Pole beans are a popular summer vegetable all across the country and not without good reason! As their name suggests, pole beans require the setup of a trellis or tepee of poles to cling onto, but their vertical habit means they require less space than most other types of plants and can be grown just about anywhere. If that weren’t enough, the range of colors, shapes, tastes, and sizes of pole beans available is extensive enough that any gardener can find a variety to their liking. Almost all varieties of pole beans can be harvested at any stage in the growing process as either fresh snap beans, shelling beans, or drying beans; however, some varieties are better suited to one use over another, so be sure to research the varietals before choosing which type to grow if you are using your beans for a specific purpose.
Blue Lake pole beans are a popular variety for home gardeners thanks to their large yields and firm pods that make them perfect for canning and freezing. This variety of plant will generally grow up to 6′ tall—making harvest a snap—and will produce large, seamless pods approximately 6″ in length. Blue Lake pods will continue to form up to the first frost, providing growers with fresh, crisp beans throughout the growing season.
Seed Depth: 1–3″. Plant seeds deeper in drier soil.
Space Between Plants: 4–8″
Space Between Rows: 1.5–2′
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–80°F
Days for Germination: 8–21 days
Sow Indoors: Not recommended. Once roots start to form, beans don’t like to be disturbed.
Sow Outdoors: 2–3 weeks following the average last frost date. Pole beans will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 60°F, but the cooler the soil temperature, the slower the germination process will be.
Pole beans prefer warmer climates and do best in more southernly climate zones; however, they’ll still grow during the summer in other regions once temperatures reach approximately 60–70°F. Note that while beans can be grown for a fall harvest in warmer climates, growth slows as temperatures drop to 60°F or lower, so you may experience a loss of yield if planning on planting for the fall. While they do prefer lots of sun and warmth, yields will also start to decrease once temperatures surpass 90°F, so provide protection if you live in climates with extreme heat.
Natural: Full sun or partial shade in extremely hot weather.
Artificial: It’s not recommended that you start your plants indoors. However, if you do decide to grow inside, use strong lamps such as HIDs as beans require a good deal of light. Expose seedlings to light for at least 10 hours a day, keeping bulb at least 4–6″ from the tops of your plants to keep them from burning.
Soil: Prefers well-drained, nutrient-rich soil with lots of organic material. A soil pH of 6.0–8.0 will get plants growing, with an ideal range falling between 6.0–6.8.
Soilless: Seeds will germinate in nutrient-rich mixes with good drainage such as those that contain coco coir, perlite, and/or vermiculite.
Hydroponics: Will grow well in hydroponic systems that provide a good deal of support, such as an ebb and flow system, with sturdy media such as clay pellets or gravel.
Aeroponics: There’s not a great deal of data on growing pole beans aeroponically, so be sure to let us know on our contributors page if you have any success with growing pole beans in an aeroponic system!
Water: Requires moderate levels of water: approximately 1″ per week. Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy. This is particularly important in the early stages of growth as overwatering the seeds can cause damage and decrease your germination rates.
Nutrients: As pole beans tend to produce their own nitrogen (as long as the proper rhizobia bacteria are in the soil), they do not generally require the addition of this nutrient. Adding a light layer of compost or nutrient mix with higher levels of potassium and phosphorous, however, can benefit your plants if added prior to planting and once again when plants have reached about 6″ in height.
Foliar: Although not required, a light application of compost tea every 3–4 weeks can help your plants and the surrounding soil stay happy and healthy.
Pruning: One of the benefits of pole beans is that they produce high yields very quickly, so make sure to keep picking off your beans as they mature if you want to maximize your plant’s productivity.
Mulching: Apply a light layer of straw, reusable black landscape fabric, or wood chips around your bean plants to keep moisture and heat in your soil and suppress weed populations.
Support: Pole beans require a trellis or pole to support their growth. Plants will naturally climb, or you can help them along by twining new shoots around your support structure.
Deficiency(s): If your plant’s leaves are turning yellow and you haven’t tested your soil for rhizobia bacteria, it’s possible your plants are experiencing a nitrogen deficiency.
Rotation: While some sources suggest rotating your pole beans every year with other crops, beans can be planted in the same location for up to 3 years before relocating them. Follow your pole bean crops with members of the brassica family or lettuces.
Companions: As pole beans are a member of the Three Sisters, they will grow well with corn and squash. Also does well when planted with savory, radishes, lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, and potatoes. Avoid beets, cabbage, kohlrabi, and members of the onion family.
Harvest: Blue Lake beans are particularly tasty when eaten fresh or pickled, so we recommend picking at least some of your beans before they start to dry. To harvest your beans for fresh eating, wait until pods appear swollen and are firm to the touch. If you’re looking to shell your beans, wait until the pods are fully formed and start to lose some of their green color. For dried beans, allow the pods to dry entirely on the stalk and then remove from the plant.
Storage: Fresh pods will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Do not wash your beans until you are prepared to use them.
History: The history of the Blue Lake bean is one of many unsolved garden mysteries; however, we do know that it’s been a garden favorite in the US since at least the 1920s. Some historians have suggested that its popularity dates back almost 100 years further to the 1820s, although it was likely known under a different name that has since been forgotten.
Preserve: This veggie is great for preserving for future use either by pickling, drying, or freezing depending on how you want to use them. As Blue Lakes a great pickling bean, we suggest picking them at their peak ripeness and canning them with some dill and garlic that will last for up to a few years!
Prepare: If eating your beans raw, trim off the stem end of the pod and remove the string. After that, simply eat as is, steam, boil, sauté, or bake as desired.
Nutritional: This veggie is a great, low fat source of nutrients that is high in vitmain(s) A, C, and K. Pole beans are also a good source of fiber and contain trace amounts of many minerals including manganese, magnesium, calcium, and iron. They’re also a good source of antioxidants.
Medicinal: As pole beans provide antioxidants to the body, some studies have suggested that they can contribute to cardiovascular health by lowering blood fat content. The vitamin K and calcium content in beans has also been linked to increased bone density and overall bone health.
Bored of pickled cucumbers? How about some Pickled Green Beans instead? These pickled beans are great on their own for snacking or as a garnish in a Bloody Mary. Note that this recipe does not use heat processing, so beans will keep for up to a few weeks if refrigerated but will not keep outside of the refrigerator for any prolonged period of time.