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By Brenda H. Reed
Freelance Writer

Life in our bean patch in southeast Texas has become a lot easier and a lot more pleasant since we started growing them up instead of out. It used to be that our favorite bush variety of snap bean was Kentucky Wonder. Oh, we still like the delicious flavor and good production of this popular producer. We just got tired of bending over to harvest them and fighting the mosquitoes that seem to thrive in the cool, damp shade just waiting in droves for us tired, hot, sweaty gardeners to become their next meal.

In my book, pole beans win by a landslide in comparison to the bush varieties because you can harvest them standing up as opposed to squatting and bending until the legs and back hurt from it. No more backaches and a lot fewer mosquito bites. It makes you wonder why no one has come up with a bean named the Backache Bush Bean. With the pole bean, no more bending is required, as pole beans are planted around supports for their 'branches' to climb.

Soil Preparation
Pole beans do best in a loose, well drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7.5. Regardless of your soil type, the addition of 2 to 3 inches of compost to the planting bed is desirable. While you are at it add a couple of shovels full of well rotted barnyard manure or organic fertilizer to the planting bed. If your soil is on the heavy side or if you have poor drainage you should plant in raised beds. If you garden in east Texas or any other part of the state that has a soil pH below 5.5 you need to add lime to the planting bed. Gardeners with alkaline soils (pH above 7.5) should add a small amount of iron to prevent chlorosis.

Timing
Many gardeners make the mistake of planting beans too early in the spring. Wait until your garden soil has warmed up to 60 degrees before planting. You will just be wasting seed and money if you plant beans in cold soil. Besides poor germination, beans planted too early will likely suffer from fungal disease like damping off.

Planting Seed
Most bean seed has been treated with a fungicide to prevent seedling diseases as you can easily tell by the pink or blue color of the seed. If your seed is not treated, you can treat it yourself by placing the seed and the fungicide in a paper bag and shaking it until the seed is coated. Since beans are legumes they need a beneficial nitrogen fixing bacteria in order to thrive. If you have grown beans or any other legume in the planting area then the bacteria should be present. If not, you can inoculate your seed with a commercial inoculation powder available at most nurseries at the same time you apply the fungicide.

It is best to plant bean seed in moist soil about 1-1/2 inches deep in sandy soil and 1 inch deep in heavy clay soil. Most bean seed will emerge within a week or so. Avoid letting your soil crust before the seeds germinate or they will literally pull their heads off as they emerge. Thin your seed to a final spacing of about 3 to 4 inches.

Support Your Beans
You can plant your pole bean seed in a row to later be supported by twine or wire runners of fencing or you can plant them in hills to be trained to grow up cages made from net fencing material or concrete reinforcement wire. Be sure to use sturdy posts to support your bean trellises as the plants can become heavy. Also, have the trellises in place before the bean plants start to vine so you can easily train them to the trellises.

Crop Rotation
Most organic gardeners know how important crop rotation is. This is especially true when it comes to beans. Whenever possible, follow beans with a non-related crop. Good land management will help prevent weed and insect problems. Pole beans should not follow other related crops such as peas and bush beans. Deep-rooted crops can be grown in rotation with beans.

Weed Control
If cultivation is required, cultivate deep enough to control weeds, but not deep enough to damage bean roots. Set cultivation equipment to run as shallow as possible, because bean plants have very shallow roots. Better yet, apply an organic mulch to the planting bed. When pole trellises are used, it is essential to clear the field of weeds when the poles are set, because cultivation within the poles is not possible.

Insects, Disease
Pole beans are susceptible to several disease and insect problems. Aphids, stinkbugs and spider mites are the most common insect problems that may arise. In small plantings, stinkbugs can be removed by hand and there are several good organic sprays that are effective in controlling aphids. Spider mites are more difficult to control, particularly during periods of hot, dry weather.

There are several diseases that affect beans. You can avoid damping off disease by planting into warm soil as previously recommended or by using treated seed. Rust can be a problem in mature plants. Avoid spreading the disease from plant to plant by harvesting only when the plants are dry. Rust can also be controlled with early application of sulfur. You can avoid some disease problems by selecting disease resistant varieties.

Varieties
DADE: Introduced in Florida, is the leading variety. It has some resistance to rust and mosaic and is a heavy producer. Pods are 7 to 8 inches long, smooth, uniform, fleshy and oval in shape (60 days).

Kentucky Wonder 191, also known as White Seeded Kentucky Wonder, is another important variety. It is hardy, high climbing and productive. Pods are dark green, 7 to 8 inches long, and about 1/2 inch wide (65 days).

Kentucky Blue (PVP) from Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake parents has 6 to 7-inch straight round pods. Kentucky Blue have great flavor with BV and rust resistance (60 days).

We enjoyed growing the Kentucky Wonder, Romano and The Rattlesnake varieties of pole beans this past spring. We had no problems with low production, insects, or pollination. We enjoyed growing such a non-demanding bean and they were so easy to harvest.



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