoy snap beans is to boil them until just before they’re tender, then sauté them in olive oil and/or butter with a little crushed garlic and salt or soy sauce.
Where to get bush bean seeds:
This article is provided by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), PO Box 170, Unity, ME 04988; 207-568-4142; [email protected]; www.mofga.org.
Joining MOFGA helps support and promote organic farming and gardening in Maine and helps Maine consumers enjoy more healthful, Maine-grown food.
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