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.