Sowing the Seed
In early to mid May I will sow a single seed in a pot of compost indoors. I will make a hole about 2cm below the surface with a pencil and drop the seeds in. I will also plant them direct into the soil but protect them with a plastic bottle cloche. I will do this to protect them from the chill weather, especially at night, and also from the slugs & snails which can decimate them the plants when they are young
Once the last frosts are over they may be hardened off and planted out. Climbing varieties like to ascend a framework, and the obvious one to erect is a tripod or whatever a multipronged version is called. This gives the plants the air and space they need to grow and makes the pods easy to pick.
What’s in a Name?
Although they sound European they are actually a South American native which were brought back from their colonial territories by the Spanish Conquistadors. Why they are French rather than Spanish I await to be educated.
French Beans were one of the Three Sisters which make up one of the most well known companion planting combinations. The contribution made by the Beans was to naturally fix nitrogen in the soil to aid the Corn and Squash in growing. Because of this fixation it is a good idea to leave the roots in the soil when the plant dies back, cutting off the stem for the compost heap. Because aliums like garlic and onions dislike nitrogen they should be kept away from French Beans, and any other legumes.
They do not have many problems once they are established, in my experience, but, like peas the young plants are vulnerable to attack. Once peas have survived rodent and weevil attack tends they tend to be prey to slugs and snails. With French Beans these are the likely culprits for the vanishing or decimated plant. Once established, however, even the seemingly stripped young plant makes a comeback, providing it is not dead. The damage can be so extensive that this happens, so having spares as “back up” is advisable. Also it pays to use plastic bottle cloches in the early stages and to be vigilant and set traps for the slugs and snails.
At the end of the season, as with all legumes, it is relatively straight forward to let the last few pods go completely to seed and dry out. Then it is a simple job to collect the seeds after a dry period. The seeds are very resilient and last for years. Sadly Neville passed away recently, but I remember him telling me about finding some runner bean seeds in an old gardening jacket that he had forgotten he had. The beans grew beautifully.
My favourite ‘bush’ varieties are Pros Gitana and The Prince. Both are stringless and very tasty. The climber I favour is Blauhilde, which is interesting since it grows as a purple variety but turns green when cooked. I have also tried Trail of Tears which is a green one named after the Cherokees who took the seeds with them to Oklahoma when forcibly removed from their lands in the eastern USA in 1834. The name commemorates the despicable treatment of them which led to so many of the Cherokee dying on route. I have also grown a Barlotti bean called, Borlotta di Fuoco . but I did not realize that it would be best used as a bean stripped from its pod, and when I cooked it as a standard French Bean I found it to be a bit mushy. Derek put me right, and if I have seeds left I will give it a go this year.I also was given Major Cook's variety by Kay and I think I should have done the same with this one since the pods were also mushy. I still have some so I will also try these again. The jury is still out on Modus, a bush type and Neckar Gold, both Organic varieties I bought last year but do not seem to have made this year's catalogue. The Italian one I bought- the very long thin so called "spaghetti" bean was not a success.
French Bean: Planting Guide
first in pots
or 1 seed under
||Plant out or
uncover in June
||plant in legume bed
|| support climbers
fence or trellis
when pods dry
|Varieties I like
4.Trail of Tears
When they are big enough to pick I pick them, for the larger they get the coarser they are and the more like Runner Beans they taste. Since I hate runner beans (another childhood aversion) this often means they are about 6-8cm long, but you will have to judge for yourself. I think that the more you pick them the more they keep coming, so it does not really affect the total crop. When I grew Barlotti beans a couple of years ago they were mushy, but I was missing the point. Derek grew some last year and let them develop until the seeds inside are quite large, then podded them before cooking the beans. I am going to try this since he was eulogizing over them. I suppose it is obvious really but only if it is pointed out to you.
click walter to contact me