How to grow French Beans
French Beans Growing Guide
A firm favourite in continental Europe, French beans are a surprisingly versatile crop that’s also easy to grow. In the UK they’re often overshadowed by their popular cousin, the runner bean, but there’s really no reason for this. Available in both dwarf and climbing varieties, they can be enjoyed as tender, melt-in-themouth green beans – the Kenyan-type sold in the supermarket – or left to mature for drying as chunky ‘haricots’ for use in stews and soups. Add to this the range of pod and bean colours – bright green, yellow, purple and speckled – and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
How to grow French Beans
Beans aren’t fussy but will require a sunny, sheltered spot if they are to perform well. They also do best in warmer, sunnier summers, but even in cooler spells they will happily sit, ready to take off as soon as conditions improve. One thing they won’t tolerate is frost, but this makes them all the more suitable for planting once earlier crops, such as early potatoes, salads and broad beans, vacate the ground.
Climbing French beans will make an attractive display in their own right – scrambling up bamboo canes or hazel poles, and a purple-podded and flowering variety such as ‘Blauhilde’ will look stunning, even in the flower border. Dwarf varieties offer great flexibility – dot them about the veg patch as needed for a speedy crop of pods. French beans will even make a reliable container crop.
Growing French Beans month-by-month
Finish digging and enriching the soil. Make sure you've chosen a spot that did not support peas or beans last year.
If you haven't done so already, order your seeds now. The most popular varieties can run short, so buy yours as early as possible.
Begin warming up the soil outside for really early French beans. Place cloches over the soil surface to trap the sun's rays.
Begin sowing French beans under cloches, or within individual pots in the greenhouse. Watch out for slugs!
The first month for outdoor sowing. Plant climbing beans around wigwams of canes. Dwarf varieties will need pea sticks as support.
Start picking French beans from the earliest undercover sowings and continue to sow new beans for a steady supply of tender pods.
Make your final sowing early on this month for a crop of tasty beans to shell, dry and store for winter use.
Continue picking French bean pods to ensure the longest possible harvest period. Pick them when young before the beans show through the pod.
Keep picking pods from beans sown later on in the summer. Begin to leave some plants to develop mature bean pods for drying.
Finish picking your beans this month and dig up mature plants of swollen pods for hanging up and air drying.
With plants fully dried the beans can be shelled and dried further on paper before storing in airtight jars. Start preparing ground for next year.
Continue ground preparations; dig in a bucket load of well-rotted manure or compost per square metre.
Caring for your French Beans plants + problems
Once they’re up and away French beans won’t need much care other than watering during dry spells and weeding between rows or around plants. Use a hoe to slice off weeds at ground level or pull up larger perennial weeds such as dandelions or couch grass with a border fork. Watering is particularly important once the plants begin to flower and as the beans are developing. Applying a mulch of compost or grass clippings laid over sheets of newspaper will keep the soil beneath moist, while giving weeds a hard time.
Few serious pests will disturb your beans but blackfly can sometimes make an unwelcome visit. Don’t worry if this happens, as the worst of the infestation can simply be blasted off by a hosepipe. Or try companion planting and dot colourful orange-flowered French or pot marigolds in-between your French beans. These will draw beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and hoverflies to your plot – and both have a voracious appetite for blackfly and aphids.
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How to harvest French Beans
French beans that were started off early in the greenhouse or under cloches will be ready to pick by mid June, with the bulk of beans starting into cropping by July. Keep picking the beans while they are still immature. When you leave them to grow on into mature beans that fill out their pods the plants will stop producing new crops. Your green beans will be ready to pick once they reach about 10cm long, but pod length can vary, so look for other signs too – the pods should snap easily, the outer casing should be smooth and not coarse, and the beans should not show beneath the case. Of course, fresh beans taste far better than beans that have been lying about on the supermarket shelf for days on end.
Pick over beans every few days and you can expect to enjoy them for five to seven weeks. Be careful not to damage the plants while harvesting – hold stems steady and don’t tug too hard or, to be on the safe side, snip pods away using secateurs. Even when pod formation slows or appears to cease, a liquid feed and a brief rest can sometimes spur the beans back into life. It’s also worth leaving a few healthy-looking pods on the plant at the end of picking time to mature into dried beans or for next year’s seed.