Wednesday, 7 May 2014

What's wrong with my beans?

Beans are an important staple in my veg-patch. It would be a disaster if they failed - especially the Runners! Unfortunately, I am very conscious that this year's beans are not normal. More than anything else, their colour is wrong. Their leaves are much paler and yellower than usual. Look at these:-

Climbing French Bean "Cobra"

Runner Bean "Scarlet Empire"

The shape and overall condidtion of those beans is OK, but the leaves are just not green enough, although I am relieved to see that over the last few days they have gone a bit less yellow - though this is probably because I gave them a dose of general-purpose liquid feed. I wonder what can be the reason for these pale leaves. I suspect it might be a compost-related issue, and that the compost I used (Westland multi-purpose) has inappropriate or insufficient nutrients in it. I am not particularly conscious of what compost I use for what plants, so it is difficult for me to correlate issues like this to the compost used, and anyway all my other seeds seem to have done OK.

Apart from the colour problems, there have been big problems with germination rates. The "Scarlet Empire" ones all germinated OK, (10 plants from 10 seeds)  but the others ("Red Rum") have fared much worse. I sowed only 5 seeds in a single pot, from which I wanted four plants. I didn't anticipate any problems, since Runner Beans normally all germinate, and I reckoned that one spare would be enough. But only four beans germinated, and only one of those is even approaching useable (even this one is tiny and weak):


Runners usually form two large single leaves first, on opposing sides of the main stem, before branching-out with triple leaves like the one seen above. [See the second photo in this post for normal-style plants.] Very strange...

The others have come up "blind" - in other words they don't have a proper growing-point, only an abbreviated stump of stem:


I am absolutely sure that this is not slug damage, by the way. The plants are just deformed. They were very slow in germinating anyway, and before they had even come up I feared the worst and sowed another batch of 5. Only one germinated and this one is very weak and spindly (though at least it has green leaves!).
In desperation I have sowed a third batch, but I don't hold out any great hope of success. It looks as if I will be growing just "Scarlet Empire" this year.

Talking of which, the "Scarlet Empire" have produced an aberration too -  a couple of them have developed two stems from a single bean:




The "Cobra" Climbing French Beans have also germinated very erratically. My pots of these had six seeds in each. Look at the difference in these six:-


The one nearest the white label is very tiny and doesn't look as if it intends to grow any bigger; there is one only just emerging from the compost (at the 10-o-clock position), and the one in the centre looks as if it is going to produce two stems, just like those Runners. Normally the first leaf appears between the splitting two halves of the seed, but this one seems to have a second leaf coming up from down below:


A factor in all of the above may be that the seeds were not fresh. Both types were from 3-year-old packs. This is not unusual though; I often keep seeds for at least that long and have seldom experienced poor germination with Runner Beans or French Beans. I don't know what to make of the situation. It may be just "a bad year for beans", beyond my control, but wouldn't it be nice to know??? The really frustrating thing is that this year I deliberately sowed fewer bean seeds because in the past I have ended up with far too many plants and had to give lots of them away!

24 comments:

  1. I've got similar bean growth issues. Can't put my finger on what's happening.

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  2. I wish I could help. But I'd try a different compost to see if that helps. It might be contaminated with something bad for beans. Your Cobra has spots on it, which is never good this early in the bean's life. I have quite a few bean diseases here (not that I know what they all are), but they don't show up until the plant gets a lot older.

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  3. Check to make sure they get enough sun, add perlite to soil to improve drainage (they don't like being wet) and add fish fertilizer to help with Nitrogen

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  4. I'm betting that it's to do with the compost. It's funny how the leaves are less yellow after you've given them a general purpose feed. I don't think compost has enough nutrients in it these days, especially reading the comments I got from other bloggers on my tomato post recently. It seems that there are many of us struggling to get some decent seedlings going. I'm relieved to see my beans doing ok, but these weren't sown in the same compost as that which I'd potted my tomatoes in. I think it's pot luck these days whether the compost you buy is any good or not.

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  5. Mine are looking fine touch wood, though they were newly bought seed apart from the broad beans & some of them came up blind. I've fed mine as I thought they were slow in developing, I suspect it is the compost, it does seem very hit & miss these days.

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  6. I think you solved the problem with the pale green leaves - definitely lack of nutrients. As concerned poor germination it might be the weather. We had large quantity of rain and temperature drops. I had the same problem but they germinated eventually and are already 20 cm tall. I thought they will never come out, but they did. So, be patient.

