The common black bean is also called the turtle bean because it comes with a very hard shell attached. It’s a very versatile legume that you grow from a bean plant called Phaseolus vulgaris, and you can grow it at home in bush or pole bean varieties. If you’re wondering how to grow black beans, they require warm temperatures so they thrive when you plant them during the summer months. They take between 90 and 140 days before they’re ready to harvest.
Black beans are very popular in Creole and Mexican food, and they have several uses attached to them like use in spreads, hummus or dips, and soups, just like you’d use other beans like pinto beans, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans. If you want to know how to grow black beans and harvest them for yourself, read on.
Black beans are a very nutritionally dense food that many people use to substitute their diets.
Defining Black Beans
Black beans first originated in South and Central America. They’re the same species as the common snap beans, but you grow and dry them for their seeds instead of the immature pods. For this reason, black beans take longer to mature to go to seed and be ready to harvest. They need between 90 and 140 days to harvest where snap beans only need 50 to 55 days. Beans are a warm season vegetable, and you grow them between the spring and autumn frost dates.
There are several different varieties of black beans available for commercial growers, but most home gardeners get Black Turtle Beans. This is a heirloom bean variety with semi-runner or bush plants. You won’t need to set up a trellis when you’re learning how to grow black beans, but adding bamboo stakes or posts for support can increase the plant’s production. When you grow them in an area that offers fertile soil and full sun, you can get 25 to 36 pods per plant, and each pod has six to eight seeds.
When to Grow Black Beans
Just like most bean types, you sow your black bean seeds once the risk of frost passes in the spring months. The seeds germinate best when planted in warm soil with a temperature range of 68-degrees F to 80-degrees F. You don’t want to attempt to rush your black bean seeds into the garden too early because the soil will be far too cold to support them and it promotes rot.
When you’re learning how to grow black beans, it’s important to find the correct site for this long season plant. Beans are warm season vegetables that require between six and eight hours of sunlight each day. Well-draining soil is essential, and they work very well planted in raised beds. Heavy clay-based soil isn’t great for beans. Before you plant anything, you want to amend the soil with an inch of compost if you’re planting in a bed where you’ve never planted them before. You may also want to inoculate your seeds with rhizobium bacteria to boost the yield.
Black bean plants usually don’t get huge, so you can plant them in containers if you don’t have space in your garden.
How to Plant Black Beans – Step by Step
When you’re learning how to plant black beans, you want definitive steps to ensure that you don’t miss anything and that you get a good yield. The following will outline exactly how to plant his crop.
Prepare a Planting Location
Go and pick out a sunny spot for your beans. Black beans adore being in sunlight, so you want to make sure that you pick out a spot that gets full sun during the day. Ideally, you want your plants getting six hour of sunlight at a minimum each day.
Once you have a spot picked out, you want to amend the soil if it’s needed. Black beans grow best when you plant them in soil that has a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. You can get a home pH testing kit from your local garden center to double-check it, or you can send in a sample to your local agricultural department for testing. If the pH levels are too high or low, you may need to amend it. If the pH is too low, you can add some lime. If the pH is too high, add sulfur to lower it.
Amending the soil can take months, so you want to plan ahead and test the soil weeks or months before you plan on planting anything. Since it’s so challenging to change the soil’s pH level, you may consider planting your beans in a raised garden bed. You could also choose a different bean.
Add some fertilizer with a lower nitrogen level to the soil. Bean plants won’t require a lot of fertilizer to do well. However, if you plan on growing other plants, especially beans on the same space, it’s a good idea to enrich the soil with organic fertilizer before you plant. You want to pick out a fertilizer that has low nitrogen as this is ideal for bean plants. Also, since beans are vegetables, giving your black bean plants too much nitrogen can cause them to reduce the bean production and produce excess foliage.
Planting Your Black Beans
Once you have the planting site ready, it’s time to get to the practical portion of how to grow black beans, and this is the planting process.
Buy Dry Black Bean Seeds
You can purchase black beans from your local seed store, garden center, or online. You can find them under the name of Black Turtle Beans in the later spring months. Black beans grow best in warm weather, so you want to plant them around May to allow them to get the full summer sun as they grow.
- The beans should start to germinate in 10 to 14 days after you plant them, and they reach maturity in roughly 100 days.
- The soil temperature should reach a minimum of 60-degrees F before you plant anything.
- You want to try and plant your black beans when you know they’ll get a minimum of three months of warm weather.
Pre-Soak the Beans
Black bean seeds will germinate a lot easier if you prep them before you plant them by soaking them for a few hours or even overnight. Put the beans in clean water for a minimum of two hours before you plant them.
Inoculate the Beans or soil
Your black beans will be able to use the nitrogen in the soil much better if you apply an inoculant for legumes, either directly to the beans or to the soil. Go check your local garden supply store or look online for an inoculant meant for legumes or beans. You can use mycorrhizal fungi as your inoculate to help the plants form roots and to help nitrogen fixation for the plant.
