Beans are one of America's favorite garden vegetables. Early bean varieties were stringy, hence the term "string" bean. Modern varieties are stringless, tender, and crisp. Since they snap easily, these new varieties are referred to as snap beans. Snap beans may be classified as bush or pole beans. The bush-type beans are low growing plants that may grow 1 to 2 feet in height. Pole beans are vining plants which must be supported by a fence or stakes.
Snap beans are warm-season vegetables and should be planted after the danger of frost is past. The last frost in central Iowa typically occurs around May 5. Bean seeds should be planted 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. When planting bush varieties, space rows 2 feet apart with seeds spaced 1 to 2 inches apart within the row. After the seedlings emerge, thin bush snap beans to 3 to 4 inches between plants. Plant bush varieties every 2 or 3 weeks (up to August 1) for continuous harvest. Pole beans may be planted in rows spaced 2 to 3 feet apart with the vines supported by a trellis, fence, or rough poles. The support for pole beans should be approximately 6 to 8 feet tall. In the row, plant pole bean seeds 3 inches apart, later thin to 4 to 6 inches between plants. Pole beans may also be planted around poles fashioned into a tepee. Pole beans require a few more days to mature than bush varieties. However, they produce over a longer period.
Suggested bush snap bean varieties for Iowa include 'Tendercrop,' 'Bush Blue Lake 274,' 'Topcrop,' 'Strike,' 'Provider,' and 'Derby.' 'Blue Lake,' 'Kentucky Blue,' and 'Kentucky Wonder' (contains strings) are excellent pole bean varieties.
Snap beans should be harvested frequently and thoroughly. Leaving mature pods on the plant will decrease yields. The bean plant will divert much of its energy into seed development rather than additional crop production. Harvest snap beans when the pods are young, firm, and the seeds are small.
This article originally appeared in the May 1, 1998 issue, p. 48.