Bush beans, pole beans, green beans, dried beans. what is with all these beans?
If you are looking for a crop that provides the widest range of variables, then you need to look at beans. Most beans are from the Phaseolus vulgaris family with a few exceptions and are in my opinion one of the most easy crops to grow in a garden. I remember way back in 1st grade, we planted beans in a milk carton and watched them grow into fledgling little fellows and then took them home and planted them in the garden and low and behold a few weeks later, I was eating what I had sowed.
Generally, we look at the two main types of beans, bush and pole. Bush beans are low growing and prolific producers of large crop in a short time frame with smaller crops throughout the season. Pole beans are voracious climbers, with the ability to grow to heights of 7 feet and more when properly trellised. Pole beans offer their harvest a little later than bush beans but provide a steady yield throughout the remainder of the season.
As with most garden vegetables, beans prefer full sun and a well drained soil. Germinating temperature for most beans is between 75 and 85 degrees F. The best growing temperature is between 60-65 degrees F. Beans are not high consumers of nitrogen, so they will do well in poorer soils than other crops that are high nitrogen feeders, Plant beans with the "eye" (dark spot of the bean) down and about 1 inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart (9 per square for bush and 8 per square for pole if you are into the Square Foot Gardening method, which I recommend for beginners). Keep the beans well watered during the 1 to 2 week germination period and then water when soil moisture is about 1 inch below the soil surface.
Now, let's talk about snap beans, shell beans, and dry beans. This really is nothing more than the beans stage of maturity. Snap beans (green beans, fillet beans) are best harvested before the get any larger than 3/8 inch in diameter with filet beans being most tender the smaller they are. If you wait too long your beans will be tough and not as sweet. Shell beans are best harvested when bean pods look swollen and you can distinguish the individual beans through the pod. Finally, dry beans are harvested at the end of the growing period when the plant is fully matured and dry, dry beans need to be completely dry to properly store, so be sure to provide good circulation before harvesting and especially afterwards and before storing them.
There are also other types of beans; runner beans, yard long beans, fava beans, and edamame (soy beans). These are some interesting variations of beans and I recommend that once you get the basic bush bean figured out that you go ahead and try your hand at these varieties too.
If you want to experience a successful gardening foray, then beans are the crop for you.