If you’re looking for a reliable edible that can be grown in small space, then consider French beans this season. They can be sown from April through to July and there are a variety of colours available including purple, yellow and cream. The long, slender pods are great to use in a variety of dishes. A few plants will be plenty to feed a family, but this will vary depending on your individual needs. There are two main types of French bean – climbing, which produces bumper yields and dwarf which is perfect for gardeners who are short on space.
French beans will do well in almost all conditions, but reserve a sunny, sheltered spot on the plot for the best results. Seeds can be sown indoors into small, individual pots filled with multi-purpose compost that has been watered well. Keep on a warm windowsill and maintain even soil moisture.
Alternatively, start outdoors once the risk of frost has passed, placing two seeds together in a seed bed, leaving 25cm between each pair. If you’re making multiple sowings, make sure your rows are 60cm apart. Cold, wet soil will result in failed germination, so if the conditions aren’t right, wait a little longer to begin. Seedlings should appear within two weeks. For indoor crops, be sure to harden them off and transplant outside within three or four weeks of this after going through the hardening off process.
If you’re growing climbing French beans it’s best to create supports for them to clamber up while they are still in the seedling stage. Due to the compact nature of dwarf types they do not require this type of training, but would benefit from the use of twiggy pea sticks to keep the yields off the ground. Wigwams are traditionally made from bamboo canes that are tied together in pairs at the very top. However, string, wire or mesh also works well. French beans do not tolerate frosts, so if it is forecast be sure to cover plants with a cloche or fleece to protect them. Remember to weed regularly to prevent any competition for ground space.
Once flowers appear in early summer, try misting them with tepid water in the late evening to encourage yields to set. During dry periods be sure to water well – a mulch of compost or well-rotted manure will help to maintain moisture through the summer.
As your edibles develop, birds will take a great interest in the ripening pods. Protect your harvests from these creatures by keeping them well covered with fleece or mesh. Keep in mind that attempts may still be made to eat the yields, so be sure to keep the material taut to prevent birds from getting trapped.
Slugs and snails will also be a big threat to your French beans, so watch out for their arrival by checking the leaves for large holes and slime trails. Picking them off your plants in the early evening or when it has recently rained will help to control this problem. However, if the issue continues, try sprinkling crushed egg shells around your edibles, or use copper tape to deter these persistent pests.
Aphids are a common pest that target many crops, including French beans. You’ll find them lurking on the underside of foliage and feeding on the sap from fresh, young growth. Squash them with your fingers on sight to keep them at bay, but if you’re squeamish, wrapping Sellotape around your hand so the sticky side faces away from your skin and dabbing the affected areas will collect them up quickly.
HOW TO HARVEST
When the beans grow to around 10cm long they are ready for picking from June right through to October. It’s best to take them while the yields are slightly under-ripe as this will encourage further fruit set.
For a potentially extended harvest, feed thoroughly with a liquid fertiliser once all the pods have been taken, as this spurs on further development, which may produce further blossoms.
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