We grow pole beans because green beans are my boys favorite vegetable, and growing up instead of out gives us more beans in less space. We grow quite a few – two double rows of pole beans about 5-6 feet tall and 15 feet long. This provides our family of four (with two teenage boys) with enough beans for fresh eating, canning and freezing, plus extra to swap with the neighbors once we have enough preserved.
I haven't weighed out how much we produce, but once the season gets rolling our vines are generally productive until frost. We save some seed from year to year, so we've ended up with a pole bean that's well suited to our area. In this post I'm going to share some of my tips for growing abundant pole beans that are easy to pick, my favorite bean trellis set up, my favorite pole bean varieties, and seed saving basics.
Why I Like Pole Beans Better Than Bush Beans
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with bush beans. I still grow some shell beans that I harvest once, at the end of the season, for dried beans. For my main crop, I switched to pole beans years ago and haven't looked back. Here are 3 reasons I like pole beans better than bush beans.
- Pole beans are easier to pick. It's so nice to be able to pick some beans standing upright instead of having to be crouched or bent over to pick all the time. As I work down a row, I work up and down the plants so I get to shift positions. Much easier.
- Pole beans stay cleaner. This is less of an issue during drier years, but when your garden is wet and muddy, bush beans often end up with the beans covered in muck. With pole beans, the bulk of the crop is well above mud level.
- Less pests and diseases. Since the beans grow up away from the ground, they are less likely to be munched on by slugs and other critters. The upright growth habit also promotes better air flow to the foliage, which helps minimize mildew and fungal diseases.
Sure, it takes some time and materials to put up a trellis and take it down at the end of the season, but to me the benefits far outweigh the small amount of extra work.
Pole Bean Planting Basics
When Should I Plant my Beans? Plant outside, once the soil has reached 60°F (16ºC). They can be sprouted inside to get a jump start, but beans don't transplant well. Just ask any school kid who has started one in science class only to bring it home to the garden to plant and die.
How Deep Should I Plant Bean Seeds? Plant beans 1″ (2.5 cm) deep
How Close Should I Plant my Bean Seeds? If you want to grow them around a pole or pyramid, try 4 plants per hill/pole with hills around 18 inches apart. For trellises, place seeds 3″ (7.5 cm) apart. I prefer planting a double row, that is, one row on each side of the trellis. A second double row can be planted 3 to 4 feet away so you have room to move between them for picking. Don't be fooled by the tiny size of the seeds! When properly cared for, these plants will get huge.
How Long Should the Seeds Take to Germinate? 7-10 days
How much water do pole beans needs? Soil should be damp (but never soggy) at planting. Keep them moist while they're growing, and make sure to provide plenty of water once they start producing. If the plants get too dry, they'll stop making beans.
According to The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, they recommend the following for companion plants:
Good companion plants: Pole beans like carrots, cauliflower, chard, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, marigolds (these may help deter bean beetles), peas, potatoes, rosemary and strawberries
Bad companion plants: Basil, beets, cabbage, fennel, kohlrabi, onion family, radish, sunflower
I regularly have sunflowers near my pole beans and haven't seen any problems with it. Sometimes the beans climb right up the sunflowers. Beans and radish are both commonly attacked by flea beetles, so I could see that keeping them apart would make sense.
Do I Need to Fertilize my Beans? No! Don't overfertilize your beans! Too much nitrogen (like manure or high nitrogen fertilizers) will give you lush leaves and very few beans.
Beans are modest feeders, and like all legumes can actually help improve the soil be creating their own nitrogen from the air. (Nitrogen is the “N” in NPK fertilizers.) There's just one trick with this – it's not the beans that make the nitrogen, it's the bacteria that live on their roots. If you don't have nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil, it can't colonize the plant roots, and your beans will struggle. If you've been successfully growing beans, peas or other legumes in your garden, then you should be just fine. If you've never grown beans or haven't had success with beans, try a microbial inoculant when you plant. The inoculant is a black powder that you coat your seeds with before planting, or a powder that's added to the planting trench that contains the needed bacteria. Other than that, some well aged compost or manure in your planting area and you should be good to go.
In the video below, my son is planting this years crop of beans.
