Whatever time of year you go to a restaurant, there seem to be French beans on the plate somewhere. To me they taste best fresh from the plant, full of natural sugars and minerals.
French beans like it warm and moist, the soil really has to be at full summer heat for them to flourish. Planting in late May or early June is best, as they grow away strongly and shrug off the slugs. Planting earlier than this so often ends in disappointment.
A first decision is whether to plant dwarf beans or climbing ones. Dwarf varieties are easy to grow and need slightly less moisture. Their bean pods get soiled and are prone to slug attack, whereas climbing varieties are much easier to pick, and are a pleasing spectacle in the garden. They need an 8 foot bamboo frame to climb and take slightly longer to bean up. We put up our bamboo wigwams in March, so that it looks like something is happening in the garden. And put a bucketful of compost in the centre, to both mulch and feed the beans.
All French beans tend to have a huge first flowering and crop for about six weeks, after which there is a lull and only a small further fruiting. So if you want a continuous supply of beans you should, as with runner beans, make a second sowing in early July, perhaps after a crop of lettuce. Follow your first crop in mid to late August with oriental winter salad or garlic.
Keeping the soil moist at flowering time will help the flowers set seed, as will correct spacing. A lush quantity of organic matter also helps. Dwarf beans should be spaced 15 to 18” apart, I grow my climbing beans up 3 foot diameter wigwams and space them 15” apart. If you plant closer than this you will, as with broad and runner beans, get masses of leaf but less actual beans.
Picking beans regularly also prolongs cropping. It’s very easy to miss some, so growing yellow beans can help you find them. Sonesta is a good yellow dwarf, and Neckargold a good climber. Or Purple Teepee is a good dwarf, and Blsuhilde a good climbing purple variety with purple flowers, and also easier to spot on the plant.
An interesting climbing variety is Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco, variously mis-spelt in the catalogues. It has very sweet tasting flat pods, even when picked large. If left on the plant, they ripen to a beautiful striped yellow and red pod. The beans are delicious fresh in salads, or can be dried as haricots. This makes it a good second crop, as any missed bean can be left on the plant to ripen into late autumn.
And how do you get to have a bubble bath? Eat lots of beans for supper.
(For those readers who read my January article on rock dust, and its huge benefits to both human and plant health when scattered on the soil, Brimsmore Garden Centre 01935 411000. now stock it. For more info. see www.seercentre.org.uk.)