Growing Pole Beans
When I was growing up in Kentucky, I remember our family always kept pole beans in the garden. Unlike bush beans, which are picked two or three times and finish their productivity, pole beans continue producing beans all the way up to the first frost. This is because they are known as in-determinate, meaning, they continue to grow, blossom and fruit (and grow some more). Keeping the beans picked often is the key to a productive vine. Bush beans will occasionally produce a second round of beans but can’t compete with the pole variety when it comes to yields.
When I was standing on our back patio this morning, I noticed how beautiful the light was, shining through the leaves of the pole beans. So, I went inside to grab my camera. This picture (below) is of the pole beans we have growing in large pots. The pots sit in front of the trellises that hold up our outdoor dining canopy. There is another six foot row growing up the back of the studio. Those are planted directly in the ground. But that is the beauty of growing beans. Even the blackest a thumbs can grow beans.
Pole beans originate from South America and are not indigenous to the United States. However, they have been popular in North America for centuries. The Native Americans referred to pole beans as one of the “three sisters”. Corn, beans and squash, The Three Sisters, were the principal crops of the Iroquois and other Native American groups in the northeastern United States, at the time Europeans arrived here about 1600. By this time, the Iroquois had been planting these three crops together for about 300 years. Corn also originated in tropical South America where they were cultivated by early peoples. Pumpkins and similar types of squash have a tropical origin as well. The origin of the name “Three Sisters” is because the three plants grew so well together. To this day, many people still vine their pole beans around stalks of corn.
How to Plant – Beans prefer rich soil in a sunny location. Make sure that you keep them watered deeply in the heat of the summer. Soaking is preferred to using overhead sprinklers.
Beans (pole or bush) do not transplant well so it is an absolute waste of time trying to plant them early indoors. Beans are fairly fragile and you should not sow them until all frost danger has passed and the soil remains above 65ºF. Besides, theY germinate very quickly, sometimes in just a matter of a few days.
Plant seeds 1½ inches deep, every two to three inches in rows 24 inches apart. Cultivate frequently and shallow until flowers appear. After they begin to flower, be careful not to disturb the roots as it can cause the blossoms to drop.
Pole beans require structure or trellising for support. There are several ways to trellis pole beans but the most popular methods are: the teepee, the single stake method, the string-and-frame method or by growing them up the stalks of live corn.
The Teepee - hold three 8 foot poles together in the shape of a teepee and tie the top together with sisal, twine or wire. If you have concerns about being able to reach such a height and have no desire to climb a ladder to pick beans, you can choose 6 foot poles. Keep in mind, though, that the top of the bean plant will continue to grow and droop over on itself. A few years ago, I met a woman who built a life-size Native American style teepee for her pole beans. It required several poles and a very large gap was left between the poles on one side. This not only allowed her to step inside and pick the beans she couldn’t see from the outside, but also gave her sons a really cool summer playhouse.
The Stake Method - Hammer a 9 ft. stake or pole into the ground 1-2 ft. deep and sow the bean seeds directly underneath. The beans will wind naturally around the pole.
String-and-Frame Method - this is the method we have used for growing the pole beans behind our studio. Take two stakes or poles, at least 8-9 feet long and lay them on the ground or other firm surface. Starting 3 feet from the bottom of the stake, beginning hammering nails into one side of the stake about a foot apart. When your hammering is finished, drive the stakes firmly into the ground, even with each other, about six feet apart with the nails facing out. Now, take wire or very strong twine and begin going back and forth from stake to stake, wrapping the wire around the nails until you have reached the top. You should now have a ladder of string or wire for you pole beans to grow on. Many people say that pole beans prefer vertical lines instead of this horizontal method, and that’s probably true. However, sometimes space and landscape design requires that you improvise with what you have. As the vines grow, you may need to gently coax them in and out of the string.
Cornstalk Method - well, this one is pretty self explanatory. One thing that beans do is help the corn grow better. Beans are rich in nitrogen and corn is a hog when it comes to depleting the nutrients in the soil – together, they have a good give-and-take relationship.
Harvesting Pole Beans – Harvest when the pods are firm, crisp and fully elongated, but before the seed within the pod has developed significantly. Pick beans after the dew is off the plants, and they are thoroughly dry. Picking beans from wet plants can spread bean bacterial blight, a disease that seriously damages the plants. Be careful not to break the stems or branches, which are brittle on most bean varieties. The bean plant continues to form new flowers and produces more beans if the pods are continually removed before the seeds are allowed to mature.
This article is reprinted from our original Green Guys website. The pole beans we planted this year (pictured above) are the Kentucky Wonder variety. There are a number of varieties of pole beans. Read package information carefully to see whether the variety is suited for your region.