What Creates Healthy, Productive Bean Plants?

Walk into your local supermarket and you’ll discover dozens of different canned and dry beans, as well as hundreds of food products that contain beans. Beans are a healthful, important food. They are economical and packed with filling nutrients, and they are good for the environment. It’s wonderful to have a consistent supply of this simply delicious, naturally nutritious food, and we have farmers to thank for this!

Farmers work diligently and make countless decisions to ensure that healthful, high quality beans end up on our plates. If you know anything about agriculture (or have a garden), you understand that every crop is different and has unique needs. Here are 6 key considerations farmers make to create healthy, productive bean plants.

  1. Class & Variety

There are many bean classes and varieties available, and a farmer decides what to plant depending on their growing region (i.e. soil type and climate), yield (i.e. growth potential) and markets (i.e. places to sell). In the Northarvest growing region of North Dakota and Minnesota, which is North America’s largest supplier of dry beans, farmers raise 10 classes of dry-edible beans including black, cranberry, Great Northern, navy, pink, pinto, light red kidney, dark red kidney, white kidney and small red. Within each class there are many varieties of bean seeds a farmer can choose. The growing season in Northarvest features long, warm summer days and temperate nights, ideal to maximize bean quality and quantity.

  1. Soil

Dry beans grow best on well-drained soil because they are susceptible to moisture issues, including fungal diseases. Farmers plant dry beans on soils that have good drainage, as well as the right nutrients and hydrogen level (pH). Farmers test their soil for nutrients and pH levels to make sure it is optimal for the type of dry bean they wish to grow, and they will make adjustments if necessary.

  1. Rotation

Crop rotation is essential to producing healthy plants and reducing disease. Different crops take out and put back different nutrients in soil, so it is important to not grow the same crop on the same soil year after year. Dry-edible beans are nitrogen-fixating crops, meaning they put nitrogen back into the soil. Many farmers use beans as an important part of their crop rotation because nitrogen is an essential nutrient for growing healthy, productive plants. Nitrogen fixation is unique attribute of beans and other legumes.

  1. Planting

When beans are planted depends on what region of the country they are growing. Beans don’t tolerate cold weather and they a take about 100 days to mature, so a farmer’s goal is to plant beans when the fear of frost has passed and to harvest before the fall frost. In Northarvest country, this means planting in mid to late May and harvesting in early September.

  1. Pest Management

Farmers work diligently to manage anything that will reduce the healthfulness of their bean plants. A bean plant’s potential enemies include weeds, insects and diseases. Farmers utilize a number of techniques to manage these pests, including crop rotation (as previously mentioned), tillage, row spacing, and certain pesticides and herbicides (if necessary). There are also certain varieties that have been developed to resist pests. These varieties are very helpful to grow healthy, high-quality beans with less input.

  1. Harvest

Unlike green beans that are harvested immatureone-girl-in-bean-field-portrait, dry-edible beans are left to dry in their pod. They are harvested when they have lost a significant amount of their moisture but not too much because they don’t want the shells to shatter. Farmers will test their beans for moisture levels (goal is about 18% moisture) and also look for pods that are yellow and brown. Farmers will either swath (cut the plant) or directly harvest the bean with a combine. Allowing beans to dry before harvest allows beans to be minimally processed, require no refrigeration or freezing, and to be shipped all over the world.

Want to learn more about bean production in Northarvest country? Check out our October Bean Bulletin interviews with Mark and Leann, two dry-edible bean farmers in Northarvest country.