Garden Smackdown: Bush vs. Pole Beans

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Pole beans at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Some are using corn for support.

As vegetable gardeners salivate over catalogs during the long winter nights, the perennial question emerges: Should I plant bush or pole beans? During the Vegetable Gardening 101 class I attended at Just Food Co-op, Laura Frerichs of Loon Organics offered a good summary of the pros and cons of each.

Bush Beans: Generally, they are earlier to harvest, with beans ready to pick 55 to 60 days after you plant the seed (if the soil is not too cool). They do not require support and some people think that bush beans have a snappier flavor than pole beans. Negatives are that it takes a fair amount of space to grow a substantial crop of bush beans.

Pole Beans: While pole beans take a little longer to produce fruit (65 to 75 days), they produce over a longer period of time, as long as you keep picking. You need to pick pole beans every couple of days for the plants to continue producing–if you neglect them a week, the plant decides its reproductive job is complete and gives up. You do have to provide a trellis, but because they grow up, pole beans can be planted in a relatively small space. Also, the trellises can be cute.

I’m planning to grow both this summer in a 4-by-8 foot raised bed that will be given over entirely to beans. The reason: Beans are nitrogen fixers — that is, they take nitrogen from the air and put it in the soil, with the help of some fungi or microbes. Planting a nitrogen fixing plant is a good way to add a little fertility to your garden. The bed in question was a bit of slacker last year in terms of productivity, so I gave it a good pile of compost this fall and it gets beans this year. We’ll see if that perks things up.

10 Replies to “Garden Smackdown: Bush vs. Pole Beans”

  1. I’ve always been more drawn to pole beans for their aesthetic appeal and because I’ve had relatively small gardens, but I think if you want a big crop to can or freeze all at once, the bush beans may serve that purpose better – like the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.

  2. Easy gardener: Welcome! it’s great to have someone from England chiming in. This time of year, we envy your mild-ish weather.
    Mary

  3. I’ve always grown pole beans – the varieties available are amazing and I think they tend to have a nicer, beanier flavor. I’m really partial to the flat Italian types and recommend that you try some.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion. I grew the Italian beans many years ago and did like them. Maybe this is the year to try them again.

  5. For years I’ve been growing bush beans rather than pole beans. I like them as front of border “finishers” in my edible garden designs. But this year I have big plans to put in upright trellises for pole beans in last year’s corn beds (http://www.gardenhelp.org/food/sharing-crops-with-neighbors-a-community-of-suburban-foragers/). I’m hoping the nitrogen fixers will help repair the corn-depleted beds. I did put in a fava cover crop to help over winter, but we’ve had so much cold that most turned to mush.

    Thx for the link to my nitrogen fixing pg on gardenhelp.org. The pix there are bush beans.

  6. Glad you stopped by, gardenmentor. I found the explanation of nitrogen fixing on your page very easy to understand. Great resource.
    Mary

  7. I read with interest your article about the ultimate question (when it comes to beans anyhow) pole or bush? I am wondering if my hard, a little bit clay-like soil will actually produce beans. Or do I need to create a ‘raised bed’ like you are doing? Also, I am not the best at maintenance when it comes to gardening, so are beans the best choice for me or should I stick to another vegie variety?

    Also, I’ve been thinking about naming a garden from one of your previous posts. A person like you, who seems to try a little bit of everything in their yard could pick something snappy like “The ‘Why Not?’ Plot,” “Earthy Endeavors” or “Anything Goes.”

  8. Wanna-be gardener: I think beans are pretty easy to grow. You probably would want to add a lot of compost to any new garden bed, and that is one of the advantages of raised beds — you put in good soil to start with. Raised beds are easy to make — perhaps you can find a handy retired gentleman to help you out.

    Thanks for the garden name suggestions. Why Not? Plot certainly fits. Thanks for stopping by!

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