There are two kinds of beans: pole (vines) and bush. We grow both. All need full sun, and regular waterings (keep the soil moist). Sow seeds directly into the ground immediately after the last Spring frost. They sprout very quickly (5-10 days). Don't start indoors ahead of time because they don't really transplant very well.
Pic of pole string beans to the right.
Pole beans need support, like corn stalks or along a fence. Most will climb it up but some might need help from you by tying the stalk. These are the beans to grow if you want a steady harvest all Summer long. From seed to first harvest, is 9 weeks. Look for unusual places to plant your bean vines - at the bottom of your porch to climb up the porch railings, with your corn plants, along a tree (how wonderful to pick green beans "off of your tree"!).
Bush beans work well in a square foot raised bed garden - try a 4 foot by 8 foot bed, planting 9 per square foot. This will give you 288 bushes in that bed, providing plenty of beans for your 4-person family. From seed to harvest, is 8 weeks. It will look a little crowded, but if it looks too messy for you, tie up the bush to contain it.... will do just fine.
Soybeans are bush beans (see pic to the right). Watch for the foliage to start turning yellow which means it's almost time to harvest! You have only a few day window to harvest before the beans get a little too tough. Check daily. When most of the foliage is yellow, harvest. We pull up the plant, carefully strip off the pods, and throw the bush into the compost pile.
Black turtle beans (also bush beans) are fun! You can eat the pod and bean when they are still green. But watch for the pods to turn purple and then dried, which indicates that the actual bean inside is turning black. Wait for the pod to completely dry out (but not too long!), bring inside and place in a collander with a cover on it. As the rest of the moisture escapes, the pods will burst open, like popcorn! We learned this the hard way, awaking one morning to little black bean pods all over the dining room table and floor!
For preserving or cooking with beans, check out http://www.survival-cooking.com/.