By RICK BICKLING
Snap Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), also called “green beans” or “string beans,” have been grown as a food crop since ancient times, 5,000 – 6,000 B.C. They are a good source of vitamins A, C, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), as well as calcium, phosphorous, and iron.
Snap beans can be tall-growing pole-type beans, half-runners or the low-growing bush-type varieties. They are rapid growers that can produce large yields while requiring little attention. They are a warm-season crop that must be planted after all danger of frost has passed, but during excessively hot weather they may drop their blossoms and pods.
Beans grow best in full sun and well-drained, fertile and friable (crumbly) soil so seedling emergence is not inhibited. Before planting green beans, remove all weeds and trash from the planting area.
In our area, bush beans should be planted in the spring between March 5 and May 1, while pole beans should be planted between March 5 and April 15. In the fall, plant bush beans between Sept. 1-7. Since pole beans will not be ready to harvest before the first fall frost, they are not a good option for a fall planting.
To help prevent disease, don’t forget to follow good crop rotation practices.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Williamson County recommends the following green been varieties for our area. Listed next to each variety is the average number of days to harvest after planting for that variety.
Contender — 55
Derby — 57
Goldito — 54
Jade — 60
Maxibel — 50
Provider — 50
Roma II — 53
Tendergreen — 55
Topcrop — 50
Kentucky Wonder — 65
Garden of Eden — 65
McCaslan — 61
Northeaster — 56
Romano — 60
Plant beans to a depth of 1 to 1 ½ inches with the seeds spaced 2 to 4 inches apart. Green bean seeds may crack or germinate poorly if exposed to very moist conditions, so do not soak the seeds before planting or water too heavily immediately after planting.
Beans prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Green beans are a low user of nutrients and do not require high amounts of fertilizer. Apply a 10-20-10 fertilizer lightly on the planting area and then mix it in with the top 3 to 4 inches of soil before planting. Fertilize your plants once a week with an application of a balanced fertilizer.
Once planted, keep the soil evenly moist. This is especially important from flower bud formation to pod set. Too much or too little water causes blossom and pod drop. Provide bean plants with about 1 inch of water per week. Extremes in soil moisture can also lead to malformed pods in which only the first few seeds develop, leaving the rest of the bean pod shriveled. Water early in the morning to allow plants to dry quickly and reduce the opportunity for disease infection. Drip irrigation is recommended to help keep the foliage dry.
Because beans are shallowly rooted, do not dig too deep when using a hoe, or pulling weeds. To avoid spreading diseases, do not weed when the foliage is wet. Applying mulch will prevent many weeds as well as help retain soil moisture. Use organic mulches such as weathered straw, untreated lawn clippings, or shredded bark. Apply mulch 2 to 3 inches deep after soil has warmed. Black plastic provides excellent weed control as well as warming the soil, which may allow earlier planting. Lay the plastic over the planting area and cut slits for planting seed.
Several insects are common pests of green beans. Cutworms are 3/4” curled caterpillars that, if present, can be found just under soil line. They cut plants off at soil line, chew 1/4’’ holes in pods or seeds, and occasionally chew leaves. Apply a Bacillus thuringiensis based insecticide to control them. Aphids are small, whitish insects that may be found in masses on the underside of leaves. If present, leaves become yellow, sticky with honeydew. Hose off underside of leaves to knock off aphids. Mites may appear as tiny ‘’dust specks” moving on the underside of leaves. If present, leaves may appear bronzed or yellowed with leaves and stems heavily webbed. Hose off underside of leaves to knock off mites.
Diseases may be a problem during cool, wet weather. A variety of viruses attack beans and each produces symptoms characteristic of the particular virus species such as leaves mottled with yellow and green patchwork, leaves distorted or stunted, plants stunted. Treat with an approved fungicide. Neem oil, sulfur, and other fungicides can be used.
To control bean diseases, do not handle or work among bean plants when the foliage is wet from dew or rain
Green beans are ready to pick when the pods begin to fill with seed, but before they begin to bulge. They should be about the size of a small pencil. Over-mature beans are tough and stringy. Pick them carefully to avoid damaging the plant. Plants will continue to produce new beans over the course of several weeks. Fresh beans can be stored in the refrigerator, in sealed plastic bags or other containers. They usually can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.
If you like green beans pick up seeds of a recommended variety or two, plant them now, and you’ll be rewarded with a tasty harvest in around two months.
Rick Bickling is a certified Master Gardener in Williamson County. He has been designing, planting and maintaining landscapes and gardens for more than 30 years.
Visit www.howdogardener.com or reach Rick by at howdogardener@LHIndependent.com