Cultivating beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) can bring great satisfaction to home garden enthusiasts. It’s a food capable of providing high protein value at low cost and with excellent organoleptic qualities. These attributes make it the most famous legume. Moreover, for these reasons, beans have a long-standing tradition in our countryside’s agriculture.
To cultivate beans effectively, it’s crucial to make a good choice from the numerous existing varieties. Furthermore, following proper agricultural practices is essential. In this article, we aim to provide you with a complete guide to cultivating this important leguminous plant.
The Bean: Botanical Identification
The bean is an herbaceous plant with an annual cycle belonging to the large family of Leguminosae. This family includes many other species we have already discussed: snap beans, broad beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, peanuts. Throughout the rest of the article, we’ll focus specifically on climbing bean varieties, the most well-known and productive ones. These types, because of their characteristics, can also provide satisfaction to even the most inexperienced farmers.
It’s worth noting that beans are a botanical species originating from Central and South America.
They were introduced to the Old World only after Christopher Columbus’s voyages. Today, bean cultivation is widespread mainly in Asia and North African countries bordering the Mediterranean basin. In Europe, the major producers are the Spaniards, followed by the Portuguese, Italians, and Greeks.
Botanical Characteristics of Climbing Beans
The climbing bean is a very robust plant with rapid growth. It has a root system formed by a central taproot from which numerous lateral roots branch out. On the roots, a series of swollen nodules can be observed, housing the Rhizobium leguminosarum bacteria. These bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, improving it, a characteristic common to all leguminous plants.
Long stems branch out from the root system, which can exceed 4 meters in length. For this reason, to cultivate climbing beans, adequate supports are necessary for the plant’s harmonious growth. The stems lack tendrils to adhere to the support, unlike peas. Nonetheless, the plant can climb by twisting its stems around the supports.
Leaves, Flowers, Pods, and Seeds
The bean plant’s leaves are composed of three pointed leaflets, hence termed trifoliate. Each individual leaflet has a petiole, and the surface is covered in rough hair.
Flowers are clustered in inflorescences, inserted on the stem at the base of the leaf axils. The number of flowers in each inflorescence varies and depends on the chosen variety. Flower color also varies, ranging from white to yellowish, pink, lilac, violet, and bright red. The flower has the characteristic shape of a butterfly (papilionaceous flower). Pollination generally occurs through self-fertilization but is facilitated by the presence of pollinating insects. The pods also vary significantly in length, width, and shape depending on the variety. For instance, the cranberry beans reach 18 cm in length and 1.5 cm in width. The pod contains the seed, which is the beans we eat. These seeds range in number from 2 to 10. Naturally, their color varies based on the variety. There are single-colored beans (white, café au lait, brown, greenish), two-tone (brown and hazel), and marbled or speckled.
Varieties of Beans
Let’s now look at the main bean varieties that can be grown in our home garden. In the seed market, numerous climbing bean varieties can be found. Let’s see which ones are the most interesting and widespread.
- Spanish, the most cultivated white-seeded variety, also known as the Corona bean. The plant is very vigorous and resistant to diseases. It starts producing late but extends the productive period. The seeds are large (up to 2 g in weight) and have an excellent taste.
- Borlotto di Vigevano, the most loved variety in Italy, known for its multicolored seeds. The plant is vigorous with stems up to 3 m long. The pod, when fully ripe, is yellowish with red wine streaks and contains 5 to 7 fairly large seeds. Borlotto di Vigevano can be used fresh, frozen, or dried.
- Fire tongue Borlotto, characterized by a very showy pod with evident deep red streaks. The pod contains 6 to 8 medium-sized seeds (up to 1 g in weight). The plant is very productive.
- Lima or Del Papa, a variety with curved pods containing 3-5 flat-shaped seeds of excellent size (2 g in weight). The seeds have evident white specks on a dark red background. It’s less cultivated compared to the previous types.
- Stregonta or Flame, a fairly widespread variety with large and elongated seeds, with shades of dark red. Inside the pod, there are 6-8 seeds, and the production is moderately early compared to other varieties.
Growing Climbing Beans
Climate and Period
Climbing beans have a cultivation cycle ranging from 110 to 150 days. The plant prefers a mild climate and doesn’t tolerate cold and prolonged rain. It’s sown directly in the field in late spring, from the second half of April (in the South) to May (in the North). It’s worth highlighting that beans not only fear the cold but also prolonged dry heat, above 35 °C. Beyond this temperature, the flowers drop or deform, leading to low-quality pods. Hence, the best soils for bean cultivation are sheltered valley and hillside lands. Here, it’s less likely to reach high summer temperatures. The harvest starts from late summer and can extend into autumn for late varieties like the Spanish bean.
Beans prefer medium loam soils, generally loose with a good amount of well-decomposed organic matter. The soil should have good moisture but not be too cold. The plant adapts less to clayey soils, mainly due to water stagnation, which irreparably damages it. The ideal pH for bean cultivation is between 6 and 7.5, moderately acidic to slightly alkaline.
Calcareous soils should be avoided. In these soils, the plant does not thrive due to irregular and/or insufficient nutrient absorption capacity.
Irrigation and Sowing
As a spring-summer crop, beans need an adequate irrigation system to grow well. Water needs to be consistently supplied without causing waterlogging.
Sowing can be directly done in the soil, using the dibble technique. Plant 2 seeds at a depth of about 2-3 cm, keeping a distance of 20 cm between each dibble and 1 m between rows. Seed emergence occurs 8-10 days after sowing.
Cultivation Care, Supports, and Mulching
To cultivate climbing beans, adequate supports are essential for the plant to grow and produce in height. The recommended organic cultivation method involves setting up a simple pole and net system. After sowing, standard wooden poles, 2.10 m in height, are placed along the row. Each pole should be about 2 m apart. An appropriate plastic net (like this one), is attached to these poles using nylon thread. The net must be taut to support the weight of the plants over time. Another crucial cultivation practice is weed cleaning. Weeds can compromise the success of the crop by absorbing valuable nutrients. To minimize manual weeding, we recommend natural mulching with straw. This should be arranged among the young plants when they’re sufficiently robust.