Friday, June 20, 2008

Growing Beans and Peas

How to Grow Beans and Peas

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

You can grow your own peas or beans, whether in a garden or a pot. They're both legumes, which means that their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria makes them high in protein, and they have very similar requirements. Since they're relatively easy to grow, they're a good choice for a first-time gardener, a new garden plot, or a child learning to garden. Pick your vegetables ten minutes before eating them, and discover what they are supposed to taste like!


  1. Decide on the number of plants you want. A 10" (25cm) pot will hold one or two plants, a 'veranda planter' (about 2" by 10") will hold 4 or 6 plants easily. If you have a garden, plot out the needed space according to how many plants you want. Even a few plants can provide enough for snacking and salads. If you want to stir fry for the whole family, plant a few more.
  2. Choose a good location. For the peas, locate the plot or pots in a bright area but not in full sun. A spot partially shaded by a tree or hedge is ideal, because the leaves will provide more shade as the season gets hotter. Make a sun chart to determine which parts of your yard or patio get the most sun--and don't put these plants there (especially the peas, which prefer cooler climates).
  3. Get some seeds. These are the peas or beans themselves, of course, but you'll need relatively fresh ones. Peas or beans from a farmers' market will work fine; fresh ones from the supermarket might work, but probably many will fail to sprout. Frozen or canned are useless. Dried beans may work, but you'd do best to go organic (to make sure they haven't been treated not to sprout). For dried beans, test them first - soak some in water then put them into a damp paper towel and fold it over. Keep the towel just damp (splash it with water once a day or so), and in two or three days open it up and look. If there are little sprouts poking out of the split beans, you're fine, go ahead and plant them (in fact, plant those sprouted ones!); if the beans look exactly the same, give them another couple days and if that doesn't work find another source of beans; and if the beans have gotten moldy you can try again to sprout them using less water, but you'll probably need another source of beans.
  4. Prepare the ground - put dirt in the pot (ordinary potting soil, from any garden store, will work fine), or dig up the ground where you want to plant. You need about 6 inches (15 cm) of loose, rich soil - if your ground is mostly clay or sand, you'd probably have better luck in a pot. Or buy some compost and topsoil, mix it with the dirt you dug up (about 50/50) and put it back so it mounds up. If you do this for three or four years, you can turn bad soil into good - but don't expect too much of a harvest for the first year or so. You can also add vegetable fertilizer to either the ground or a pot - but it's probably not necessary.
  5. Plant the seeds. If you buy actual seeds in a packet meant for planting, they will say to plant two or three together, and then pull up all but one when it grows. You can do that - but if you don't remember to pull it up, the plants will compete for nutrients and die. Otherwise, plant one in each hole; some don't come up, so plant more than enough so that you will still have enough, even if a quarter of the seeds don't germinate. Plant the seeds by taking one, pushing your finger down into the (nice, loose, rich) soil you're planting to about to the first joint (1-1.5", 2.5-5cm), and putting the pea/bean into that hole. Pat the soil down gently over it (to ensure soil contact, which is critical for germination), and gently water it. Plant the next one about 6" (15 cm) away (further is fine, don't crowd them though).

    • Peas should be planted about six to eight weeks before the last killing frost (soil temperature of 50°F/10°C or higher).[1] Some peas (snow peas and sugar snaps) like cool temperatures. They're really a spring and fall plant, in most climates. In cool climates they might survive the summer in a shaded spot, in very hot climates they may be a winter only planting. In the San Francisco Bay Area, they grow well planted in February and produce peas until late May or early June, then die off. Plant them again in September/October (while it's still warm) and they'll produce through December or January. Other peas and most beans have different temperature requirements. Some want heat and full sun. Read the seed packet and catalog or look up your chosen variety.
    • Plant the beans about one or two weeks before the expected date of the last killing frost in the spring. Look for soil temperature that's reliably over 60°F (16°C) as a cue. Keep in mind that varieties with colored seeds are more likely to germinate in cool soils than varieties with white seeds.[2]
    • If planting a large area with peas or beans, doing so by hand can be back breaking work. Consider using a wheel planter (as shown) or a planter that attaches to the back of a tractor.

  6. Provide a support. Most peas and beans (except "bush beans") are twining plants. You will therefore need something for them to twine on: a fence, a net strung between two poles, individual poles for each plant, or a bean tepee (made of 3-4 bamboo poles tied together at the top). It's best to have a support ready as soon as you plant and "plant" it when you plant the seeds. The support can help mark your seed locations.
  7. Water the seeds. A 'rain' spray on a hose or watering can will do, or pour water on your hand and sprinkle it over where the seed was planted (a marker made of a craft stick or piece of plastic can help find them before they sprout). Don't run the hose directly onto the seeds; they'll either wash away or drown. Water them at least daily, and more often if it's dry, but don't water them if you get your finger wet/muddy by pushing it into the ground near a seed - it should be damp to dry. Too much water is as harmful as too little. Keep watering daily and watch for the sprouts. Depending on what you planted (pre-sprouted dried beans, fresh, dried for planting...), it can take 2 to 10 days for the first sprouts to show above the surface.
  8. As soon as the sprouts can reach (1 to 2 inches tallattach them to their twining surface (pole, net, whatever). If you let them fall over, a) they may rot on the surface and b) they may twine with other peas and it's very difficult to separate them without breaking branches. Keep checking them and encouraging them to grow up the twining surface every day when you water them. They grow fast! At this point they can take more direct watering, but still don't run the hose right on them.

