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.
This popular, vining, heirloom varietal of pole bean possesses 6″ green and purple bean pods with delicious black beans that can be either dried or eaten as snap beans. As its name would suggest, this bean was sadly brought to other regions of the country by members of the Cherokee nation as they were forced to partake in a 4,000 mile death march out of their homeland to the Western US. Its beauty and flavor make this an excellent bean for your garden, and by growing Cherokee Trail of Tears, you can keep the story alive (the best way to keep history from repeating itself).
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: Beans may be harvested at any stage of the growing process depending on your need, but if harvesting at maturity for fresh eating, wait until beans appear swollen and are firm to the touch. Once your plant starts producing bean pods, you’ll likely need to harvest at least once a week. If harvesting dry beans, wait until pods have fully dried and the shell has turned brown before picking and removing the beans from inside.
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. Dry beans will keep for up to a year.
History: Considered by many to be one of the worst tragedies in American history, the Cherokee Trail of Tears was a forced march instigated by the US government to remove the Native tribes of Georgia from their land and “relocate” them west of the Mississippi to make room for white settlers. On the march, over 4,000 Native Americans died of cold, disease, and starvation, resulting in the name: the Trail of Tears. This bean was named as such to commemorate this event as it was carried by the Cherokee people as they struggled to survive this brutal journey away from their homeland.
Preserve: This veggie is great for preserving for future use either by pickling, drying, or freezing depending on how you want to use them. If you’re planning on pickling or freezing them, pick your beans when they’re still young and tender (i.e., in their “shelly” bean phase).
Prepare: If the pods are young and tender enough when harvested, the entire pod may be eaten without first removing the beans. If the pods have become tough, trim off the top of the pod and crack along the seam to extract the beans. Eat as is, steam, boil, sauté, or bake as desired. If you harvest mature beans, cook them like you would normally prepare dry beans. Remove the beans from the pods and soak them overnight before cooking.
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.
Try drying your Cherokee Trail of Tears beans and using them in this simple Bean Bread recipe. Instead of dipping your bread in butter, we suggest using the lighter and healthier option of extra-virgin olive oil.