Friday 25 April 2014

The beans have germinated

These days I sow my beans in pots, not directly into the soil. This means that I can protect them better until the danger of frost has passed. Runner Beans in particular seem to respond well to this treatment. They rapidly form a robust root-system so I don't even sow them in individual modules. I put six seeds in a 6-inch pot, and then separate the plants at planting time. Here are the first ones, just germinating:

There's no doubt about the identity of this one, coming up conveniently close to its label!

"Scarlet Empire" is my "bean of choice" these days. I have grown it with good results for three years in a row, and I shall probably continue to do so. However, I'm also very conscious that too much reliance on one single variety is generally a bad thing, so I have also sown some "Red Rum" - again a variety that I have grown several times before. There's no sign of them germinating yet, but I expect they will appear soon. The "Scarlet Empire" that I like so much is a modern derivative of  "Scarlet Emperor", a very old variety much favoured by my father's generation. The new one has pods that are longer and smoother than their ancestor, yet retain the distinctive old-fashioned taste.

I have sown 12 "Scarlet Empire" and 6 "Red Rum", from which I want a total of 10 plants. That gives me a bit of room for manoeuvre in case one or two fail or succumb to bugs. I never sow exactly the number I need; I always have a few spares.

As well as the Runners, I also have some "Cobra" Climbing French Beans, which are at the same stage of development. I only want 8 of these, so I have sown 14 seeds. In my opinion, French Beans are not as nice to eat as Runners, but they are more versatile. I think the Runners only really work well in what I call "British" dishes (yes, I know that is a myth!), whereas French Beans are equally at home with a Chicken and Mushroom pie or an Indonesian Gado-Gado.

"Cobra" Climbing French Beans
Over the years I have tried many different varieties of climbing bean (I remember "Hunter", "Lingua di Fuoco", "Mayflower", "Meriviglia di Venezia" etc, etc), but I keep coming back to "Cobra", which has been consistently good in my garden conditions. It has exceptionally long pods and produces them over a long period. Despite the large size of the pods they never seem to go tough. This is a winner all round.

I have in the past grown Dwarf French Beans too, mostly in containers, but I don't rate them as highly as climbing ones. The fact that they are short means they offer less value-for-space than tall ones. Furthermore, their proximity to the ground means they are much more prone to slug damage. I don't get a lot of problems with slugs, but Dwarf Beans seem to be particularly attractive to those creatures. Another reason I don't grow Dwarf Beans these days is that I want to devote the space to more pots of potatoes and tomatoes.

Changing the subject slightly (though still on climbers), I have given my potted Sweet Peas a bit of help with climbing. People have told me that they will probably not be able to grip the bamboo canes I gave them, so I have provided them with a ring of soft string which encircles the canes:

As the peas grow taller I will add another couple of rings of string as required.


  1. Good luck with your beans. I've been replanning the garden to take the beans out. The question of course is what I grow instead.

  2. Thanks for the idea of soft string for your sweet peas; I have created a contraption with bamboo canes as well and used raffia to attach them individually to the canes. But I think I prefer your method.

  3. I prefer French beans to runner beans, but I'm growing both. I'm growing Cobra too, though my French bean of choice is Blue Lake, they usually do well for me and have a great taste.

  4. I'm growing both too, I'm growing two varieties of climbing French beans this year, I've only grown the dwarf ones in the past,

  5. We always start all our beans in pots. Glad you are giving your sweet peas support - lots of people assume they will grow up canes. probably because those who show sweet peas use canes but they do tie the plants in.

  6. I always start my peas in pots, I did once sow the directly in the ground - uncovered and some beasties got to them :( I need to get my sweet peas into the ground, they are getting leggy, def. will use soft string.

  7. That scarlet empire sounds good, how tall does it grow?

    1. I always pinch out the tips of my beans when they reach the tops of the canes - i.e. at about seven feet - but I'm sure they would grow much taller if I let them.

  8. Great idea. I just might have to try sow some bean seeds in pots today!

  9. I'm so pleased to read this - I'm growing Cobra for the first time this year, and Blue Lake too. I was brought up to respect Scarlet Emperor, but now grow Painted Lady as my runner bean fall back. I sowed these all today, along with my Canadian Wonder for drying beans.


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