by Gene Henson
Get a group of people together talking food, and it’s a good bet that someone will express a dislike for at least one particular vegetable. But I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t like string beans. Although around here they’re called string beans, the politically correct name is now ‘snap’ beans; the string portion having long ago been bred out of them.
Originating in South America, they were spread throughout Central and North America by migrating birds. In the 1500’s, Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe where they rapidly became a delicacy. In the 19th century, the ‘string’ was bred out and while original stringy string beans can still be had, most people prefer the modern variety.
One of the healthiest vegetables, they are also among the easiest to grow. Low in calories, around 43 to a cup, they are loaded with nutrients; Vitamin A, C, K, it’s almost like an alphabet of vitamins. Plus, Potassium, Magnesium, Thiamin, well, you get the picture.
When any discussion of beans comes up, there’s always the question of which are better, bush or pole beans. Pole beans are the good old standby that my grandmother always grew. They are usually planted in a hill, under a tepee of tall poles tied at the top. They take a little more time to mature than bush beans, due to the vines having to climb up the pole. Bush beans grow to maybe two feet and were originally developed so that machinery could be used in their harvest. I personally like pole beans because I don’t have to bend over to pick them.
There are many varieties available, a look at the bean section in your seed catalog and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. I seem to always go back to the Kentucky Wonder variety that my grandmother grew.
String beans like soil which is slightly acidic. Seeds are sown directly into the ground after all chance of frost has past and the soil temperature is at a constant 65 degrees. Anything cooler can stunt their growth, or worse, cause the seeds to rot in the ground.
It’s also a good practice to rotate where you plant them from year to year. And it’s best if they don’t follow where you grew last year’s tomato crop. Till or dig up the soil for a good eight inches.
For bush beans, plant one to two inches apart, in rows two to two and a half feet apart. When the plants reach around three inches high, thin them to three or four inches apart.
For pole beans, I like to grow them on a trellis, which in my case is 16 foot section of cattle fencing. I plant them the same as I would for bush beans, and train the vines onto the fencing when they start to move. You can also use chicken wire, which for some unknown reason is now referred to as “poultry netting.” However, you will have one devil of a time removing the vines at the end of the season.
Gene Henson is a University of Connecticut certified Advanced Master Gardner.