How to Grow Pinto Beans

These low-maintenance, nitrogen-fixing beans are your new garden staple.

Harvested Speckled Pinto Beans
KAdams66 / Getty Images

Pinto beans are the most popular dried bean in the United States. One hundred million pounds of the speckled pinto beans are imported into Texas alone, a quantity that conjures visions of plentiful cauldrons filled with fiery chili. Consider featuring home-grown beans as your secret advantage in the next chili cooking contest. If you have a large enough space to grow a serviceable quantity, pinto beans can be a delicious staple for your self-reliant homestead to enjoy year-round in healthful soups, refried beans, burritos, and other dishes.

String Beans vs. Pinto Beans

String beans and pinto beans are very closely related. The seed-breeder’s goal for string bean varietals is to have a tender, fleshy pod. The focus for pinto—and other beans used for drying—is to have as many plump seeds as possible.

How to Plant Pinto Beans

Planting beans is simple and satisfying enough to be used for kids’ science projects: The beans are easy to handle, absorb moisture, and germinate quickly, and then pop up a large, recognizable leaf. 

Choose a location that is protected from excess wind and where beans have not been grown in the past three or four rotations. A grain cover crop like rye can precede beans, for example. You will need a fairly large space for your crop to “amount to a hill of beans,” as the saying goes. The growers at the Seed Ambassador Project calculated that they harvested 940 pounds of dried beans from their 24 rows of 200 feet each, which translates to roughly 20 pounds per 100 feet row. 

Legumes like pinto beans are excellent companion plants to corn, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, and more, as they fix nitrogen in the soil for their neighbors to use, but they do not get along well with onions or garlic.

Companion planting, also known as intercropping, recognizes that different plants give and take diverse nutrients with the soil and/or exchange other benefits with their neighbors. For example, in three sisters gardening, the corn provides a trellis for the climbing beans, which fix nitrogen in the soil, while the squash leaves shade the roots of the corn and beans and block weeds.

Growing From Seed

Once soil temperatures reach about 60 degrees F, beans should be planted directly in the soil, about 1-2 inches deep, with the "eye" facing down, and about 4-6 inches apart in 21-30 inch rows. While they do benefit from good air circulation, pinto bean plants may be less productive when planted below the recommended density.

Because legumes add nitrogen to the soil, they are more effective when seeds are treated with specific bacteria when planted. These bacteria help roots form the nodules that deliver nitrogen to the soil and neighboring plants. At planting time, presoak beans and then roll them in inoculant or sprinkle inoculant into the soil when sowing the seeds.

Pinto beans do best when planted directly in the soil, so unless you have an extremely short growing season, starting indoors is not recommended.

Pinto Bean Care

Beans are low-maintenance crops, but monitor regularly for pests and for water pooling around plant roots.

Light, Soil, and Nutrients

Pinto beans grow best in full sunlight. Avoid soil with too little iron and too much phosphorous, especially in alkaline soils, soil with poor drainage, or locations with a notable slope.

Water

Bean plant roots are fairly shallow and will absorb most of their water from the top 18 inches of soil. Shallow soil, with hardpan or clay underneath, should not be over-watered, as beans that have excess water around their roots are susceptible to diseases. Water regularly through vegetative and flowering phases, then cutting off irrigation as the bean pods begin to fill out, because the plant will no longer be taking up water. Do not apply overhead watering in the evening, as moisture that accumulates on leaves can attract diseases.

Temperature and Humidity

Pinto beans, like other beans, are not frost-tolerant and prefer warm soil for germination. Their later development can be stunted by extremely hot weather.

Common Pests and Diseases

Monitor your beans for their typical pests and pathogens. Since pests can more easily find large areas of a single, desirable plant, try interplanting or creating a border with a trap crop such as nasturtiums. Bean leaf beetle, whiteflies, and stinkbugs are commonly known for bothering planted beans; mold rust can also severely damage the plants and reduce yields. Mold can be addressed with a foliar fungicide.

Pinto Bean Varieties

There are roughly four types of pinto bean plants: determinate bush varietals, upright indeterminate, climbing/pole indeterminate, and prostrate indeterminate. The terms "determinate" and "indeterminate" are most often used to describe tomato varieties, but they also apply to beans.

What Are Determinate and Indeterminate Plants?

Determinate means that a plant's flowers bloom and fruits set consecutively, and then the plant is done. Indeterminate plants can continue to make more blooms while fruit is ripening. It is more efficient to harvest from determinate plants, but indeterminate plants have a longer fruiting season and often a higher yield overall.

Upright varietals are easiest to harvest by machine, but trellised pole beans are easiest on a gardener’s back and knees. Prostrate types require no trellising but are susceptible to fungal diseases in wet weather.

  • Hopi Black: Excellent for drier lands, these bushy pole beans have been grown by Hopi farmers in northern Arizona for centuries. They grow colorful pods that reveal black-and-cream-colored beans.
  • Alubia Pinta Alavesa: This dark red speckled pinto bean with a buttery texture comes from the province of Álava in the Basque Country (Euskadi), where is it celebrated each fall with its own fair. 

How to Harvest, Store, and Preserve Pinto Beans

Beans are ready to harvest when the pods are yellow to tan in color, dry, and just starting to crack open. Pick them before the plant succeeds in popping seeds out and into the soil. Determinate plants can be uprooted and hung up to dry. For indeterminate varietals, pick the pods and lay them on a tarp or screen to finish drying. 

Threshing beans, crushing the dry pods, can be done by wrapping the pods in a tarp or a pillowcase and stomping on them or by popping them open by hand and then blowing away the debris. Check for bugs and ugly beans before storing.

Dried beans should be stored in a clean, airtight container at a cool temperature. Canning your own cooked beans should only be done with a pressure canner.

View Article Sources
  1. "Texas Commercial Vegetable Growers Guide: Pinto Beans." Agriculture Program Of The Texas A&M University System, 2002.

  2. Kandel, Hans et al. "Dry Bean Production Guide." North Dakota State University Extension, 2019.