    • Tender pea shoots are delicious, raw or cooked. When the peas are 4-6" or 10-15cm tall, you can cut off the first two "levels" of leaves and bring them to the kitchen. Don't cut more than the first two sets of leaves, though--the stem gets fibrous as it grows, and you want to cut the top where it is still tender. The pea plants will grow back, and you can get several harvests out of them for greens.

  9. Flowers will begin to show a couple weeks after the sprouts come up. Beans and peas flower in lots of different colors, including white, pink and purple, so you could even sneak some into a flower garden for show.
  10. When the flowers dry up, a pea/bean pod will begin to grow from the same place. Some peas (snow peas, sugar snap peas) are 'edible-podded' - this means that you can pick them while they're young and flat and eat them pods and all. Raw or gently stir-fried are both delicious. Green beans are also edible-podded, and can be eaten even after they've plumped up. For other peas and beans, wait until the pods are round and you can see the little bumps from the peas/beans inside. Pick them, open the pods and use the peas/beans inside. Pick them the same day you intend to use them - as soon before eating as possible. The flavor begins to fade as soon as you pick them.

    • Pick pods before they get too old. One taste of a too-big pod will tell you why. They're not harmful to eat, but they're not very tasty, either. The texture is coarse and pithy and they lose their sweetness.

  11. Leave a few pods to mature completely near the end of the growing season to save the seeds for next year (see tips).


  • There are a lot of types of peas/beans. Get a gardening book out of the library, and look at what there is before you go to buy seeds. Or check seed catalogs - they often describe the sort of plants. You need to know space requirements, sun requirements, temperature requirements, whether they give one big harvest or produce gradually, how long they'll live.
  • Another choice is to find a nursery or seed shop near you and ask a knowledgeable person there. Local nurseries often know things about the local climate and soil that aren't in general gardening books, and they may be able to help recommend things like planting times and varieties suited to your area.
  • Some peas/beans are 'determinate' - this means they will flower and make peas all at once. You will get one large harvest, then the plants will die. Others are 'indeterminate' and will set flowers and make pods for as long as they grow (several weeks to several months). You won't get as many pods at one time - usually not more than 5-6 ripe pods per plant per couple of days - but you'll get them for much longer.
  • This also determines how many plants you want to grow. Assuming you are growing indeterminate peas, two plants will generally make enough for one person (for a side dish) every couple of days, so calculate how often you will want to eat the peas/beans and how many people you'll be feeding to decide how many plants to grow. For determinate beans, either you get one good meal out of them or you do something else with them, like dry the beans or can them, and again you need to decide how many/how much you want to deal with.
  • One thing you can do if you have too many ripe peas - wait until it's really really ripe (the stem is starting to dry, or the pod splits), pick it and open the pod, then put the peas in a cool dry spot and let them dry. Plant those seeds next year!


  • Most peas/beans are subject to powdery mildew and other pests. If you see a white film or dust on a few leaves, cut off the affected branch, even if it has peas or flowers on it, and throw it away. Don't compost it or leave it near any plants. It is possible to catch an infestation early and deal with it, but if most of a plant is infected pull it up and throw the whole thing away - then watch the plants near it very carefully. If you get a bad infestation, don't plant peas or tomatoes in that bed/dirt next year. They'll be infected from the start. If you don't deal with it, the leaves and stems start drying up and turning brown (very like they do when the plant dies of heat or old age), and the whole plant dies quite quickly (and the mildew spreads to the plants around!).
  • Similarly, if you see bugs on the peas - small green or brown ones (aphids), or tiny white flies (whitefly), or something that looks like white fuzz on the underside of the leaves (another kind of whitefly) - at minimum wash it off with water and oil soap. If it's all over a branch cut off the branch and throw it away and wash the branches nearby, and if it's all over the plant pull up the plant and throw it away. Look in gardening books for other diseases and pests that affect peas and beans. Different plants have different vulnerabilities.
  • Go easy on fertilization. Remember that peas and beans can obtain their own nitrogen. If you provide too much nitrogen in the form of fertilizer, the vines will get big but there won't be as many beans and peas to harvest.[3]

Things You'll Need

  • Soil to plant, in the ground or in a pot
  • Pea/bean seeds, of the type you want
  • Something for them to twine on: poles, nets, a fence
  • A gentle waterer: a 'rain' type spray head for watering can or hose, or another means of watering very gently

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations


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