Monday 16 August 2010


Beans are one of the plot staples -- I grow them every year, devoting one of my 6 raised beds to them throughout the Summer and early Autumn, and I never regret it. Some years we get a surplus, despite feeding family and friends, and I freeze any that we cannot use within a week or two of harvesting. By the way, when keeping veg in the fridge we always use those green "Stayfresh" bags that keep produce fresh for ages. We have found them to be very effective. We buy them from Lakeland Plastics.

Usually I grow a selection of different types of bean -- always some Runners (my favourite is Aintree, but this year I am also trying a new variety called St.George which has the added advantage of having really attractive red-and-white flowers).

Runner Bean -- St.George

Also, I always grow a climbing French Bean called Cobra, which is very reliable and produces enormous pods which stay succulent even when they get big.

Each year I try something new as well. Last year I had some climbing Borlotto Beans called "Lingua di Fuoco" [Fire-tongue]. I harvested them young, using them in the same way as Runners, and they were nice. However, in the Autumn when clearing away the old haulms (bean plants) I found a few pods that I had missed earlier on. They were fully mature and the pods had gone brown and papery. I saved the seeds and dried them in the airing cupboard. The sum total of this particular harvest was about half a jam-jar full. In the Spring (I forget exactly when) I made these dried beans into a Mexican-inspired dish with lots of Chipotle chilli and a spoonful of molasses. The dish turned out a bit like Boston Beans. It was absolutely delicious. So this year I am growing Borlotto Beans again, but this time I will leave them ALL to mature. Let's hope they are as good as last year's ones.

Borlotto on the left, Runners on the right

I am also trying a climbing bean called Italian Gold. Guess what colour they are?! They got off to a really bad start. I couldn't get any of them to germinate, and I think I had to re-sow 3 times. Eventually I got about 3 or 4 plants, but they were really "weedy" and didn't look as if they would come to anything. They have just produced the first pods, and I have to say whilst they look very attractive, I don't think they will produce a very big yield.

Cobra on the left, Italian Gold in the centre and Aintree top right

I also have some dwarf French Beans in pots (3 or 4 to a 30cm pot). These are a variety called Delinel, which produces small slim pale green pods. I have one batch of 3 pots which is probably past its best now, although they are producing a small second flush of pods. I also have another batch of 3 pots which I sowed some weeks later. They are producing their first flowers now, so the pods will be ready in about a fortnight or so. To be honest, I only really sow the dwarf beans as a bit of an insurance policy -- in the last couple of years I have had terrible problems with Vine Weevil larvae attacking my bean seedlings just after planting out, and I have had to re-sow more than once. Having a few beans in pots makes them that much easier to look after. This year, incidentally, I bought some Vine Weevil-killing nematodes called Nemasys, which I applied to all the raised beds in April. It has alleviated the problem, but not eliminated it. I will have another try next year, making sure that the soil is really damp when I apply them, since I have read that this is critical -- the nematodes die if the soil is too dry.



Finally, let's not forget the Broad Beans. These are my favourite vegetable -- OK, ONE of my favourite vegetables, especially when they are in season in my own garden. I cannot afford the space for many, but I usually squeeze in two rows (one each of 2 different varieties, to extend the cropping period), each with about 16 -18 plants. This gives us enough beans to serve two people about 6 times in total. Not much you might say, but the quality is what counts. Shop-bought beans are always limp and flabby, probably over-mature since they are sold by weight, and almost certainly over-priced!

This year I had varieties called Express and Jubilee Hysor, both spring-sown types.

Broad beans -- with dwarf beans in pots in front

Broad beans lurking in the baqckground behind some chillis...

A couple of weeks ago I found some "interlopers" in the bean patch: there is obviously one plant of the climbing bean called "Hunter" in there somewhere, because it has produced some pods which I have identified as such. I didn't sow any Hunter beans though. Presumably a seed of Hunter crept into a packet of something else by mistake?

Climbing Bean - Hunter

Finally, this is what I think are the keys to success with growing beans:-

1. Sow seeds in modules or small pots. They can be more easily managed this way -- for instance you can sow earlier than would be the case if you sowed directly into the soil. You can keep them under cover when necessary, and if there is a chance of a late frost you can always take the pots indoors. Sow twice as many as you think you will need. You can give them away later if you find they are not required.
2. Provide tall and very strong support. I use 8-foot bamboo canes, but I have to admit that sometimes I wish I had something stronger available. A full stand of climbing beans produces a lot of wind-resistance. Last year mine collapsed in a gale, and I had to hurriedly re-erect it, providing "First Aid" with a couple of lengths of washing line tied to a tree and to a fencepost!
3. Provide deep soil, preferably with the benefit of loads of added compost, and keep the soil well-watered. Beans will not set pods if they are too thirsty. The soil in my garden is very sandy, and dries out rapidly in hot weather. In June and early July I had to water with the hosepipe most evenings.
4. Choose varieties suited to your soil. e.g. in my case ones that claim to be "drought-tolerant" would be best.
5. Pick the pods frequently, while they are young and succulent. If you leave them too long the plants will stop producing more pods. (Ignore this of course if you want to grow the beans for drying).

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