French beans are delicious and easy to grow in small gardens. They make great finger food for children, and are ideal for anyone who doesn’t like the ‘stringy’ bits in runner beans! A few plants will reward you with a reliable crop and they come in a variety of colours – as well as the usual green beans, there are cream, yellow, and purple French beans that all look as good as they taste.
French beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil. Fork in some well-rotted manure in late autumn or early winter before you sow your beans.
They are tender and don’t like frost or cold temperatures, so wait until May or June to sow the seeds. Dwarf varieties can even be sown in July, for an autumn crop.
It is best to start the beans in small pots, and sow two beans per pot 5cm (2in) deep (only plant the strongest plant). Place the pots outside in a cold frame or in a sheltered position. Once the beans reach 8cm (3in) tall you can plant them out into their final positions.
For an earlier crop you can sow in April, but you will need to keep these pots indoors, and then can plant outside at the end of May.
Climbing French beans
These need a support to climb up. The traditional method is to grow them in a double row of bamboo canes (use 1.8m/6ft tall canes), with 45cm (18in) between the rows. Place the bamboo canes 15cm (6in) apart within each row and slope them inwards and then tie near the top to a horizontal cane.
If you don’t have room for rows of canes, you can also make wigwams. Again, use 1.8m (6ft) tall canes and use four or five canes per wigwam, spacing each cane 15cm (6in) at the ground. Tie the tops of the canes together. Growing beans up wigwams is a good method for container growing.
No matter which method you choose, plant one bean plant at the base of each cane, and loosely tie the shoots to the cane.
Dwarf French beans
This type only grow to about 45cm (18in) tall and are best grown in small blocks, where neighbouring plants provide support. Space plants 15cm (6in) apart.
If you are caught out by an unexpected cold snap after planting, cover the plants with fleece or newspaper until it is warmer.
Water well during periods of prolonged dry weather. Place a mulch of well-rotted manure or mushroom compost around the plants in July to help conserve soil moisture.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Downy mildew: Worse in mild, humid weather, the felty mildew makes the leaves unappetising. Well grown plants in gardens are not usually badly affected except in wet weather. Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse.
Remedy: Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. You can help to prevent this disease by making sure there is plenty of space around seedlings and plants to improve air circulation, watering the soil at the base of the plants, and by choosing mildew resistant varieties.
Grey mould: Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse. This is a problem normally in wet conditions, and is usually worse on weak or damaged plants. The mould usually enters through a wound but, under the right conditions, even healthy plants will be infected. You will see fuzzy grey mould on affected buds, leaves, flowers or fruit. Infected plant parts eventually shrivel and die.
Remedy: Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. Hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of grey mould. If you see it, remove the infected material and destroy. Grey mould is encouraged by overcrowding, so make sure you plant your seedlings, plants and squashes at the appropriate distance apart.
Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Begin picking the pods when they are 10cm (4in) long. Pods are ready when they snap easily and before the beans can be seen through the pod. By picking regularly you can crop plants for several weeks.
Once all the pods have been harvested, water the plants well and feed with a liquid fertiliser. This way you may get a further cropping of smaller, yet worthwhile pods.
broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chinese cabbage, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, peas, potatoes, radishes, strawberries, swiss chard