Green (Snap) beans are one of the most popular vegetables grown in the garden. Deciding if you should grow the bush or pole varieties depends on a number of factors, including how much space you have, the length of your growing season, and whether or not you plan to use them for freezing or canning. Both types have a lot to offer. Here are some comparisons to help you decide which type will work best in your garden.
Bush vs. Pole Beans Defined
Bush and pole beans refer to their growth habit, not specific varieties. Many bean cultivars are available in both bush and pole forms.
Bush beans: Any of various cultivated bean plants with an upright, bushy growth not requiring an artificial support.
Pole beans: Any of various cultivated climbing beans that grow on poles or supports.
If you're short on garden space, pole beans can be a good choice because of their climbing growth habit. They can be grown in containers, or even entirely out of the garden on trellises attached to the side of a house, garage, or even over a clothes line.
Varieties and Days to Maturity
Bush beans have many more varieties to choose from than the pole types. They also mature more quickly (usually about 10 days) and typically produce a large quantity of beans over a few short weeks before production dwindles.
Pole beans start out more slowly, and continue to produce at a steady pace over a period of months until killed by frost. This is an advantage for gardeners that don't plan on canning or freezing their harvests, yet want to enjoy a full season of fresh beans.
Feeding and Maintenance
Because pole beans produce for a longer period of time than bush beans, they generally require more care. First, they need a sturdy, upright support about 6 feet tall. They may also require additional feeding and mulching, and of course, the longer a vegetable is in the ground producing, the longer it is at risk for exposure to pests, disease, and adverse weather conditions. The upright growth of pole beans does give them the advantage of drying off quickly after it rains and makes it physically easy to harvest the pods.
Bush beans take up more space, but they also require less work planting, staking, weeding and watering. Their compact growth helps crowd out weeds and keep soil moist. On the downside, harvesting the pods requires a lot of bending over, which can be a problems for gardeners with back problems.
For freezing and canning, bush beans may be the better choice because they typically bear heavily and ripen over a relatively shorter period of time. For continuous productions subsequent plantings are necessary every two or three weeks. Although pole bean plants can produce up to four time more pods than a bush plant, their production tends to be spread out over a longer period of time. Both types will produce longer if frequently harvested.
Flavor and Taste
Many gardeners insist that pole beans taste better than the bush types, citing that pole beans have a nuttier, "beanier" flavor. Because each person's palette is unique, the only way to know what works for you is to plant a few of each type and see for yourself.
Common Bean Growing Mistakes
Bush and pole beans are considered easy to grow, but they are not completely foolproof. Here are some common mistakes that beginning gardeners often make with beans:
Planting too early. Beans should be planted when the soil is close to 70 degrees F. If planted too early they may fail to germinate, or if they do, growth may be stunted and production poor. To get a head start warming the soil, cover it with a black plastic sheet and choose cultivars that produce early.
Planting too deep or too shallow. Plant beans seeds no more than one inch deep. For summer plantings, the depth should be increased to two inches.
Allowing the soil to become compact. Bean sprouts needs to break through soft, moist soil or their shoots may become damaged. Before planting, work compost into the top 5-6 inches of soil. Beans do best in light, sandy, well-drained soil.
Allowing the soil to dry out. When the ground is too dry, young bean plants will only produce a few full pods; the rest will shrivel and fail to mature. Mulch around plants to help conserve moisture. If your summers are hot and dry, look for cultivars that are heat and drought resistant.
Using wire for pole bean supports. Twine or wooden supports are best for pole beans to climb on. Wire can heat up during hot weather and burn tender vines.
Poor harvest practices. Leaving just a few old pods or parts of old pods on the plant will significantly reduce overall plant production. To prevent disease, pick beans when plants are dry. Use both hands to remove the pods from the vine to prevent breaking or uprooting the plants.
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