Green Beans- Gardening Tips from the Culinary View
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
It is our first full month of Autumn and we have lots of cool season vegetables in the garden now. Many of our warm season vegetables are also doing quite well in the mild weather. Green beans really like the warm days and cool nights we usually get this time of year.
When we say green beans we are most often referring to the immature common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) but there are many other species that are also used in a similar fashion. These include the hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus), the runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus), the yardlong bean (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis), and the southern pea (Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata). I’m going to focus on the common bean because that’s the type we most often grow and the one we like best as a green bean.
Even the common green bean goes by a lot of different names including string bean, snap bean, filet bean and haricot vert (literally “green bean” in French). This family of bean also comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and color. Most varieties are about pencil diameter when harvested but filet beans are much thinner and Romano or Italian types are even larger and flattened. Despite being called green beans, the pods can be red, purple, variegated and even yellow. The yellow varieties are often called wax beans.
Back in the day, green beans really were string beans because they had a fibrous “string ” running the length of the pod that had to be removed as part of the preparation. Most modern varieties do not have strings, eliminating the need to sit on the back porch and “string” beans. I suppose that’s for the best.
Green beans are a warm season vegetable and will be damaged or killed by frost and freezes. In our garden, they also seem to do rather poorly in the hottest part of the year so we usually grow them in the Spring and then again in the Fall. Depending on variety, green beans can either be a pole bean or a bush bean. Pole beans will be a vine growing 6 feet or more and usually are grown on some kind of support. Bush beans have been bred to remain short – usually 2 feet or less – and require no support. Bush beans also tend to mature a bit earlier and many are determinate – that is produce most of their crop all at once. Determinate varieties are particularly nice if you are planning to “put up” beans for storage since you will get most of the crop in a short period of time.
Whether pole or bush type, we grow beans in our raised beds on about a 6 inch spacing in good garden soil with moderate fertility and full sun. Beans are a legume and so can capture most of the nitrogen they need directly without a lot added to the soil. In the spring we plant beans about an inch deep and a bit deeper in the late summer for the fall crop – the soil tending to be quite warm and dry at this time. A light mulch can help keep the soil moist and cooler. Most varieties will mature in about 60 days. For best production, the plants need even moisture. Regular watering may be needed if the season stays dry. Beans are attractive to a number of pests and also can have fungal problems and so may require appropriate pest and disease control to insure a good crop. For best quality, the pods should be harvested while the developing beans inside are undeveloped or still tiny. The plants should be harvested regularly – even the over mature pods – to encourage continued production.
Two of our favorite filet varieties are Mascotte and Serengeti. These are both bush beans that produce delicate thin beans. Mascotte in particular will also perform well as a container grown vegetable. Heartier standard type bush beans that do well for us include Contender, Jade, Tendergreen and Topcrop. Pole bean varieties to try include Kentucky Blue, and Seychelles.
Fresh beans can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week but are best consumed as soon as possible after harvest. For longer storage, beans can be blanched and frozen or pressure canned. Green beans are a good source of fiber as well as a number of vitamins and minerals including vitamins K, A and C. Green beans can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, baked and stir-fried. They are a common ingredient in many salads, stews and soups. The beans also make a very nice pickle.
A classic French dish for Haricot Vert is to blanch the beans (usually the fillet type) then quickly sauté them in butter and herbs which keeps the beans very green and still a bit firm. In the South the beans are often cooked down with bacon or other smoked pork until very tender. Green beans also pair well with many other vegetables like in the holiday staple green bean casserole with mushrooms and onions.
Green beans are a good “starter” vegetable for those fairly new to gardening. They are also very kid friendly because the relatively large seeds are easy to handle and they will sprout quickly. I’ve found that children who have planted and harvested garden produce are very likely to eat it as well. Spring and Fall, green beans are a staple in our garden.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor