By Kathy Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist
Green beans are one of the quintessential organic veggies of summer, and they’re hard to beat for the quantity of food they provide per square foot. They’re also easy to grow, provided you can keep bugs and diseases from getting the upper hand.
Here are six routines to help keep your crop healthy and productive.
1. Soil Preparation
Beans grow well in a wide range of soils without fertilizer. Where fertility is low, mix a complete organic fertilizer into the top 3 or 4 inches of soil before planting. Set up trellises or pole tepees before planting climbing beans.
Plants grow best when spaced about 2 to 4 inches apart. You can plant seeds at this spacing or, better yet, err on the side of planting too many seeds; then, thin them to the recommended spacing just in case some don’t germinate. Plant seeds 1 to 1½ inches deep.
Mulch snap beans to help keep the soil cool and retain moisture. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
Beans generally grow quickly and shade out weeds, particularly if they’re grown in wide rows.
But if you need to cultivate around plants to dislodge weeds, do so near the soil surface so you don’t injure plant roots. The best time is after a rain, when the plants are completely dry and the soil has dried out a little. This is when many weeds start to germinate.
5. Insects and Disease
Rotate the location of your bean crops from year to year to discourage diseases, and avoid working around plants when the foliage is wet.
To deter Mexican bean beetles, use floating row covers over seedlings to prevent egg laying. Check leaf undersides for masses of yellowish eggs, and squish any you spot. Handpick adult beetles and larvae. Neem oil will deter feeding adults; horticultural oil and organic insecticidal soap are useful against the larvae.
Clean up plant debris in the garden at the end of the season to reduce the number of overwintering adults. Where these beetles are a severe problem, look for naturally resistant bean varieties.
6. Pick ’em Young
For the best flavor and nutritional value, pick snap beans when they’re young, tender and about the diameter of a pencil. Hold the stem with one hand and the pod with your other hand to avoid pulling off branches that will produce more pods.
Picking encourages more blossoms and pods. After your first picking, you can probably pick again 3 to 5 days later.
To keep the harvest going as long as possible, don’t let any seeds develop inside the pods. Pole (climbing) beans are slower to mature, but they have a longer harvest period.
A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathy Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.
Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association