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  7. At first I thought overwatering but that doesn't account for the peculiarities. It is a mystery. Mine have been slow to germinate and I sowed a second batch just in case - my seed is in its third year too - and except for a hungry slug having a chomp they seem ok so far.

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  8. It's a shame this happened the year you decided not to over-compensate for germination rates!! To me it certainly seems like the seeds have gone bad. The first plant I ever grew was a broad bean, stupidly from a packet of on sale 15p seeds. They germinated but what I didn't realise at the time was that they were small and deformed (having never grown them previously) and the seeds didn't give them enough sustenance past a certain point and they started to die (then of course I fertilised them and over did it). So it seems very similar with your current beans. Maybe just use no seeds older than 2 years in future to avoid this?

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  9. this is a bad news mate. I wish you to solve the problem hoping that the better plants will continue to be as they are at the moment!

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  10. Have the beans grown quicker than usual. Beans have their own store of nutrients in the 'seed' which remains attached to the shoot. If they have used up this supply before the root system has developed enough to take up nutrients from the compost they could just be 'hungry'. If this is the case they should grow out of it. Otherwise it could be down to cold. wet conditions. Slow germination could be down to the weather.

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    1. Should have added the first seed leaves could have rotted with the seed - hence the stumps.

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  11. I haven't grown any from seed this year but I did buy some plug plants recently and some of those are turning yellow on me even though I only planted them a few days ago!

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  12. You've already seen my lonely bean on facebook, Mark, so I don't need to repeat my tale of woe! Did you see the Which report this year on composts? Very interesting comparisons with vast differences between different composts. Their best buy peat free is New Horizon which I bought on special offer at Morrisons - (buy 2, get a 3rd free) and I always use J Arthur Bower's seed & cutting compost as it comes out top every year. With my beans, I'm sure the seeds have had it, they're the only crop that hasn't germinated. You'll have to let us know how you get on with your beans, at least it seems you have a couple that will be okay.

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  13. Too much water? and prolong wetness.

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  14. I think your right about it being a compost issue Mark with lack of nutrients. With the demise of peat being used in compost these days lots of other "compostables" are being added. I've even noticed bits of plastic/polythene in some composts along with woodchip etc. Can't be good for the plants.

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  15. I wish I could help Mark...but my beans haven't even popped up into the light so I'm hardly the expert.
    I'm thinking it's just not warm enough here yet but there again??? :/
    Good luck with solving the problem.

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  16. Not a single Wisley Magic runner bean came up for me. Scarlet Emperor has done very well. French beans nothing...

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  17. My goodness, my beans look exactly the same as yours...even down to coming up with just a stump! I never have trouble with French or runners, but this year they are dismal...
    Great blog :)

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  18. I think it is generally a bad year for beans, judging by the comments on this post!

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  19. Have you had cold temps? In my raised beds with an artificial soil mix, my beans are jaundiced like yours every year. I don't plant them until first week of June to be sure of good germination, and I always use an inoculant. But they start off yellowish and do not green up until temps get consistently 75F/24C. I get good crops every year. My theory is that the nitrogen-fixing bacteria do not get going until soil temps warm up.

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    1. The temps here have not been especially cold - about 7-10C at night and 13-19C during the day - and I always sow beans in these conditions and don't usually get any problems. I am more than ever convinced that the problem is caused by poor compost.

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  20. This is my first year growing veg, I've planted french dwarf beans, but I think they're struggling because our soil is clay. I'm just watching and hoping :)
    I think compost is problematic, I filled 2 grow bags last year and my plants went extremely yellow. I was dosing them up on epsom salts every day, but if the soil is poor you're fighting a losing battle I think.
    I thought I had bought better quality this year, but my grow bag plants are yellowing again. More epsom salts I suppose.

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  21. Hello Mark, I'd love to know if your beans picked up in the end, and if you got a decent crop.
    I've found your blog Googling this very problem, worried I won't get any.
    And so very glad I did, as your blog looks a great read! I'm going to have a wander around it now :)
    My problem might be that I'm growing celery in the gap between the poles...due to lack of space and too many plants! The celery is absolutely fantastic, but the beans pale green and just not climbing. Otherwise, they look healthy enough. I know celery is "greedy" for nutrients and water too, so perhaps just a bad raised-bed marriage?

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    1. Hi Judy; No the beans never came to much last year - a very poor crop. I definitely blame the contaminated compost. This year they are looking much better. I never grow anything in amongst my beans because they are greedy feeders and they block out the light. Maybe just a couple of lettuces at the ends of the rows? Anyway, I'd concentrate on the positives and give yourself a pat on the back for growing some fantastic celery!

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