(Literally) Vertical Vegetables
In this chapter, you find those vegetables that grow up naturally for planting on trellises, frames, and other supportive structures. I’ve got planting directions, tips, and great varieties for your vertical garden.
The plant variety lists are a good place to start; however, I encourage you to try other varieties that you find interesting. There’s more than one way to successful gardening.
You’ve got a lot of choices when if comes to growing beans vertically. Most bean species are warm-weather crops, with the exception of fava beans, which favor the cooler weather. In any case there are a few differences with each, so I’ve broken them into their respective categories. One commonality is that they’re all legumes and will take nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it into their roots—a welcome perk for the vegetable garden.
Pole and bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). This group is the most widely planted in home gardens. Depending on the variety, both pole and bush beans can be grown as snap, shelly, or dry beans. Bean pods’ colors on the vine vary and may be bright green, yellow, purple, and purple/green striped (although those varieties with purple pods do turn green while they’re cooking).
The bean group belongs in both the vertically favored veggies (featured in this chapter) as well as the vertically challenged veggies (featured in Chapter 11), because there are as many bush bean varieties as there are climbing varieties. The directions in this chapter apply to both types of beans, so I won’t repeat them in the next chapter. Varieties mentioned here will be mostly pole varieties, but we’ll have some bush beans for containers, too.
GOOD TO KNOW
Pole beans are the obvious choice for vertical gardening, but the bush varieties can be grown at the feet of other crops. I prefer the pole types because they not only produce longer, but I find that they have more flavor than the bush varieties. On the other hand, bush beans mature faster for an earlier harvest.
Edamame or soy beans (Glycine max). Asia’s gift to America, the soybean’s short, fuzzy pods grow best in a humid heat zone as opposed to a dry one. When green soybeans are shelled and served, they’re referred to as edamame.
Fava beans or broad beans (Vicia faba). This is the exception to the otherwise heat-loving beans. Fava is a cool-weather crop that’s often grown as a green manure and cover crop. Most people harvest the immature pods for the kitchen.
Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus). These beans grow very much like average pole beans, but they produce showy flowers as compared to a typical pole bean. Scarlet runner beans are fast growers and are often used as beautiful, living screens for the season.
Feel free to start your beans directly in their outdoor bed in the early spring, when the soil reaches a constant 60°F. If you plant them earlier, not only will they just refuse to show their seedling heads, but the beans will end up rotting in the cool, damp soil. As far as starting them indoors, I typically don’t, but have on occasion. Beans aren’t thrilled with having their roots disturbed, but I’ve started them several weeks early indoors and they’ve transplanted well.
Find a spot in full sun and plant them about 1″ deep and 3″ to 4″ apart in average soil. Beans aren’t demanding and will grow in soils with little nutrition as long as it’s not a bog; they like their feet in a well-drained site. Succession plant bush beans by planting another group (and then another) 7 to 10 days apart.
Legumes eventually add nutritional value to the soil because of their nitrogen-fixing nature. But they don’t do this while they’re very young. You can offer them a balanced organic fertilizer or some fish emulsion every few weeks of the growing season. But when I give them an extra boost, I do so with a light hand, so as not to encourage too much lush, green growth.
Your bean harvest will depend upon the bean type. The first place you’ll consult on harvesting is your seed packet, because the days to harvest will let you know when you’re getting close. In fact, the day that you plant them, go mark the day they “should” be ready on your calendar so that you’ll have a head’s up when you’re getting toward the finish line. Try to harvest mature beans as quickly as possible in order to keep the fruit production coming.
Your green beans and scarlet runners will be ready anywhere from 50 to 80 days (check your packet for specific varieties). Soybeans will mature anywhere between 60 to 95 days. Fava beans need the longest growing time at 120 to 150 days.
If you’re growing a dry bean variety, you’ll want to wait until the pods are completely dry on the plant, to the point of shattering open themselves, before harvesting (84–100 days). If you’re after shelly beans, harvest the pods several weeks before they’re fully mature.
Best Bets: Bean Varieties
Pole beans are an obvious choice for vertical vegetable gardening, but I also love them because they continue to climb and produce all season long (unlike the bush varieties, in which the pods ripen all at once). That said, if you’re looking forward to a bountiful bean crop, be sure to plant plenty of them so that you have many pods maturing at the same time.
Blue Lake Pole. Snap bean; smooth, dark green pods; mild, sweet flavor; 63 to 75 days to harvest
Cherokee Trail of Tears. Snap or dried bean; green pods with purple overlay and black beans; meaty flavor; 85 days to harvest
Dragon Tongue. Bush bean; extremely versatile as a snap, shelling, or dried bean; butter-yellow with bright purple stripes; juicy and tender; 60 days to harvest
Kentucky Wonder. Snap bean; huge harvest; smooth, silvery-green pods; old-fashioned beany flavor; 67 days to harvest
Lazy Housewife. Snap bean; big producer; stringless and flavorful; 75 to 80 days to harvest
Provider. Snap bean; popular and early because it germinates in cool soils; round, straight pods; stringless, with good flavor; 51 days to harvest
Rattlesnake Pole. Snap and dried bean; dark green pods with purple streaks; excellent flavor; 73 to 90 days to harvest
Romano Italian. Flat pods; great flavor; harvest when they reach 4″; 70 days to harvest
Royal Burgundy. Bush bean; 5″; dark purple pods and beige seeds; delicious beany flavor; flowers keep coming for a long harvest; 60 day to harvest
Sweet Lorane. Fava; tasty as a shelly and excellent as dried; bean seeds are light tan and have a chickpea flavor; 100 days to harvest
Taylor Dwarf Horticulture. Shelly or snap beans; pinkish-tan beans with red splotches; good pod flavor when harvested young but mostly used as a shelly bean; 68 days to harvest
Top Notch Golden Wax. Snap bean; golden, tender yellow pods; excellent flavor; 50 days to harvest