Beans are a favourite in the summer garden and children usually love growing them. Beans are usually green, but come in a variety of other colours, including yellow, purple, white and black. If you want to eat coloured beans, you’ll probably have to grow your own as they can’t be found in supermarkets, at least not in New Zealand.
Beans are rich in many nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates and fibre. Beans also contain many vitamins and minerals. Beans can be consumed in a variety of ways. My favourite way to eat homegrown beans is freshly boiled, served with some butter, salt and pepper. Simply delicious! Beans are extremely versatile and can be used in other dishes such as salads, shepherd’s pie, curries and casseroles.
You can expect to pay an average of $8-$10 per kilo in supermarkets in New Zealand during the summer when beans are in season. Homegrown beans taste so much fresher, sweeter and nicer than store bought ones. They are also very easy to grow and the yield is usually very high for the space they take up in the garden. Beans of course can be grown vertically, which means they take up less ground space that can be used for other veggies that need room to spread out, such as pumpkins and squash.
There are so many different varieties of beans on the market. There are dwarf beans, climbing beans, broad beans (which are usually grown over the winter and crop in spring, and are sometimes grown as a cover crop), dry beans (which can be used in casseroles and soups) and snake beans (which are used in Asian cuisine and are delicious in Thai fish cakes).
When to sow
Beans need warm conditions in order to grow well. In the Auckland region, start sowing beans from late October onwards. For tall varieties, you don’t want to leave it too late otherwise you run the risk that your beans won’t mature in time before the cool weather sets in again. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to sow tall beans by early December at the latest, but you can sow dwarf beans until January as they are much quicker to mature.
To soak or not to soak?
There are two broad schools of thought on this issue. Some gardeners prefer to soak hard-coated seeds prior to sowing them, including beans, in order to aid germination. Other examples of seeds that gardeners might soak include edible sweet peas, snow peas, ornamental sweet peas, corn and okra. Some gardeners believe that there is no need to soak the seeds and that doing so may cause them to “drown”. I’m going to do a bit of both and hope for the best.
Sowing beans directly from seed v transplanting seedlings raised in punnets
Opinion is also divided on this issue. As with the question of whether or not to soak seeds prior to sowing, there are two schools of thought. For best results, sow bean seeds directly where you want to grow them. However, sowing directly leaves bean seeds vulnerable to rot, as well as being scratched up and eaten by mice and birds. Then there are snails who will quite happily decapitate your seedlings! Therefore, try to protect them if you can. It’s for this reason that I became attracted to the idea of sowing beans in punnets for transplanting later on. In the past, I’ve found that bean seeds sowed direct to the ground germinated but the seedlings were subsequently consumed by snails. As with the issue of whether to soak seeds prior to sowing or not, I’m also going to both sow bean seeds directly and transplant my own seedlings raised in punnets to see which works best.
Sowing beans directly from seed
Make sure that the soil is well drained in the area you are planning on growing beans. Add compost, sheep pellets and some general garden fertiliser. Dig into the soil and rake the area so that it is nice and level. Sow beans at a depth of 15-20 mm maximum. Space the seeds 10-15 cm apart.
If you’re planning to grow beans from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours. Traditionally, beans are green, as mentioned above. There are quite a few different varieties on the market in New Zealand. This season I’m growing the following selection of tall beans from the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, as these varieties performed so well for us last year:
o Peruvian Goose dry climbing bean
o Fat Goose climbing bean
o Hidatsa Shield Figure dry climbing bean
o Cherokee Cornfield climbing bean
o Hopi String climbing bean
o Talla Matua climbing bean
o Cornplanter purple climbing bean
o Tarahumara dark purple climbing bean
o Indian Hannah climbing bean
o Hopi Black Pinto climbing bean
o Apache red dry climbing bean
o Persian climbing lima bean
o Hopi Beige climbing bean
I’m going to grow snake beans from the Egmont Seeds range later in the season, when the weather is a bit warmer.
I’m also going to grow the following varieties of dwarf beans, all of which are available in the Egmont Seeds range:
o Climbing Butter bean
o French Hicock
o Cherokee Butter
o French Top Crop
To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
Bean seeds will last for many years so you don’t have to sow them all at once. Store them safely in your seed collection for sowing in future seasons.
Growing beans from transplanted seedlings raised in punnets
Beans can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Bean seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinate seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I place the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then place the incubators on a heat pad indoors and spray plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture is very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
How to care for bean seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their bean seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from September onwards. Palmers stock a great range of bean seedlings. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade bean seedlings delivered direct to your door. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings, delivery is free.
I plan to sell a variety of different bean seedlings in my own boutique nursery later in the season. Keep an eye out for details in my newsletter, on Neighbourly and my Facebook page as to when they become available. During October and November, I will also circulate updated lists of available stock in my plant nursery to subscribers of my free weekly gardening newsletter. To be added to my mailing list and receive these notifications, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll probably be selling seedlings a bit later than stores because I’m merely a home gardener, germinating and caring for seedlings in our patio at home without the help of the horticultural technology that you would expect to find in a commercial operation. Without a hot house, I simply don’t have a head start on the season like large-scale nurseries. To compensate for this, I do try and offer seedling varieties which are unusual and can’t be found in garden centres or online retailers. This is a good thing as it enables me to collaborate with other businesses in the industry and promote their brands. You can achieve a lot by working with other people in the same field (no pun intended), as opposed to simply trying to compete with them. To read my further thoughts on this issue, please click here.
Whoever you decide to buy plants from, take care to keep seedlings undercover until early October as beans are frost sensitive. The weather can be temperamental in spring and the nights are often still quite cool. From then on, start “hardening them off”. This is the process of exposing plants to the outdoors incrementally, for example, for two hours in the middle of the day for the first week, increasing to four hours per day for the next week. Continue to bring the plants indoors at night. By the third week of October, it should be safe to leave plants outdoors overnight.
How to care for beans plants
With the exception of dwarf varieties, beans are usually planted against a trellis for support.
Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. In November and December, plants are in their most active growing phase. Liquid feed beans weekly to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of fruit after pollination. Tall beans usually grows to a height of around 200 cm.
Pollination of beans
Bean plants will produce flowers as they grow. Generally, beans need to be pollinated in order to set fruit, but bees should do this job for you.
Harvesting your beans
It can take what seems like forever for your first beans to be ready for picking but be patient! It depends on the variety, but normally it takes around 100 days for beans to mature.
Got a glut of beans that you can’t get through all at once? Beans can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks prior to consumption, or you can do what we do and give some away to family, friends and neighbours.