Growing French Beans – Expert Advice
Growing French Beans
Now that fresh French beans have become something all the celebrity chefs use regularly in recipes, they are even more worthwhile growing your own. Dwarf and climbing forms are available, and both may be useful depending on the space you have available. There is a large number of dwarf varieties; you will obviously want to select for flavour and cropping ability, but within these categories it is well worth looking for the labour-saving stringless types. Most varieties have green pods; some are yellow, some are spotted, and others are purple (but turn dark green when cooked).
When you are growing French beans, they can be sown in the main plot from March to April if they are protected with cloches which have been in position for a few weeks to warm the ground. Alternatively, they may be sown without protection from late April to May; these later dates should be followed in northern gardens and, in the south, if the weather is colder than usual.
Owing to their size, the beans are easy to sow individually by dibbing holes 40-50 mm (1-1/2 – 2 in) deep and about 100 mm (4 in) apart. After sowing, fill in the holes and lightly firm the . It is usual to sow in double, staggered rows, about 200-250 mm (8-10 in) apart, but blocks of plants may be sown with the same spacings to make beds 1.5-2 m (5 – 6-1/2 ft) square using the dwarf varieties.
Climbing varieties are sown at the same intervals but, as they will need the support of canes or netting to climb up, rows are more practical. Successional sowings at intervals of a few weeks will help to extend the cropping season. Sow a few extra beans at the row ends in case of failures, and transplant as necessary.
French beans will grow in a wide range of soils, but thrive best if the soil has been enriched the previous autumn with plenty of compost well dug in; they prefer a moist, sunny ate. Keep the bed weed-free, and water it in dry weather. Crops planted early under cloches should be ventilated regularly until they are hardened off; the cloches should then be removed. Tunnel cloches are best for these crops.
When you are growing French beans, you are well to harvest as soon as the first pods are long enough to provide a meal; and regular cropping encourages the development of more pods. After the harvest is over remove the plant stems and leaves but dig in the nitrogen-rich roots.
Usually disease-free, French beans are sometimes troubled by blackfly, which can be controlled with dimethoate or other insecticides.
Recommended varieties: All the following are stringless and suitable for freezing; the colours refer to the pods
DWARF: ‘Flair’, green, early; ‘Kinghorn Wax’, yellow, fine flavour; ‘Pros Gitana’, green, freeze whole; ‘Royalty’, purple, excellent flavour; ‘Tendergreen’, green, early
CLIMBING: ‘Blue Lake White Seeded’, green, good flavour; ‘Violet Podded Stringless’, purple, fine flavour.
Canadian Wonder, an old variety, strong upright grower, pods about 6-1/2 in. long. Buy seeds from a reputable firm.
Fcltham Prolific, slender, straight pods; use when 4 in. long. Good for sowing early under cloches.
Granda, a white-seeded variety, with medium green pods.
Masterpiece, good cropper of excellent quality, suitable for forcing.
Mont d’Or, a little-used, golden-podded variety; delicious fleshy beans.
Phoenix Claudia, the really stringless variety; pods are light green and 5 in. long. Not a very heavy cropper.
The Prince, a dwarfer type of bean, with pods often 9 in. long. Produces prolifically and early.
Tender Green, fleshy, tasty pods 7 in. long; sturdy plants, early and prolific.
There are two or three climbing varieties of french beans which should not be confused with runner beans. They are more suitable for growing in the greenhouse in the late winter or early spring. The best is perhaps Jersey Runner, which has abundant narrow, fleshy pods about 7 in. long.
Soil: Most types, enriched; moist
Sow: March-April under clothes; late April-May unprotected
Harvest: As soon as first beans ready; then regularly