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Be sure to add a few snap beans to the planting plan

April 28, 2018 GMT

Snap beans are among the easiest garden crops to grow, and there’s a wonderful variety of unique and delicious snap beans to try, in addition to the traditional green selections.

Snap beans are produced on either bush-type plants that stay short and stocky, or pole-type plants that climb up fences, arbors and trellises to a height of 5 or more feet. Both types of bush bean plants have their pros and cons.

I love pole-types because you don’t have to bend over to pick them and they take up less garden space, but if you don’t have a sturdy climbing structure, they’ll take over the garden. Bush-types are nice, too, because they’re great for smaller gardens and containers, but they require a good bit of garden real estate if you want enough beans to freeze or can.

No matter which type of snap bean you decide to plant, growing them here in western Pennsylvania is fairly easy. First, wait until the danger of frost has passed. Around here that’s typically in mid to late May. Select a planting spot that receives at least six hours of full sun per day. If you don’t have an in-ground garden, snap beans also do beautifully in a raised bed, planter box, or even a patio container. Work some compost into the planting area or container to add nutrients and improve the soil structure prior to planting.

Once the ground has been prepared, tuck the seeds into the soil. Snap bean seeds should be planted about one inch deep, three inches apart, and in rows separated by 18 inches of space. An alternate technique is to plant them around or under a trellis if you opt for a pole variety. Cover the seeds and keep them well watered until germination about a week later.

Once the seeds germinate, mulch the area with two inches of straw or shredded leaves, but be careful not to pile the mulch against, or on top of, the tiny seedlings. Mulch helps reduce watering needs, limits weed growth, and stabilizes the soil temperature during hot summer weather.

As your beans grow, water them every week or so when rainfall doesn’t occur. They require about one inch of water per week to thrive. Flowering will begin about 45 days after planting with bean set following a few days later. Harvest the pods when they’re a few inches long, but before the beans inside fully mature and the pod grows tough. Plants that are harvested regularly will continue to produce more bean pods for months.

There are dozens of different bean varieties to try, but here are some of my favorites.

Pole-type snap beans

“Musica” — My favorite bean of all time, this flat-podded pole bean produces like crazy all summer long and well into the autumn. The pods are best harvested when they reach about six inches in length, but they stay tender until they reach about 12 inches. “Musica’s” buttery flavor and crunchy texture make them our household favorite. Seeds available from Territorial Seed (territorialseed.com).

“Fortex” — A dependable green snap bean, this pole variety stays tender even when it grows large. The beans are stringless and succulent. Seeds are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Johnnyseeds.com).

“Rich Purple Pod” — Long purple pods are formed in clusters on tall, vining plants. Productivity is great with this variety. The green leaves combined with the purple pods make it visually striking, too. Unfortunately, the purple color disappears when the pods are cooked, but don’t let that stop you from growing this selection. Seeds are available from Renee’s Garden Seeds (reneesgarden.com).

Bush-type snap beans

“Blue Lake Bush” — This is the old standard green snap bean that still deserves a place in our gardens. Incredibly productive, the pods are best harvested when just a few inches long. Crisp texture and lovely white flowers on stocky plants. Seeds are available from Burpee Seeds (burpee.com).

“Meraviglia Di Venezia” — This is probably the most beautiful bean I’ve ever grown. The plants produce lush green leaves and the flowers are fuchsia pink. The pods that follow soon after are a bright yellow. The beans are wide and flat, and produced prolifically. Flavor is superb. Seeds are available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com).

“Dwarf Velour” — This is a relatively new bean that I’m trying in my garden for the first time this season. The bright purple pods are said to be long and slender and crisp. The compact plants are said to be prolific producers and disease resistant. Seeds are available from Park Seed (parkseed.com).

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.