Three types of wax beans grow this year in my small kitchen garden. The one on my fingers is a Golden Wax Bush bean. The one in the middle is a Kentucky Wonder Wax bean that’s a bit young; these can grow longer and thicker without becoming woody, but I like to catch them right when they turn yellow. The bean on my palm is the Mystery Wax bean – that is, I don’t know what variety it is. I work a lot harder to fill a canning jar with the Mystery beans than I work to fill jars with the other varieties.
Beans are still growing strong in my small kitchen garden, though frost may be no more than two weeks away. I’ve learned a few things about beans this year which surprised me just a bit because I’ve grown beans for the past 18 years, and I’d participated for ten years in my mother’s kitchen garden where she grew beans.
Wax Beans in my Garden
I prefer wax beans over green beans, so I usually plant more of the first than the latter. This year, I planted about twice as many wax bean seeds as I did green bean seeds, but I planted three varieties of wax beans: Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole, Golden Wax Bush, and a mystery variety (it’s a mystery because apparently I threw out the seed package when I used up the seeds; I hate that).
I’d never seen a climbing wax bean before this season and I was very pleased to find Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole bean seeds at a local garden center. The beans grow quite large, but they’re more pleasant to eat when I harvest them before they’re obviously mature. They start green and turn white as they plump up and I prefer their texture when I harvest right as they turn. They’re just as good when a bit green as they are when they turn white.
Just a few weeks after planting, seeds of climbing (pole) beans produce lovely stems that wave around in the air until they find something around which to curl. The plants spiral upwards as they grow and they put out more and more stems that eventually cover everything within reach.
The Golden Wax Bush beans are what I’d consider a “generic” wax bean. These are probably what I grew up eating, or at least they look and taste the same. The beans reach four-to-six inches and they form smooth cylinders that are tender and stringless until the seeds inside start to bulk up.
The Mystery Beans started as rather small seeds; no more than half the size of bean seeds I’ve planted in past years. These produce prodigiously, but the pods are about half the thickness of any other beans I’ve grown. The Mystery Beans also tend to be shorter than Golden Wax and Kentucky Wonder beans. These beans grow smooth and stringless, and it seems they can remain on the plants for weeks without getting tough.
Grow Big Beans
What I’ve learned from my wax beans: Grow big ones. The smaller Mystery Beans grow on plants that require just as much space as Golden Wax bean plants. They take just as much effort per bean to harvest, clean, and prepare for canning, freezing, or cooking. But, 30 Golden Wax beans might just satisfy my family for one meal; 30 Mystery Beans would leave half of us without. In other words, when it comes to eating, canning, and freezing, I have to work twice as hard for the smaller Mystery Beans. In the future, I’ll choose larger beans.
Looking across my small kitchen garden at the climbing bean trellises. The low greenery in the foreground is a row of bush beans – Golden Wax to the right, some type of green bean to the left, and way off to the left, Mystery Wax beans. The towers at the left rear of the photo are climbing beans. Each tower has two types of beans on it: Kentucky Wonder Wax Pole and Blue Lake Pole. It’s impossible to tell from the photo, but each tower is a tripod made from eight-foot stakes (the preceding photo shows one leg of a bean trellis tripod).
Eschew Bush Beans
Most of my bean-growing experience has involved bush beans. Until four years ago, I’d never planted climbing beans. Climbing beans have been way more entertaining—I love the way they curl around stuff and produce food all season long. This season, I had a stunning revelation about growing beans in general: Grow climbing beans.
It can take 5 to 10 minutes to harvest from a 14 foot row of bush bean plants. During that time, you must somehow get your hands to within six inches of the ground. When I was 35 years old, bending down like that seemed like reasonable behavior. Now, in my 50s, it’s painful to stand up after bending low for 5 or more minutes.
Climbing beans don’t ask for such dedication. In fact, my climbing beans produce food starting at about knee level and going up to seven feet, which is the height of my trellises. To harvest climbing beans, I rarely bend and often reach up in lush foliage. It is never painful to harvest climbing beans.
If you desperately need to grow bush beans, build very high raised beds, build planters on tables, or install a green wall system that can nurture your plants at thigh or waist level. For me, a lazy (and old) gardener, I’ll stick with climbing beans.