Beans are wonderful, magical, rewarding. They’re vigorous and with proper cultivation they’re fairly trouble-free, even in a container. Children especially like growing them because when they sprout the plants look sturdy and robust and it’s easy to see and describe the various parts such as the cotyledons, stem and so on. Last week my jaded 13-year-old son was still delighted to plant some Black-Seeded Blue Lake snap pole beans, certified organic from Seeds of Change, and this week they’re up. I grow them in a wine barrel with a bamboo trellis, and last year I could barely keep up with the harvest. Fresh from the garden, the taste is so…beany. I see older, tougher beans in the supermarkets more often these days than tender young beans which are delicious, so growing your own is a good idea.
I start with organic potting mix – I usually use something OMRI-approved, such as Black Gold. In large quantities that can be too costly, so sometimes I make my own mix using various media. There are several good potting mix recipes online from ATTRA that you can access here.
I add compost and some organic fertilizer, such as Bio-Flora dry crumbles, or whatever I have on hand. The key to preparing the media for beans is to not add too much nitrogen, or you’ll end up with very nice green leaves and very few beans. Insects will usually leave your plants alone if you keep them healthy.
A word about watering. Beans are susceptible to rust and bacterial diseases, so do not wet the leaves or you might spread disease throughout your plants. However, beans do need adequate water, so don’t let the potting mix or soil completely dry out. Water them as needed; morning is best, that way plants have a chance to dry out during the day. It’s a good idea to rotate your crops to reduce the chances of establishing pathogens.
I prefer to grow pole beans because they tend to produce more. There are a few varieties that were developed especially for our growing conditions by the University of Hawaii. (These aren't GMO, by the way.) Manoa Wonder is root-knot nematode resistant, which is a plus if you’re growing them in the ground. Hawaiian Wonder is rust resistant, and Poamoho is stringless. Usually you can find these seeds in garden supply stores, sometimes even in grocery stores. But if you can’t, you can order them from the UH website here.
When your beans start producing, keep harvesting them regularly so that you’ll get a steady supply all season long for stir-fry, seasoned with dill or garlic. If can, can! Most people don’t have time to do canning nowadays, so give your surplus away. Remember, with the rising cost of food your local food bank will appreciate the donation of fresh produce from your garden this summer.