Before I left for Atlanta, I was eating bush beans out of my garden. I like the taste of bush beans better than pole beans. I instructed my brother, Bubba, to pick beans while I was gone. I assumed this would be a simple task since both he thinks he’s smarter than me. I was wrong. I returned to string beans that would have qualified for The Guinness World Record in giant beans.

A day or so later, when both Bubba and his wife were on the property, I casually asked if they remembered to pick beans. “Yes, we got a small handful.”

“Oh, a handful? Well, you could have picked 4 handfuls. I threw a mixing bowl of beans in the compost bin because they were too big. Big beans are tough beans.”

Bubba’s wife, who is a really great cook, confessed to not knowing much about picking beans. Bubba sat there mute.

For the benefit of those who think string beans come from a can at the grocery store, this is how you pick beans.

  1. Bush bean seeds are generally planted 3 inches apart. This means the plants, at maturity, will be a mass of leaves when viewed from the top. You won’t see very many beans waving their little hands at you above this canopy. If you pick only the beans you can see, you will leave behind a LOT of beans.
Canopy of bush beans with white blooms peeking out

2.   Bush beans grow about 2 feet tall before forming the canopy of leaves. Bush beans also have a tendency to vine. These vines start at the bottom of the plant and grow outwards. Some of the vines lie on the dirt. You need to separate the canopy of leaves from every direction – north, south, east and west and look for beans. There is no central bean stalk despite the fairy tales you heard in kindergarten. For learning purposes, pretend there is a stalk. Look up and down this imaginary central stalk. You will see beans.

3.   Pick any bean that looks like a pencil — 4 to 7 inches in length and the width of a pencil although some varieties of bush beans are flatter than a pencil. I have about 4 varieties on hand right now. I pick up the seed packets at dollar stores, usually for less than a dollar.

4.   Try to pinch the bean from the vine to avoid breaking the vines. You can pinch it with your thumb and forefinger or you can use both hands.

Oh yeah. Southern peas do the same thing – make a canopy of leaves and vine.