What are the Best Varieties of Pole Beans to Grow?
My personal favorite are Emerite pole beans, which are a French heirloom. These beans are great over a range of sizes. They have to be really overgrown to get tough and chewy, so if a few beans are missed during one picking, odds are they will still be good at the next. I got my seeds from my mom, who got them from my uncle, and I've been saving seeds each year. (More on that in a bit.)
I've also read good things about Fortex and Blue Lake, but haven't tried them yet. If you'd like to try purple pole beans, which can be easier to find when picking, I recommend Purple Podded Pole Beans. The yield isn't quite as high as the Emerites, but they are a solid producer. The Vegetable Gardener's Bible recommends Gold Marie as a wax bean, and I had pretty good yields with Sultan's Crescent Golden Green Beans.
What's the Best Pole Bean Trellis?
This is a personal preference, and I've seen many beautiful and ingenious trellises specifically built for pole beans or improvised out of materials at hand. The trellis I like to use for my pole beans is nylon trellis netting supported with metal fence posts and wooden cross pieces on top.
3 Reasons I Like Trellis Netting
- Wide openings are easy to reach through for harvesting, can harvest from both sides instead of trying to reach inside a pyramid trellis. I am not a gymnast.
- Durable – My trellis has lasted for many seasons (except when I cut it with clippers – whoops). You might see some of the patches in the photos. Most of my netting is over 5 years old.
- Stores in a small amount of space – The netting itself can be stuffed in a small baggie, while the support posts stack in a corner of the greenhouse.
Steps to Set Up Your Bean Trellis Netting
Place six foot tall metal fence posts at five foot intervals along the row. (If you place the posts so they are perpendicular to the row, it'll be easier to set a support on top across the wide edge.) Secure trellis netting to each post in at least four spots. I use strips of old sweatpants for this. You could use twine or whatever you have on hand.
To make weeding easier as the season goes on, we place wet newspaper between the double rows and cover it with mulch before hanging the trellis above the mulch. Make sure to get the trellis up while the beans are still small so you don't end up with a tangled mess.
I plant the beans on each side of the trellis, so it is loaded quite heavily as the season goes on. To help support the bean plants, I tie a wooden cross support to the top of the fence posts, and tether the trellis netting to it at regular intervals. I use 2″x2″ or 1″x2″ pieces around 6 feet long. The beans should shoot right up the trellis without much fuss, although once in a while you may need to point them in the right direction.
Do I Need Bees to Pollinate my Pole Beans?
No. Beans are usually self-pollinating – but bees are always welcome and may increase yields.
How Often do I Need to Pick My Beans?
Pole beans should be picked every 2-3 days to keep them producing. Don't forget to make sure they get an inch of water per week if rains fail! No water = no beans.
How Do I Save Bean Seed?
To save seeds for replanting, they must be fully mature. This means they should ripen and dry on the vine. As a northern grower, my season is fairly short, so I designate the end of a row for seed and that area is not harvested from during the season. Southern growers might be able to pick once or twice and still be able to let a later crop mature.
To save bean seed:
- Keep different bean types at least 10 feet apart. (Yard long beans will not cross pollinate with standard pole beans.)
- To help maintain a strong gene pool, at least 30 plants should be saved for seed, but this may be difficult in small gardens. Get your friends to grow the same variety and swap seeds. 😉
- Allow beans to mature completely and dry on the vine.
- Pick dry bean pods and remove seeds from hulls. Allow to dry completely in an open tray for about a week, then store in an airtight container. Make sure your seeds are completely dry before storage. I have ruined an entire jar of seeds with mold because a few seeds were damp.
To recap – plant pole beans in warm soil with microbial inoculant. Don't overfertilize. Get your trellis up while the beans are small. Water deeply and pick beans every 2-3 days.
To freeze beans, blanch 3 minutes, plunge into ice water, and drain. Pack in vacuum seal bags for best storage like. Always label and date your containers.
For detailed bean canning instructions, see How to Can Green Beans and Pickled Dilly Beans with Garlic and Cayenne Pepper.
For bug trouble, see Natural Garden Pest Control.
You may also enjoy the other articles in our Gardening series.
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