You can apply this inoculant by pouring your beans into a bag with the inoculant in it and shaking them gently to coat your beans. Others require you to mix them into the soil, so read the package on whatever product you pick out.
Plant the Beans
Plant your beans roughly an inch deep and four to six inches apart. If you want, you can make a longer furrow roughly an inch deep and space your beans out along this furrow you dug instead of making separate holes. Make sure the beans have enough space between them so they have room to spread as they grow. Cover the beans with a layer of soil after you plant.
- If you pick out a bush variety instead of a vining one, you’ll give them at least six inches of space between plants
- Sow your beans while making sure that the eye faces downward.
After you finish planting, water your beans to moisten the soil. This will encourage your beans to germinate. Lightly water the area when you finish planting so the soil is damp but not soggy. Make sure the soil stays moist as the beans germinate and start to grow.
Caring for Your Bean Plants
Getting your bean plants into the ground is only half of the battle when it comes to how to grow black beans. You still have to care for them and ensure they grow.
Put mulch around the base of your bean plants. Mulch can help prevent weed growth, keep the soil warmer, and retain moisture. You’ll want to find an organic mulch material, like chopped hay or straw. When you do, mulch your plants roughly two to three weeks after you plant them, or mulch once the plants sprout and grow a few leaves. Make sure you leave an inch or two of mulch-free space around the stem of each plant as having mulch right up to the stems can cause rot.
Use natural methods or pesticides to protect your black beans from aphids. Black beans have issues with these pests, and aphids are a huge concern because they can carry and infect your plants with the mosaic virus. You want to rinse off any pests with the garden hose set to a sharp spray setting or pick them off by hand. For a long-term solution, apply a neem oil spray.
If you’re someone who doesn’t want to use a chemical pesticide to protect your beans, try introducing ladybugs to the garden. Ladybugs will eat the aphids and other insects. You can usually buy them from your garden center.
Tie your bean plants to a pole or trellis, if necessary for support. If your beans are a vining type, they need some form of support. Once your plants start to grow, put a trellis or pole by each plant. You may need to lightly tie the plant to a trellis or pole to train them to grow on the support system. Each pole or trellis should be a minimum of three feet high.
If your bean plants look wilted, water them in the morning. Black beans are very hardy plants that don’t require a lot of water. Water them if the soil feels nearly dry or dry, or if you notice they look wilted. You want to be sure you don’t water your beans too much as they will rot if the roots sit in a soggy soil too long.
Make sure that you don’t disturb the plant’s roots when you weed around your beans. Black beans have a very shallow root system, so you need to be careful when you pull any weeds around the plants. Always pull your weeds by hand, and try to minimize the weed growth as much as you can by mulching around the beans and weeding the plot before you plant it.
It’s important that you weed around your plant so the weeds don’t pull nutrients from the soil and stunt your bean plant growth.
Harvesting and Storing Your Black Beans
Harvest your black beans when the leaves turn dry and yellow. You will know your beans are ready to pick when they become dry, yellow, and hard. You can harvest the pods when they are still green, but you’ll need to give them time to mature and dry 100% before you can bring them inside. Black beans usually reach maturity and are ready to go 80 to 140 days after you plant them. If you have a bush variety of beans, all of the pods should mature at the same time. If you have a vining cultivar, you’ll need to harvest them regularly throughout the growing season to encourage more beans.
Cut your mature pods off the bean plant as the next step on how to grow black beans. When the pods turn yellow and dry, take a pair of scissors or a small pruner and cut off any mature pods. If you’re not 100% sure that the pods are mature, break a pod open and look at the beans. They’ll be black and dry, and immature beans are paler in color and moist. You can also try biting down on the bean. If it’s ready to harvest and dry, your teeth won’t leave a dent.
It’s possible to harvest fresh or immature beans before they’re 100% dry, but you won’t be able to store them for as long. You should try harvesting the beans during dry weather. If the beans are almost ready to harvest but the forecast calls for rain, bring the entire plant inside and hang it upside down so it can finish drying.
Remove the beans from the pods and allow them to dry. Once you harvest the pods, crack them open and remove the beans. Spread the beans out on your flat surface and allow them to dry for a day or two before you store or cook them. Hand-shelling black beans can be very tedious, and you may find it easier to collect the beans if you put every pod in a pillowcase or sack and stomp on it or hit it against the wall a few times.
Store the beans in an airtight container. The beans will keep for up to a year from harvest if you store them correctly. Keep them in a dry, cool place. The airtight container will protect them from insects or moisture damage.
Tips on How to Grow Black Beans
There are a few things you can do to make learning how to grow black beans easier and ensure you get a good harvest. These tips include:
- Black beans have a very delicate root system, and they won’t take kindly to being transplanted. So, instead of starting the beans inside, you should sow them right in the garden.
- If you’re growing beans for food, plan on having 8 to 12 plants per person.
- It’s possible to grow black beans in planters as long as the planters are a minimum of 12 inches long. However, you’ll get more beans per plant by putting them in a garden plot.
