By Peter Heffelfinger
Posted May 11, 2020
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With the warm weather in May, once the soil temperature is above 60 degrees, it is time to plant beans. At the large vegetable garden I share with another family, we plant three 8-foot long rows of Blue Lake pole beans, a reliable northwest variety that is good both fresh and frozen. In the past we used tall metal fence posts supporting string or netting to hold the vines. This year to make it easier to do the initial set up, and the removal of the dead vines in the fall, we are using galvanized 4×8 metal cattle guard fencing set on end. Once the beanstalks get to the top, and want to keep on growing out of easy reach, I redirect them laterally on horizontal sticks laid between the the tops of the bean walls. The result is a covered arbor; the beans hanging down over the inner walkways, easily picked like overhanging fruit.
I like pole beans because they can be harvested continuously over a long period of time. The trick is to keep them picked while they are still tender, before the beans swell inside the pods and become inedible. Unless you want to save seed for next year, be sure to remove any bean pods at the bottom of the stalk that start to turn brown, to keep the plant producing new beans at the growing tips at the top.
There are many types of bush beans, which generally produce a more concentrated crop over a shorter period of time. My personal favorites include Burgundy beans, dark purple beans that turn bright green when cooked, along with tender French filet beans, a gourmet variety that is picked when very thin and delicate. This year I am trying Venus, a white Italian cannellini bean for either fresh use or when dried as the standard dry bean for minestrone soup.
With our longer and warmer summers these days, it is increasingly possible to harvest dry beans in the maritime Northwest. Several pioneer-era varieties of beans that will dry successfully before the fall rains were carefully saved by Puget Sound area gardeners over the years. The short-season varieties have been rediscovered and are now beginning to be available commercially. The WSU Agricultural Research Extension in Mount Vernon is also doing trials on other dry beans for local use. Grow your own vegetable protein.
Finally, there are Scarlet Runner beans, well-known for the red flowers that attract hummingbirds and for the vigorous vines that will easily ascend the tallest pole you can supply. As dry beans, the large, dark purple and black beans are very meaty tasting . A unique trait is that a mature Scarlet Runner bean that falls to the ground and gets buried in the soil will sometimes overwinter and sprout in the spring.