There are three different types of beans suited to growing in a temperate climate such as the UK –
Broad (fava) beans
French beans – either Climbing or Dwarf (Pole or Bush)
Broad Beans (Vicia faba) have been grown since ancient times. They are extremely nutritious beans. They are high in protein and are an ideal meat substitute. The expression “feeling full of beans” refers to these beans. The plants are grown for the shelled out immature bean seeds. They are hardier than “French” or Runner beans, and can be autumn or early spring-sown. They grow to approximately 1m tall, and the flowers are usually white with black markings. They can also be grown as a “green manure” (a crop grown to improve the soil structure and fertility), cut down and turned over into the soil before the pods form. Gardeners and farmers who use organic methods of growing appreciate the nitrogen enhancement that these plants give the soil. This will greatly benefit the following crop. All legumes give this benefit – so by growing beans and peas you will be improving your soil at the same time as providing your own food.
“French” or kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are of native American origin, and were introduced into the UK in 1597. More varieties, with their evolved characteristics, were taken to the US and Canada by immigrants from Europe, and, in some cases, have since been lost to their country of origin. We are sourcing them, bringing them back, trialling them, and then offering these wonderful original varieties for you to grow for yourselves. “French” beans are mainly grown for their tender green pods. There are also purple podded varieties, and also yellow pods which tend to crop earlier.
Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) are of south or central American origin, and although known by UK gardeners since the 16th century, the Runner bean was grown exclusively for its scarlet flowers as an ornamental climbing garden plant until the early 19th century. “Dutch runners” are white seeded and white flowered. Runner Beans can be eaten at the green pod stage, left for the seeds to swell and eaten at this stage in the manner of a shelled out Broad Bean, or left to go dry and harvested at the end of the season. These seeds, especially the white-seeded varieties, will be useful for winter use as “butter beans”. They need to be soaked overnight to take up water, and simmered until tender.
Peas (Pisum sativum)
Peas leave a fertile soil too. Many can be eaten fresh green, usually the smaller the more tender. Others are delicious dried, rehydrated and used in winter soups, etc. Some varieties are particularly good when eaten at the whole pod stage (called mangetout or sugar snap). Such is the food value of peas that our helpers have found that just two pods of peas opened and eaten raw have sustained them for an extra half hour of manual labour !