(Family Features) - Green beans are one of the quintessential veggies of summer, and they are hard to beat for the quantity of food they provide per square foot. They are also easy to grow, providing you can keep the bugs and diseases from getting the upper hand. Here are some routines that will help keep your crop healthy and productive.
Beans grow well in a wide range of soils without fertilizer. Where fertility is low, mix a complete fertilizer into the top 3 or 4 inches of soil before planting. Set up trellises or pole tepees before planting climbing beans.
Plants grow best when spaced about 2 to 4 inches apart. You can plant seeds at this spacing or, better yet, err on the side of planting too many seeds and plan to thin them to the recommended spacing just in case some don't germinate. Plant seeds 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep.
Mulch snap beans to help keep the soil cool and retain moisture. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
Beans generally grow quickly and shade out weeds, particularly if the beans are grown in wide rows. But if you need to cultivate around plants to dislodge weeds, do so near the soil surface so you don't injure plant roots. The best time is after a rain when the plants are completely dry and the soil has dried out a little. This is when many weeds start to germinate.
Insects and Disease
Rotate the location of your bean crops from year to year to discourage diseases, and avoid working around plants when the foliage is wet.
To deter Mexican bean beetles, use floating row covers over seedlings to prevent egg laying. Check leaf undersides for masses of yellowish eggs, and squish any you spot. Hand-pick adult beetles and larvae. Neem oil will deter feeding adults; horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are useful against the larvae. Clean up plant debris in the garden at the end of the season to reduce the number of overwintering adults. Where these beetles are a severe problem, look for varieties of beans that are naturally resistant.
Pick 'em Young
For the best flavor and nutritional value, pick snap beans when they're young and tender and about the diameter of a pencil. Hold the stem with one hand and the pod with other to avoid pulling off branches that will produce more pods. Picking encourages more blossoms and more pods. After your first picking, you can probably pick again three to five days later. To keep the harvest going as long as possible, don't let any seeds develop inside the pods. Pole (climbing) beans are slower to mature, but they have a longer harvest period.
A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathie Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as Horticultural Editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants, and spends more time playing in the garden - planting and trying new combinations - than sitting and appreciating it.