However large or small your garden, patio or balcony, give beans a try ! Every year we grow a lot of beans, especially French beans, and some we grow in large buckets. They need daily watering, but we are always rewarded with a great crop. Believe me, they want to feed you !
If you have time, prepare your patch the previous autumn with well rotted compost – just a small amount forked in. If not, don’t worry. Plant your beans anyway. They need to be mainly in a sunny site, and as long as they get sufficient water throughout the season, they will always do their best for you, and they are not fussy growers. There are growing instructions on each of our seed packets. The following notes are extra tips.
CLIMBING BEANS AND DWARF BEANS
Never be tempted to sow seeds too early. Late is good. They soon catch up anyway. The last week in May is a good time to sow French beans and then only if the weather seems to be warming up and the night temperature is not falling so much. These are warm weather beans and will not tolerate frost. The trick is to start them off in pots and get them ready to transplant out in their final growing positions just as soon as there is no further likelihood of frost in your area. This generally means sowing singly in 7cm pots in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill during May. If you have a plug-in heated propagator, you are likely to get really excellent germination (but still start the seeds off at the end of May). Keep the soil damp but do not overwater. If starting off in a greenhouse, make sure that mice cannot dig the seeds up and eat them before they have had time to germinate. Cover the pots in a way that lets light and air in, but keeps mice out! Horticultural fleece is good as it can be tucked under the pots and watering can take place through the fleece. Once the second pair of leaves have appeared and there is a good root system, it is time to ‘harden off’ your plants. Put them outside during the day and bring them in at night for about four days/nights. Finally, transplant them out in their rows and tie lightly to tall canes (short canes for Dwarf beans). Preferably do this in the early morning and water them in well. For the next few weeks water in the early mornings only, using a fine rose on the watering can. Soak the roots, not the leaves. Try really hard not to drip any water on the leaves.
Some varieties eventually get too tall even for their tall canes. You can then pinch out (cut off) the growing tips. This will encourage pod formation.
If you prefer to plant your climbing beans in a circle, rather than a row, erect a ’tepee’ with the canes tied together at the top.
If you are harvesting at the tender green bean stage, pick carefully using both hands. Pick often as this will encourage more beans to form.
A tip to avoid slug damage
This is a bit more trouble but if you are fed up with slugs taking your plants –
Take plants out of their 7cm pots and place in 13cm pots with a bit of extra compost. Put a short cane in each. Grow the beans to the stage where they are just starting to twist around the canes. At this point carefully transplant outside without disturbing the beans or the canes. Erect tall canes by the side of each bean plant and encourage the beans to move on next to the tall canes. Tie lightly. Water early in the morning – not in the evening – for the first few weeks. The plants will grow fast to above slug level.
If you are growing Climbing Beans, make sure they are well supported. The supporting canes or poles need to be strong and very firmly in the ground. It is important to think ahead about this because the crop can be very heavy just when the first autumn winds start.
If possible, keep beans well watered throughout the season. If there is a dry spell, it is a good idea to soak the ground round the roots and then mulch the ground, that is, cover the bean roots with grass clippings, for example, to keep the moisture in. The bean pods stay tender if this is done. This is especially true of Runner Beans, which can become dry, withered and curled if not given adequate water.
If you are growing unusual heritage or heirloom varieties of French beans, please also visit our page Seed Saving
Some Broad Beans are particularly suited to sowing in October / November for harvesting the following year. They grow a bit and then stay more or less the same height throughout the winter. When spring comes they grow on again.
Super Aquadulce is an autumn-growing variety. Damage from blackfly is less apparent in autumn-grown Broad Beans. Other varieties, such as Witkiem, can be sown in early spring in small pots first and then transplanted outside. If blackfly is a problem, pinch out (cut off) the growing tips of the plants as soon as the first few sets of beans have started to form at the bottom of the plant.
Peas are usually sown directly into the ground in 15cm wide trenches. Sow 5cm deep. Put twigs in the ground for their tendrils to cling to. Black thread can be wound round the twigs to deter birds.
Peas that have round seeds are usually hardier and sown earlier in the year than the wrinkled variety. If you have bought a tall variety of pea, you will need tall bushy twigs or pea netting for supports. Tie the plants in lightly with string. Water peas well, especially when the first pods are forming.
Climbing French Beans = Pole Beans
Dwarf French Beans = Bush Beans
Mangetout or Sugar Snap = Peas eaten at the whole pod stage
Green beans are sometimes referred to as snap beans. These are for eating at the tender green stage which is the way most UK gardeners intend to grow and eat their beans. If left for the bean seed to swell and then shelled and eaten (like Broad Beans usually are), these are flageolet or haricot beans. These are also sometimes called “horticultural” beans. If left to dry on the plant, harvested at the end of the season, and stored for winter use, these are dried or shelley beans. (Haricots verts are green or snap beans.) Tiny green beans for gourmets are filet or filo beans. Broad Beans are sometimes referred to as Fava Beans.
See also our pages
Nutritional benefits of beans – dietary notes
Help with ordering bean seed- what to choose