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Young pole beans. Photo by Melissa Vogt

Have you ever heard of pole beans? They yield a large harvest from a small area, taste similar to bush beans, and are a great way to incorporate a rich amount of vitamins and minerals into your diet. Fortunately, they’re also easy to grow in the Bay Area!

Growing and planting tips

It’s better to begin growing pole beans by planting “starts” rather than seeds, since it can be difficult to germinate seeds in cool climates. While the Bay Area area does occasionally get heat waves, it’s very risky to try and rely on steady heat for outside germination. Plant starts are a good way to bypass the process of germination by going straight to planting young pole beans directly in the soil. You can get veggie starts at most local nurseries.

Before planting, it is best to first assess the soil you are working with. Purchasing a 2 cubic feet bag of gardening soil is enough to start a small garden bed for growing pole beans, and shouldn’t cost you more than $15. For optimal growth and yield, use a compost-enriched planting soil.

To start your garden bed, turn up the soil in the area you wish to grow.  Take out any large rocks or weed root masses, then gently pour the planting mix onto the turned up soil.  Do not pat down the soil too much; the planting mix should be loosely laid on top of turned up soil, so that it is aerated for water flow and strong root growth.

Water the soil thoroughly before planting your young bean plants.  Once the soil is watered, you are ready to create a teepee-like structure for your pole beans to grow on! Using old tree branches or found objects in the yard are a fun and cheap way to create this structure, or you can purchase bamboo sticks at your local nursery. One larger, sturdier pole is needed for the center of the garden bed which all of the outside poles will be tied to.

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Example of how-to build the pole bean structure. Photo by Melissa Vogt

Insert the larger pole into the center of the garden bed, then insert the outside poles about a foot apart from each other, all circling the center. Remember, it is best to have one pole per plant, so however many starts you have is how many poles you should place in the outside circle. Gently bend and tie each outside pole to the center, so there’s a slight curve.

Once the poles are in place and tied well, dig a hole large enough beside for the root mass to go into. Hold the plant in place over the hole and gently fill the hole with the displaced soil; repeat with each start. These plants will need about a month before their vines start to show, and will gradually reach for the poles as they grow. Sometimes they need a little help, so guide or wrap the growing ends around the poles to teach them to grow upwards!

If you plan to fertilize, organic is healthiest for consumption, and it should only be lightly sprinkled and worked into the top layer of soil once the bean pods first become visible. Mulching, the use of organic materials to act as an additional top layer in a garden bed, is also beneficial. Mulching helps keep soil erosion at bay, retains more moisture, provides additional nutrients, and also helps stifle weed growth.

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Freshly-harvested pole beans. Photo by Melissa Vogt

Pole beans may be ready to harvest anywhere between 50-70 days. Enjoy fresh pole beans from your own backyard—just make you water them when the soil feels dry to the touch and harvest beans regularly to stimulate continual growth. Cooking with ingredients from your own backyard is about as locavore as you can get, and nothing is more satisfying than eating something you’ve nutured and grown. Enjoy your first pole bean harvest!