Beans are a bit of an adversary for me. Pole beans are so unruly and require big, tall supports. Bush beans only sort of like to grow for me. Dried beans aren’t ever worth the effort. Frozen beans from the grocery stores are pretty damned good and a whole lot less work. But Fava Beans? I can grow those, they are hard to find in the store, and we really enjoy them!
All that being said, if you like to eat them fresh or in salads (or pickle them for Bloody Marys!) they are worth the space.
- Pole and bush are the growing habits. If you’ve got vertical space or are into garden structures, go for pole beans, I find them hardier and easier to grow. If you don’t want trellises, stick with bush beans. My mother in law swears by them!
- Fresh/Snap or Dry. Fresh or snap are the ones you intend to pick and eat in their green, tender state. Dry beans are meant to be grown and left to dry on the plant for shelling the dried beans.
- Miscellaneous: Soy beans/edamame, Lima, and Fava Beans fall into this category.
Time to Maturity: Fresh beans are ready in as little as 55 days, up to 65 days. Dried beans are closer to 95-105 days. Soy beans are almost uniformly 80 days. Fava beans around 75 days.
Diseases & Pests: I’ve never (knock on wood) ever had a disease or pest issue with beans. If you are in an area that does (again, ask around to local gardeners or extension offices), there are loads of varieties resistant to things like Fusarium Wilt, Halo Blight, Powdery Mildew, Bean Common Mosaic Necrosis Virus, and Curly Top Virus (to name a few).
Key Words: Stringless is probably the biggest one. No one wants to deal with strings when you are noshing on them fresh in the garden. And be realistic, because you will (as we all do) eat them fresh in the garden. Look for descriptors of bean size and production, and obviously flavor. Buttery gets tossed around a lot. Versatile is another great word, meaning it can be used fresh or dry.
Use: Will you be eating them fresh or preserving them? We almost never preserve ours, so I’m never looking for huge yields- that only ends with split beans and rogue seedlings the following year. I key in on fresh flavor because that is how we eat them. If you want big yields, look for large plants and high productivity.
And here is where I will make my stand on dry beans: It takes SO MANY (SO! MANY!) dried beans to make a full meal. You will take up most of a year’s harvest (off of a standard sized plot) on a big pot of soup or baked beans. Buy these from a great place like Rancho Gordo that specializes in heirloom beans and use your garden space for unique fresh varieties. But that’s just my take!
- Pencil Pod Golden Wax (bush, fresh)- mild but sweet flavor, easy to grow
- Masterpiece Fava Bean- I love this bean and we grow favas every year. I try to harvest them small so I don’t have to peel the inner bean.
- Broad Windsor Fava Bean- same as above! Delicious and easy to grow.
- Blue Lake (pole, fresh)- This is called the Gold Standard of green beans for a reason! Delicious, strong producer, and versatile in the kitchen.
What I’ve Grown in the Past:
- Dragon’s Tongue (bush, fresh)- These are very pretty, delicious, and stringless. They will certainly be the talk of the garden or dinner with their beautiful purple stripes.
- Ireland Creek Annie (bush, dry)- Delicious, but we all know my stand on dry beans.
- Calypso (bush, dry)- Beautiful black and white beans, strong grower.
- Black Valentine (bush, dual fresh and dry)- This is a great all-purpose bean that would be a good place to start if you want both fresh and dry beans.
- Empress (bush, fresh)- Delicious, traditional green bean. Perfect for both fresh eating and cooking/preserving. Strong grower and big beans.
- Dakota Bumble Bean (bush, dry)- Such pretty maroon and white speckled beans. Amazing flavor and cook up to a massive size!
- Kentucky Wonder Pole (pole, fresh)- Great standard green bean. Not stringless, but produces large pods and reliable producer.
- Ideal Market (pole, fresh)- Early producer, medium sized beans, stringless and tasty.
- Speckled Cranberry (pole, dry)- Beautiful tan and cranberry beans when dry. Can be used as a fresh variety as well.
- Hidasta Shield (pole, dry)- Very productive tan and white beans, are incredibly heat tolerant. Perfect for Three Sisters gardens and was given a spot on the Ark of Taste for dry beans.
What types and varieties of beans do you all grow? What are your favorite trellis methods for Pole Beans? Do you grow beans for dried use?