The best bean

Growing your own may be your only chance to enjoy them fresh

Bean

Ranging from 6 to 8 in. long, these pole beans should be picked when seeds are just beginning to swell inside pods.

Some string beans are so delicious, you may want to keep a supply at hand by putting some in your garden. What's more, unless you grow certain kinds yourself, you might not get a chance to eat them.

Supermarkets rarely carry fresh French/filet beans (aka haricots verts), the pencil-slim varieties that have a delicate flavor. Italian- or Romano-type flat beans are seldom sold even at farmers' markets, but these broad, juicy, fleshy kinds (possibly the Sophia Loren of the bean world) could easily become your favorite. Tender, mild-flavored yellow wax beans bring premium prices at the market. And purple-podded beans hold their color when sliced raw for salad but turn dark green when cooked.

Growing these beans is a snap. The big, easy-to-handle seeds germinate in only 7 to 14 days. Pole bean plants, which grow up to 8 feet tall, must have support; they reach maturity in 60 to 70 days and bear over a long season.

Sources: Renee's Garden ( www.reneesgarden.com); Seeds of Change ( www.seedsofchange.com or 888/762-7333); Territorial Seed Company ( www.territorialseed.com or 541/942-9547); Veseys Seeds ( www.veseys.com or 800/363-7333)

 

Growing tips

Timing. Wait until nighttime temperatures remain at 55° or higher to plant.

Preparation. Amend the top 6 to 8 inches of soil with compost or other organic matter.

Planting. Sow seeds 1½ inches deep and 4 inches apart. Give pole beans like 'Ramdor' (shown above) a trellis or tepee to climb, or grow them against a wire fence; plant four to six seeds about 4 inches from each pole. After seedlings emerge, thin to the strongest three.

Watering. Water well at planting time, then sparingly until seedlings sprout. After that, plants need about 1 inch of water a week, whether from nature or you.

Feeding. Fertilize with fish emulsion every few weeks.

Diseases. To discourage mildew and other maladies, avoid harvesting or handling plants when they're damp with dew or rain.

Pests. Mexican beetles can be a problem in some areas. In that case, consider planting insectary plants like dill, radishes, or tansy, which attract natural predators.

Harvesting. Gently pull ripe beans off clusters individually.

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