Growing UP

By Teo Spengler | May 5, 2021
Image by rootstocks
by Teo Spengler
May 5, 2021

When neighbors ask for advice for planting their first veggie garden, I always start with the easy stuff: a few zucchinis, lettuce, chard, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries and lots of herbs. These are veggies you can buy as “starts” in the garden store and that require little or no experience to grow.

Not every gardener returns the second year, but many are totally hooked. These are the folks who are ready for something a bit more dramatic, adventurous and exciting. My first choice for the sophomore year is to get them growing pole beans: lush, lively and incredibly productive. A pole bean trellis is also a good first step toward a vertical garden.

Growing Pole Beans

Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing exotic about green beans. If a gardener loves beans, they might put in bush beans the very first year. They don’t even need staking. But pole beans, as the name suggests, can grow up to 15 feet (4.57 m.) high and must be planted near a pole bean trellis or teepee pole. 

There are certainly a few other differences between growing pole beans and bush beans besides the need for a pole bean trellis. Bush beans are easier to grow, but pole beans yield a bigger harvest. In addition, when bush beans start ripening, they all mature at once, while pole beans will keep you in beans for a month or two if you keep harvesting.

Vertical Garden with Pole Beans

In my opinion, there is nothing cooler than having a vertical garden — that is, crops growing up rather than spreading out. Practically, this means that you can fit more crops into the same space.  

And that can be important for someone with a small garden.

But, when you include staked plants, you increase the sensory appeal of your backyard. It’s not just neat squares of garden. Growing pole beans means towers of beans, walls of foliage, teepees taller than you are hanging heavy with green beans. The entire effect is much more appealing.

Growing and Harvesting Pole Beans

Before putting those bean seeds in the ground, get the pole bean trellis or teepee set up, then plant the seeds around the supports. The roots don’t do well with transplanting. That also means that it’s not a good idea to start the seeds indoors.

Instead, plant 3 or 4 pole bean seeds around each pole of the trellis or teepee. Prepare the soil beforehand and make sure the drainage is good. Train the bean vines to wind around the poles. It’s a good idea to wrap string around the support halfway up to give the vines a hand hold. 

About two months after planting, pole beans start ripening. Young beans are the most tender, so start harvesting pole beans when they are the diameter of a small pencil. If you keep harvesting pole beans when they mature, the plants will keep you in veggies for weeks.

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