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Weekly planter: Beans are staples of the kitchen garden

Pick snap beans gently and don’t let them grow too long.
Pick snap beans gently and don’t let them grow too long. ASSOCIATED PRESS

It’s time to plant beans — snap beans, string beans, wax beans, green beans, French filet beans (haricots verts) — one of the easier vegetables for a kitchen plot and an enthusiastic producer.

Pole beans are climbers, so plant them along a fence or trellis or build supports for them. Sink a pole at either end of the row, run a wire between them, then gently tie a string to the base of each plant, tie the other end to the wire, and let the plants climb the strings. Or create a teepee frame with three or four poles tied together at the top and let the beans climb the poles. Bush beans are self-supporters.

In South Florida, plant beans August through October and February through May. Beans like full sun and soil that has been mixed with compost. They’ll do better if you don’t plant them in the same spot every year — ideally you shouldn’t plant beans or any kind of legumes in the same spot more often than once every three years.

Plant seeds every five to six inches in rows 18 inches apart. Ground should be wet but not soggy. Unless the soil dries out, don’t water again until seedlings emerge.

Fertilize every four weeks, but err on the side of less rather than more — too much fertilizer will produce more leaves and fewer beans. Consider planting in small numbers and sowing a new crop every 10 days or so.

Beans are susceptible to rust disease, which is transferred from plant to plant with water. Avoid handling plants when they are wet (it’s also good if plants aren’t crowded so air can circulate and dry the leaves).

Generally snap beans are best when they are about the thickness of a pencil. French filet beans should be even thinner. Pick too early and the flavor won’t be fully developed; leave them on the vine too long and they’ll turn tough and stringy. If beans mature on the vine, the plant will stop producing.

Source: “Florida Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” by Robert Bowden (Cool Springs Press).

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