November is a time to start taking stock of the year gone by and think about how to make changes to the year ahead. It is also a time when the majority of crops have been harvested, and most winter storage crops have been brought in to keep us going through to spring. One of the best crops to store over winter are drying beans. There is a huge diversity of beans that can be grown to dry, many of which are dual purpose, so can be eaten fresh or dried. One of our favourites to grow is the Gigantes bean which grows and looks much like a runner bean, but the beans within the pod bulk up and resemble butter beans. They come from the mountainous regions of Northern Greece and so grow well in our cool damp climate! In terms of growing, treat them just the same as runner beans—sowing at the end of April inside and planting out mid-May, or sowing direct outdoors around mid-late May. The plants can be grown up wigwams or strings, spaced around 30cm away from each other.
The other perhaps more familiar drying bean to try if you haven’t tried growing them before is the borlotti bean. We grow the variety Lamon which seems to be particularly productive. We grow them in a similar way to the Gigantes, but space them a little closer at around 20cm apart. Other interesting varieties to try include Bridgwater, Pea beans and Bird’s egg No. 3. Good places to buy bean seed are from Real Seeds and check out the huge variety from Beans & Herbs.
The nicest way to eat many of these drying beans is to get them when they are semi-dry (when the beans inside have swelled up and the pods start to change colour a little). Eating them this way means they are lovely and creamy. If you are drying them, leave them on the plants for as long as possible before the weather turns too wet and miserable, then harvest them and bring them inside to a warm dry place to dry further. If the pods are fairly wet when harvested it is usually best to pod them as soon as possible and dry them out of the pods. To use them through the winter just soak the beans overnight and then boil for 30-40 minutes until tender, or add to stews. If you are growing the drying beans from the french bean family (Phaseolus) they can also be resown the following year and come true to type, which is an added bonus. This will even work if you grow a few varieties nearby to one another. This won’t work if you try to save Gigantes beans and you have runner beans growing nearby as they cross-pollinate, so you may come out with something unexpected if you try sowing them, but could be worth a try still if it’s just for yourself!
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Not a lot! We have made all of our sowings by now, and will start tentatively with a few sowings again in January, but nothing else before then.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Garlic (if not planted already)
INSIDE: peashoots, sugarsnap and early pea varieties, spring onions, broad beans, garlic (for extra early garlic)
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: If the weather dries, continue preparing beds for the winter by mulching with compost. Don’t be tempted to tidy up too much, as old crops and flowers act as a habitat for many beneficial insects. Start going through your winter job list – whether its cleaning glasshouses or polytunnels, tidying up your propagating area, cleaning and oiling your tools or even looking through seed catalogues for a bit of inspiration for next year!