- Keep the leaves of this plant dry to prevent pests and rust mold formation. You can achieve this by watering at ground level.
Black Bean Pests and Diseases
Generally speaking, learning how to grow black beans is easy. However, there are a few pests you can run into, the key to keeping your plants healthy is prevention and practicing biodiversity in your garden. You should plant a mixture of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. This will invite pollinators and beneficial insects to your space. Also, you want to regularly monitor your crop so you can address any issues that pop up before they turn into huge issues. A few common pests and diseases include:
Bean Leaf Beetles
Bean Leaf Beetles are one pest that causes small holes in the pods or leaves on the plant. The adults can be red to a greenish color, and they usually have spots on their backs. They’re small at a quarter of an inch long, and they start eating your plants in early spring. A second generation can wreak havoc in mid or late summer, especially in warmer areas. Large populations of the adults can defoliate bean seedlings, and this can set back or kill your plants. To prevent this, you want to rotate your crops and use a light row cover over newly planted beans to ward away the pests.
Bacterial Blight is a disease that appears in wet weather, and it shows up as small lesions that form on water-soaked patches on your bean plant foliage. If you don’t treat it, it’ll spread to the pods. Blight will impact your plant’s yield, and you should space out the plants to encourage air circulation, practice crop rotation, and stay out of the beans when it’s wet out to prevent it.
Blight can easily spread from plant to plant, so you want to carefully monitor your beans and catch it early.
Cutworms are a huge pest for young black bean plants. They’re not actually a worm, but they’re moth larvae from different species. Most of the damage these pests do is in the spring months as the bean seedlings start to emerge. They tend to feed at night and chew through the stem at the plant’s base. It doesn’t take long for a full row of seedlings to vanish. To prevent cutworms, you want to use diatomaceous earth to make small collars for your plant using toilet paper tubes or aluminum foil to put around the base.
In some gardens, slugs are a huge issue. They will eat any newly sprouted seedlings as well as established bean plants. You can handpick your slugs off when you spot them, and putting diatomaceous earthy around the plants can deter them.
White mild is the disease that is most widespread when the weather in your planting zone is wet. It quickly spreads from plant to plant, and it’s visible on the stems or foliage. To reduce white mold, you want to space your rows and plants to improve the air circulation between the plants and try to avoid getting the foliage wet when you water.
Black Bean Nutrition
Black beans may not have a huge amount of vitamins, but they are a huge mineral source. A cup of black beans has roughly 24% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium, and 54% of your daily iron needs. This is based on a traditional 2,000 calorie diet. Black beans also fall into the middle of the scale when it comes to considering them healthy foods. They are low in fat, high in calories, and they have 42 grams of protein per cup. However, two cups of beans each day are 1,324 calories, and it’s common to mix them with other things.
So, they make it really easy to go over your total daily calories, and this can lead to weight gain if you’re not careful. If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to monitor how many services of black beans you eat a day and pay close attention to your serving size. However, the good news is, you can spread them around all day. They go in sides, soups, and salads well, and they mix with vegetables and fruits.
How to Use Black Beans
No matter if they’re in a can or dried, black beans are a staple. They typically end up in tacos, salads, and soups, but there is a good chance that you’re not using them to their full potential. Black beans are affordable and versatile legumes that you can incorporate into several dishes, and they have a host of helpful nutrients. You can use them:
Black Bean Burgers
Since black beans give you plant-based protein, roughly eight grams per ½ cup, they make nice burger patties for vegetarians. They’re also a nice choice for people who need to lower their saturated fat consumption since 100 grams of cooked ground beef has 6.95 grams of saturated fat while ½ cup of black beans has roughly 0.1 gram. Black bean burgers are also easy to make as all you have to do is a quick mash of the beans, mix in breadcrumbs, spices, and herbs, mix in an egg, and you’re ready to form and grill them on the stove or bake them in the oven.
Black Bean Pizza
Black beans aren’t a very common pizza topping, but if you want something healthier than pepperoni or sausage, they’re a nice choice. They come packed with soluble fiber to help lower cholesterol and B vitamins. When you pair them with avocados, tomatoes, and cheese, black beans add a Southwestern twist on pizza as a comfort food. You can even add beans instead of tomato sauce by spreading mashed beans across the dough and adding cheese, diced tomatoes, corn, and grilled chicken.
Black Bean Smoothie
Not only will your black beans boost the protein content in your smoothies, but they’ll give it a thick, creamy texture without impacting the taste. Black beans work well in chocolate smoothie recipes, and you can easily sneak in vegetables and fruits like bananas, cauliflower, and dates. In turn, you’ll get an energy-boosting, healthy way to start the day or help with a post-dinner sweet tooth without a huge amount of calories.
We’ve outlined how to grow black beans, keep them healthy, and how to use them in your everyday life and add them to your diet. You can grow this healthy bean plant in containers or in the garden and have a harvest this fall.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.