Every beginner vegetable garden should include green beans. The seeds are big, sturdy, and easy to handle, making them an ideal choice for new gardeners of any age. Your first bean crop is even more novel with green beans that AREN'T green. If the spring seed display at the store only has green snap beans, you can order seeds. Seed catalogs and seed selling websites offer a wide choice of green, purple, and even yellow bush beans.
Pretty purple pods
My favorite variety of bean produces pinkish-purple flowers and purple pods, and is named 'Royal Burgundy'. This bean isn't just for fun--it is serious about producing a tasty pot of beans, too. I first saw this variety in my favorite seed catalog, which indicated that 'Royal Burgundy' is a bush bean. In vegetable garden parlance, that means the plants grow as small bushes, rather than vines. You don't need a trellis for them, and they won't grow again next summer unless you plant seeds again.
A fungus among us
mini science lesson
Beans are one of the "nitrogen-fixing" crops that will actually be able to get its own nitrogen, with the aid of helper fungus that grows in its roots.
Beans are pretty self-sufficient, but there is one extra step you might like to take to ensure the biggest plants. This is optional; just a helper. Buy a "bean and pea inoculant." This is sold in small packets, about the size of a single-serving oatmeal packet. Inside the packet is a powder which is the spores of special fungus. Adding the spores when you plant helps guarantees that the beans will have the buddies they need in their roots to do the nitrogen job. Count out the number of beans you think you'll need and put them in a cup of water. Then drain the water, add inoculant and shake. Plant as directed.
For a more technical article about beneficial root fungus, read Mycorrhizae - Optimizing the roots of your plants by LariAnn Garner
How and when to plant bush beans
Like most veggies, bush beans need a sunny garden. Like tomatoes and peppers, beans are a warm season crop. You'll plant your beans between May and July, depending on your gardening zone. Southern gardeners may plant earlier than northern ones; most U.S. gardeners can plant bush beans anytime in June. For an average family, plant a row at least ten feet long.
Plant the beans in rows, because you'll need to get to both sides of the plant when you harvest. Dig a 2-inch deep trench in a row that is 10 feet or so long, which ought to give you several meals of beans for an average family. (If you want to freeze or can your beans in quantity, Meyer Seed Company recommends twenty feet of row per person.) Set beans in the trench, a few inches apart, and cover with an inch of soil. We use our hands to scoot the dirt from the trench side over the beans and then pat-pat-pat to press the soil onto the beans. Water well. Within a week, you will probably spot arching green stems emerging in a somewhat straight line where you planted. Success!
In a matter of weeks, you'll have a row of knee high small bushes with pretty, light purple flowers. When the flowers fall off they will leave tiny purple beans in their places. The baby beans are tasty fresh off the plant. Pick the beans whenever you think they're big enough; once they've lengthened to about six inches they will get just slightly fatter, and bumpier as the seeds swell. At that point, the pods are getting tough. It's better to harvest while they're tasty and tender than let them get leathery. 'Royal Burgundy' has earned fans for its good tasting beans and reliable crops, as evidenced by the positive comments in PlantFiles.
A 'Royal Burgundy' bean has a fun trick up its sleeve: it changes color when you cook it. Be sure and let the kids watch the first time you drop these beans in hot water. The beans go from purple to green almost instantly. You'll appreciate the color change when you're blanching beans to freeze; once they've all turned, they can be scooped out of the hot water and put into the cold. 'Royal Burgundy' beans cook just like other stringless beans you've used. We eat them simply simmered with butter, maybe adding slivered almonds for a crunchy touch. A slow-cooker full of beans, new potatos and a chunk of ham is a dinner favorite. You'll find a green bean soup recipe, along with more good bean advice, in Green Bean Soup: a summer delight that cooks in a snap by Jill Nicolaus.
'Royal Burgundy' isn't the only purple bean out there, but it's one I have grown. I highly recommend this one for your first bean crop. If you'll be ordering your seeds, you might want to read the articles recently included in Dave's Mail Order Gardening Theme Week, and use Garden Watchdog to help you find seed vendors.
References and credits
Meyer Seed Company - The company catalog always includes a helpful table of planting information for the central Maryland grower. Meyer is selling 'Royal Burgundy' seed in this year's catalog.
Thumbanil photo taken by and property of author. Plate of beans photo taken by DG member "TuttiFrutti" and found in PlantFiles.