Best Green Beans for Northern Gardeners

“What green bean variety would you recommend for Minnesota?” – Question from Van of Hendricks, Minnesota

Answer: Early, early, early varieties! With the short northern summers of Minnesota, you want to choose a top-performing bean that produces as quickly as possible. Choose bush beans or pole beans, depending on your garden’s size and your planting preference. When seeking good veggie varieties for northern growers, I tend to turn to northern seed vendors, like Pinetree Seeds or Johnny’s, which are both based in Maine.

For bush beans, I recommend the early, disease-resistant, green bush bean ‘Provider‘, which yields in just 50 days from seed and germinates in cool soil. The flavorful heirloom bush bean ‘Bountiful‘ is even earlier, bearing green beans in just 46 days.

For pole beans, I LOVE the early-to-produce ‘Fortex‘. It’s long, slender, delicious beans appear in just 60 days from seed and are high yielding. I’m also a big fan of Roma green beans, and ‘Northeaster‘ is a very fast Roma that’s stringless, very early (56 days), and delicious!

I hope that you have good luck with these exceptional green beans! Happy gardening, Jessie

I also recommend you watch this Black Gold video on successful bean growing!

The High-Protein Vegetable Garden: Beans and Grains

Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have popularized high-protein garden vegetables. Growing a good selection of nutritious, protein-packed grains and beans means expanding upon the standard repertoire of veggies. The list may include cool-season legumes, like chickpeas and fava beans,  as well as winter grains and warm-season crops, such as edamame and amaranth.

The first step of garden planning is arranging your desired crops by season. All the edibles in this article fall into three seasonal categories—winter cover crops (fall to spring), cool-season crops (spring and fall), and warm-season crops (late spring to early fall). Identifying good seed sources is also important. For lesser-grown grains and beans I recommend Salt Spring Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and for a good selection of beans I recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Winter Cover Crops

Winter wheat grows through winter and produces in late spring.

Buckwheat, winter wheat, and rye varieties serve as winter crops with high-protein seeds and grains that can be reaped in late fall or spring. As cover crops, they suppress weeds and feed and protect garden soils through winter.

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum, 19 grams protein/164 gram serving) is a legume that prefers mild sunny days and cool nights. As a cover crop, it suppresses weeds, breaks up tough soil with its dense roots, and naturally fixes nitrogen into the soil. Most gardeners plant it in midsummer for late-season cover and seeds. Lightly till the soil, broadcast seed over the area, and water it in. Germination should occur within a week or so. After several weeks, the robust plants will bear small white flowers that feed bees and produce exceptional honey. In the 10th week, clusters of dry seeds cover the plants. Gather the clusters before they shatter by cutting them into a closed bag or bowl. To separate the seed and chaff, run the clusters across an 11/64″ round steel sieve, and follow this by winnowing away any additional chaff. (Read more about growing buckwheat.)

Winter wheat and rye are hardy cover crops that can be planted in fall and bear grain in late spring to early summer. Spelt (Triticum spelta, 25 grams protein/174 gram serving), winter wheat (Triticum aestivum varieties, 24 grams protein/192 gram serving), and winter rye (Secale cereal, 25 grams protein/169 gram serving) are three good choices. In spring, plants grow quickly. They can be harvested when the plants and seedheads turn brown. Once fully dry, the chaff can be easily peeled off and winnowed away.

Cool Season High-Protein Crops

Chickpeas are Middle Eastern in origin and best grown in springtime.

A surprising number of protein-packed legumes thrive in cool spring weather—these include chickpeas, fava beans, and quinoa. Spring legumes have the added benefit of fixing nitrogen into the soil, so plant these in areas where you plan to rotate in heavy feeding summer crops, like tomatoes.

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum, 39 grams protein/200 gram serving) and fava beans (Vicea faba, 10 grams protein/126 g serving) are both ancient crops, dating back to 7,500-8,000 years, that originate from the Middle East. Both grow best in cool conditions with no temperature extremes. Sow them in spring, at the same time peas are planted. Pre-soak the seeds and plant them in fertile, well-drained soil 1.5 inches below the soil surface. Both should begin producing beans by late spring or early summer. Hot summer weather will cause plants to decline and flowers to drop before fruit set. Harvest and enjoy both beans fresh or allow pods to become fully dry on the plant before hulling and containing them for long-term storage.

Lanscape_with_Chenopodium_quinoa_Cachilaya_Bolivia_Lake_Titicaca Michael Hermann
Quinoa growing in Bolivia. (image by Michael Hermann)

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, 24 grams protein/170 gram serving) is an equally ancient crop that is sown in spring and harvested in early summer when the heads are fully dry. There are several varieties of this Andean native and amaranth relative that may have red, black, or tan seeds.

To plant quinoa seeds, work up the soil and amend with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Then lightly broadcast the seeds over the planting area and lightly rake them over.  Seed heads should be fully dry by early summer. Cut them into a closed bag or bowl, and then winnow to separate the seeds from the chaff. The millet-like seeds will self sow if allowed to fall to the ground.

Warm-Season High-Protein Crops

In the summertime, try growing protein-rich amaranth, chia, edamame, and various beans. All thrive in hot weather and are easy to grow.

