Bean cfaif

Common names: pinto beans, navy beans, horticultural beans, flageolet Botanical name: Phaseolus species

Origin: South Mexico, Central America


Dry beans are so called because the mature seeds are generally dried before they're eaten. There are many types, and some of the most common are cranberry. Great Northern, michilite, pinto, red kidney, white marrowfat, and pea beans. Horticultural beans, the genuine French flageolets, are a type of dry bean highly regarded by gourmets; they're usually eaten in the green-shell stage. Ask your Cooperative Extension Service for specific recommendations for your area.


Dry beans are tender annuals. Their leaves are usually composed of three leaflets, and the small flowers are pale yellow or white. Dry beans are seldom planted in the home vegetable garden because it's so easy and inexpensive to buy them. They're fairly easy to grow, however, and give good yields, so if you have space in your garden you may want to try them.

You can grow either bush or pole varieties of beans. Bushes are generally easier to handle; they grow only one to two feet tall, and they mature earlier. Pole beans require a trellis for support; they grow more slowly, but produce more beans per plant.

Where and when to plant

Beans require warm soil to germinate and should be planted on the average date of last spring frost. Use the length of your growing season and the number of days the variety takes to mature to figure your latest planting date. If you need to sow before your area's average date of last frost, start the seed indoors in peat pots and transplant the seedlings when the soil has warmed up. Time your planting so that the beans will mature before very hot weather; they will not set pods at temperatures over80°F.

You can plant bush beans every two weeks to extend the harvest, or start with bush beans and follow up with pole beans. In some parts of the country — California, for example — you can get two crops by planting in the spring and then planting again in early fall for a winter harvest.

Red Kidney Bean Plant
Dry bean

How to plant

After the last frost is over, choose a bed in full sunlight; beans tolerate partial shade, but partial shade tends to mean a partial yield. When you're preparing the soil, mix in a pound of low-nitrogen (5-10-10) fertilizer — don't use a high-nitrogen fertilizer; too much nitrogen will promote growth of foliage but not of the beans. Bean seeds may crack and germinate poorly when the moisture content of the soil is too high. Don't soak the seeds before planting, and don't overwater immediately afterwards.

Plant the bean seeds an inch deep. If they're bush beans, plant the seeds three to four inches apart in rows at least 18 to 24 inches apart. Seeds of pole beans should be planted four to six inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Or plant in inverted hills — five or six seeds to a hill, and 30 inches of space around each hill. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, thin the plants to four to six inches apart. Cut the seedlings with scissors at ground level; be careful not to disturb the others. Beans don't mind being a little crowded — in fact, they'll use each other for support.

Fertilizing and watering

Beans set up a mutual exchange with soil microorganisms called nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which help them produce their own fertilizer. Some gardeners recommend that if you haven't grown beans in the plot the previous season, you should treat the bean seeds before planting with a nitrogen-fixing bacteria inoculant to help them convert organic nitrogen compounds into usable organic compounds. This is a perfectly acceptable practice but it isn't really necessary; the bacteria in the soil will multiply quickly enough once they've got a growing bean plant to work with.

Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Detailed information on fertilizing is given in "Spadework: The Essential Soil" in Parti.

Keep the soil moist until the beans have pushed through the ground. Water regularly if there's no rain, but remember that water on the flowers can cause the flowers and small pods to fall off. When the soil temperature reaches 60°F you can mulch to conserve moisture.

Special handling

Don't touch bean plants when they're wet or covered with heavy dew; handling or brushing against them when they're wet spreads fungus spores. Cultivate thoroughly but with care, so that you don't disturb the bean plants' shallow root systems.

If you're planting pole beans, set the trellis or support in position before you plant or at the same time. If you wait until the plants are established, you risk damaging the roots when you set the supports. Make sure the support will be tall enough for the variety you're growing.


Beans may be attacked by aphids, bean beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers, and mites. Aphids, leafhoppers, and mites can be controlled chemically by spraying with Malathion or Diazinon. Bean beetles and flea beetles can be controlled chemically by spraying with carbaryl. Beans are almost always attacked by large numbers of pests that cannot be controlled by organic methods. This doesn't mean the organic gardener can't grow them, but yields may be lower if only organic controls are used. Detailed information on pest control is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Parti.


Beans are susceptible to blight, mosaic, and anthracnose. You can cut down on the incidence of disease by planting disease-resistant varieties when they're available, maintaining the general health of your garden, and avoiding handling the plants when they're wet. If a plant does become infected, remove and destroy it so it cannot spread disease to healthy plants. Detailed information on disease prevention is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Part 1.

When and how to harvest

Harvest dry beans when the plants have matured and the leaves have turned completely brown. At this time the seeds should be dry and hard — bite a couple of seeds; if you can hardly dent them they're properly dry and ready to harvest.

Storing and preserving

Unshelled beans can be kept up to one week in the refrigerator. You can freeze, can, or dry the shelled beans, and they can also be sprouted. Dried shelled beans can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months. Detailed information on storing and preserving is given in Part 3.

Serving suggestions

Dried beans are tremendously versatile and have the added advantage of being interchangeable in many recipes. They're also nourishing and figure prominently in vegetarian recipes. Chili and baked beans are two of the famous dishes that depend upon dried beans, and beans are essential to the famous French Cassoulet — a hearty stew that combines beans with pork, chicken, sausage, or a mixture of all three depending on the region the cook comes from. Try retried pinto beans as a filling for tacos. Add sausage or ham to a thick bean soup for a winter supper to cheer up the chilliest evening.


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