Green beans are some of the easiest backyard crops to grow, and they produce a prolific harvest throughout the season. But to make the most of them, you need to find the sweet spot so you can pick green beans when they’re at their prime. Pick green beans too early and they will be tough and bland; too late and they will be limp and stringy.
When to pick green beans: get harvest ready
You can pick green beans from midsummer to early autumn. They should be ready around 50 to 60 days after planting for pole-grown beans, and between 55 and 60 days for bush beans. This will depend on the variety of bean, so make sure to check the seed packet when you first sow your crop.
Pick early for tender beans
As harvest time approaches, watch for the emergence of your green beans on the plant. Green beans, like most veggies, taste best when they are young and tender – supersized beans may look impressive but they won’t win any culinary prizes. That said, if beans are underdeveloped, you’ll miss out on all the flavour they can offer.
'The trick is to know when the beans are young and tender and at their best for eating, and to know when to take out the crop to make way for something else,' says grower and sustainable expert Tom Petherick from Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Green beans grow quickly, so don’t let them get too big. You want them to be crisp, relatively sweet-tasting, and a good size for freezing or canning if you want to preserve your crop.
Size matters when you pick green beans
Green beans come in many varieties, from dwarf beans to yard-long giant beans – check what type you have planted so you pick them when they reach the ideal length.
As a general rule for standard green beans, they should be ready for picking when they are around 4 inches long and the width of a pencil.
The size will also make a difference, whether you choose a smaller type of bean that can be grown in pots, or else a taller pole-grown bean.
'Pick runner beans when they are 6-8 inches long and before you see the beans swelling inside,' says gardener Kay Maguire, author of Grow Your Own Crops in Pots. 'Broad beans can be eaten at all stages, from slender pods to fat beans that need shelling and peeling.'
There are a few clues to help you know if it’s the right time to start your harvest. Follow our expert checklist, which will help you know when to pick green beans.
How to know when green beans are ready to pick
When to pick green beans depends on a number of factors. They should be lean and firm to the touch, with no obvious bulges.
If you can see bumps along your beans it’s a sign that the seeds inside have developed and the pod will have become stringy.
To test if your crop is ready to pick, you could take just one bean and see if it comes away easily from the vine and snaps crisply when you break it in two. The bean should taste tender and sweet when eaten raw, straight after picking.
How to pick green beans
Green beans are connected to the vine by a small stem – it’s at the stem that you want to break off your bean.
To avoid damaging the plant, pinch off rather than pull the green bean from the vine. Hold the green bean with one hand and support the vine with your other hand. Use your thumb and finger to pinch off the green bean.
Keep picking for more beans
Knowing when to pick strawberries is crucial, as the plant won't keep growing new berries after they are picked.
Green beans are different, as they will continue to grow on the plant throughout the season. By picking them regularly, you will encourage the vine to produce more beans, giving you a bumper backyard crop.
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Andrea has been immersed in the world of homes, interiors and lifestyle since her first job in journalism, on Ideal Home. She went from women's magazine Options to Frank. From there it was on to the launch of Red magazine, where she stayed for 10 years and became Assistant Editor. She then shifted into freelancing, and spent 14 years writing for everyone from The Telegraph to The Sunday Times, Livingetc, Stylist and Woman & Home. She was then offered the job as Editor on Country Homes & Interiors, and now combines that role with writing for sister title homesandgardens.com.
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