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Growing pole beans reveals surprises

It is time for a change. After 40 years of back-breaking work planting and harvesting bush beans, I am a convert to pole beans.

This year I elected to plant some royal purple pole beans at the perimeter of my garden space in full sun. I also planted some bush beans for comparison as usual. The beans were both planted as seeds 1-inch deep outside in well-drained garden soil at the same time in early May. The bush beans were first to flower and produce a good harvest. This is because pole bean seeds like warmer soil above 60 degrees. However, once the tender pole beans started growing, I had a few pleasant surprises.

First the pest population of rabbits and bugs devoured their share of bush beans and avoided most of the pole bean plants. Another surprise was that my fence at 5 foot tall was not tall enough. The pole beans will grow up to 8-foot tall if they have good support.

Pole beans also will yield two or three times more production than bush beans with the same space. The pole beans are easier to harvest if grown on appropriate supports. I chose to grow on an open wire fence and could pick my beans from both sides. My usual bean-picking backaches were thankfully absent as I did not have to do as much bending. I picked my beans every two days so they stay small, around 5 inches in length so they are very tender and not so heavy on the support system. They keep well in the refrigerator and could also be blanched then frozen or canned. We are at the end of the season now in September, and I plan to leave the remaining pole beans hanging to dry and use them as seed beans for next year. Another advantage is that seed beans can be saved for five years. In addition, when cooked, my purple beans become green in color to tell me they are ready to eat.

Based on my growing experience, I plan to rotate my crops on a three-year cycle to reduce plant diseases and bug damage. I will use more stretched string so the beans can climb easier on my fence. I will use soaker hose irrigation buried in mulch to provide about 1 inch of water per week to my pole bean plants.

The debate is over and my choice is clear. My experience this year has shown that pole beans have a place in my garden and also can serve as a vertical wall of edible landscaping. I strongly endorse you to consider supporting pole beans in your garden next year as well.

For more information on growing pole beans, visit: http://go.osu.edu/polebeans.

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