It’s spring, and gardeners everywhere are squealing with glee as they gather seed and turn their soil for planting. Here in the South, our crops are already well on their way. One of my favorite spring crops is snap beans. Where I grew up, we called the green variety “string beans” and the yellow variety “wax beans.” No matter what you call them, they are a kitchen staple in spring cuisine and are easy to grow.
Snap beans, or Phaseolus vulgaris, are legumes like peas, lima beans, dry beans, etc. They originated in Mexico and Central America, spreading to the southwestern area of the U.S. in 1492. Soon afterwards, the crop was grown in Florida and Virginia. Yet, it wasn’t until 1890 before farmers began to breed snap beans with an interest in creating a variety with a stringless pod.
Snap beans come in two different forms: bush beans, which are compact and grow to about two feet, and pole beans, which are climbing vines that can reach eight feet or more. There are over 130 varieties of snap beans of various shapes and lengths and include pods that are green, golden (yellow/wax), purple, red, and streaked.
Snap beans are a nutritional side dish. One cup of raw green snap beans is high in Vitamin C (30%), Vitamin K (20%), Vitamin A (15%), Folate (10%), Manganese (12%), and Potassium and Magnesium (7% each). Yellow/wax beans have similar nutritional values, except Vitamin K is negligible and Vitamin A is surprisingly only 2%. (Percentages are recommended daily values.)
PLANTING SNAP BEANS:
Snap beans are a warm weather crop which enjoys full sun and loose, well-drained, loamy soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5. Growing best when the air temperatures are 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit, both bush beans and pole beans should be planted after the last average frost date for your area. (In the South, we can plant bush beans again in the fall.) For a continuous crop, plant every 10-14 days. Plant both types 1 to 1 1/2 inch deep. Bush beans should be planted two to three inches apart, while pole beans should be planted in hills that are three feet apart with 6-8 seeds per hill. Be sure to stake your pole beans or train them up a trellis.
Do not apply extra nitrogen to snap beans (or any legume). Legumes, including snap beans, are nitrogen-fixers, increasing the nitrogen levels in the soil where they grow. To increase the amount of nitrogen produced by the plants, legumes can be treated with innoculant. The innoculant is a non-toxic peat and bacteria mixture that can be purchased at garden centers and online. (Be sure to get the correct kind for the seed you’re planting and keep in the refrigerator for not more than one season.) Many gardeners roll the bean seed in the innoculant before planting. Personally, I sprinkle a little innoculant into the soil hole before inserting the seed.
HARVESTING SNAP BEANS:
Snap beans will grow until the first frost, unless the summers are too hot – like here. Plants won’t set pods once the temperatures are above 80-85 degrees.
Harvest the pods when they are immature (see picture above) about twice a week. If the pods are allowed to mature, the plant will stop blooming. The pods will then dry out and be inedible. However, at that point, the seeds can be collected for planting next season (if you didn’t plant a hybrid variety).
Bush beans are ready for harvest in 45-60 days. Pole beans are ready for harvest in 60-85 days.
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:
I don’t stagger my snap bean planting, preferring to plant the entire crop at the same time. That means, I end up with an abundance of snap beans that can’t be eaten before going bad. Fortunately, snap beans can be dehydrated (I’m going to try that this season), frozen (blanched & put into ice bath first), or canned (using pressure cooker). I froze both my green beans and my wax beans, and they were wonderful in my winter cooking.
Snap beans can be eaten raw or steamed, stir-fried, cooked in casseroles or soups, etc. My favorite way is my mother’s Italian Bean Salad.
Here are some other yummy recipes for you to try:
Grecian Green Beans (you can use your own tomatoes instead of canned ones in this recipe, too!)