It’s pretty certain that if we had a show of hands right now, runner beans would be the most popular home-grown beans in the UK. But I’d have my hand in the air for another popular bean that I think takes the crown.
I’m talking about French beans, also known as Kenyan beans, pole beans, pencil beans, or just green beans and (in my opinion) they have many advantages over their more traditional cousins.
They are self-fertile, so less prone to all the problems of poor pollination which can lead to low yields of runners in a poor summer.
I personally think they taste just as good too (although I admit I have lots of gardening friends who would dispute that) and the range of colours from cream to yellow, purple and green are a delight to see in the garden and on the plate.
They are practically string-free, even if picked when a little over-mature, and in the case of modern varieties of dwarf French (bush) beans they need little or no support – no need to build cumbersome wigwams or rows of poles and much easier to fit into your crop rotation programme. However, if you prefer to grow your beans skywards, perhaps to save space or to give you the opportunity to grow that favourite variety, there are plenty of climbing varieties that are bound to give you a bumper harvest.
Like all beans, these are tender plants so care has to be taken to time planting out or sowing outdoors with the passing of the last frost in your area and, in the case of climbing French beans, it is likely to be the first frost that brings harvesting to an abrupt halt.
SITE AND SOIL
Choose a sunny spot to grow your beans – these are plants that love to bask. They are also fast-growing and hungry and although, as with all beans, they have the knack of producing their own nitrogen via nodules on their roots, they do appreciate a fertile, well-drained soil. This means the best crops come from soil which has been mulched with plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost in the winter prior to sowing. Plus if your soil is sandy and free-draining, or just nutritionally poor, you might wish to rake in 56g (2oz) of general fertiliser per square metre such as blood, fish and bone meal or Growmore a week before sowing or planting.
Dwarf types thrive in containers on a sunny patio or balcony and even climbers can do well supported by an obelisk or framework of canes in a large pot, so they make the ideal crops for those with limited space. Simply grow them in any good peat-free compost.
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