Chia plants are pretty and their seeds are full of protein. (image by McZusatz)

Lots of protein-rich summer seed crops are also ornamentals. Tall, bold purple amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus, 26 grams protein/193 gram serving) has edible leaves in addition to producing loads of edible seeds. Plant it in spring after the threat of frost has passed. By summer, heat, and drought tolerant amaranths will produce large floral plumes. Harvest these in fall when they become dry; simply cut them off and shake them vigorously into a plastic bag to remove the seeds. Add the seeds to breads, muffins, or granola.

Chia seeds are produced by Salvia hispanica (4 grams protein/28 gram serving), a Mexican sage grows to 3 feet and bears spikes of blue flowers in summer, so it makes a great ornamental.  In fall, its tall spiky seed heads are filled with seeds to cut and gather. Add them to smoothies or toast and sprinkle them on granola.

Tall purple amaranth is attractive and produces loads of edible seeds.

Edamame (Glycine max) have become increasingly popular with gardeners as more home varieties appear in seed catalogs. Opt for productive, short-season cultivars like ‘Envy‘ and ‘Fiskeby‘. Start seeds indoors and plant them outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. The heat-loving plants will produce fresh pods by midsummer. These and summer beans of all varieties, from limas to black beans and string beans, are great high-protein summer vegetables. (Click here to grow great summer string beans.)

All of these crops can be harvested dry and stored, but those that can be enjoyed fresh offer extra appeal. Few have the chance to enjoy fresh-picked edamame, favas, and chickpeas straight from the garden!

Fava beans are a great source of protein and easy to grow in mild spring weather.


Three Sisters Gardens

Along the flood plains of America’s rivers, indigenous tribes cultivated crops for centuries.  Before levees, rivers spread out far and wide, yet shallow, with each spring flood depositing yet another layer of rich silt upon those from millennia past. These tribes grew the three sisters of Native American agriculture: corn, squash, and beans.  Growing in the three-sisters style is a great way to teach youngsters or to create a family project that demonstrates much about gardens, climate, and history.

Winter squash benefits from the shelter of the corn and beans.

The Benefits of Three Sisters Gardens

Unlike our farm-row monoculture plantings, three sisters agriculture plants all three crops close together on a single mound of earth. First, the corn is sown, germinates, and produces a young stalk.  Next, the beans are sown next to the corn to climb that stalk.  Like other legumes, beans fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to fertilize the heavy -feeding corn.  Winter squash is third, which benefits from the shelter of the corn and beans while the large squash leaves shade soil to keep root zone temperatures lower under each mound.

This easy backyard garden project is adaptable to different size spaces by adjusting the mound’s dimensions. It can be just 18″ in diameter for small spaces or for large gardens go up to four feet with proportionately more plants.  While irrigating with drip systems, some like to create a depression in the center of the mound that allows for an occasional deep watering ideal for hot dry days.

In the riverbank Indian villages, they saved bones and other leftovers from their fish preparation to fertilize the mounds. The heads, bones, fins, and organs were buried deep into the mound to decompose there and release important nutrients throughout the growing season.

Creating a Three Sisters Garden

Buffalo Bird Woman of the Hidatsa tribe.

When creating your own mounds, blend in generous amounts of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend to increase humus levels and overall fertility.  To boost microbe and micronutrient content work Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend into the surface soil where the seeds will be sown.  In lieu of fish heads, which attract pests, install pockets of fertilizer deep within the soil mound where roots can find them for long-term availability to the plants.

Virtually any corn, squash or climbing beans can be used, but heirloom varieties of these American plants will be closer to those grown by the Indians. In the west explore Native Seed/SEARCH online for rare strains grown by tribes in the desert and northern Mexico.  These are the original three sisters varieties developed by Pueblo farmers, but those heirlooms grown by tribes in the north and east are adapted to shorter growing seasons.

bookThe river gardens were closely protected during the growing season by tribal members who kept a sharp eye out for marauding wildlife or theft. Often young women sat upon an elevated platform for a better view of the field and sang while watching for stealthy young men who’d steal the fresh ears to cook for themselves, and in the process, many marriages found their start amidst the “sisters”.

Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden is a reprint of the 1917 book that documents the Hidatsa tribal gardens on the Missouri River flood plain. In this personal account, you will learn everything about the gardens and the role of women within them.  Most of all we learn from Buffalo Bird Woman just how intimate these indigenous people were with their crops:  “We cared for our corn in those days as we would care for a child; for we Indian people loved our gardens, just as a mother loves her children; and we thought that our growing corn liked to hear us sing, just as children like to hear their mother sing to them.”

Three Sisters On The Mound

indian cornSister #1 Maize   Any kind of corn grows this way but heirloom varieties are shorter with strong stout stalks.  If you find decorative Indian corn in the store and love the color, save those ears in a cool dry place to plant in your three sisters garden next year.  Order Indian corn seed online for the widest selection, particularly the new Glass Gem popcorn.  Small mound: 4 or 5 seeds 6″ apart.


Bean Diversity3Sister #2 Beans   For this growing method use standard climbing beans.  Most indigenous tribes grew beans for drying and winter storage, but any green bean that climbs is fine.  Small mound:  4  beans close enough to corn for easy climbing.



Navajo Tail SquashSister #3 Squash  Winter squash were harvested, sliced, strung onto sticks and dried in the open air before storage.  Stick with one variety to avoid cross-pollination.  Small mound:  2 seeds, one on each side of the mound.