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French Beans

UK Garden Centre - Information about French Beans

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Textbooks and seed catalogues sing the praises of French beans as a garden crop, but in Britain it is the runner bean which reigns supreme. For us the French bean is a stand-in crop until the long pods of the scarlet runners are ready, but in Europe it is the haricot vert which is queen throughout the summer. France, however, is only its adopted home – the plant is a native of S. America. The French bean is a half hardy annual which cannot stand frost. It likes warm conditions and hates heavy clay, and it is decorative enough to be grown in the flower garden. The standard varieties are bushy plants with 4-6in (10-15cm) green pods following the white, pink or red flowers. There are variations – you can buy purple- and yellow-podded typed as well as climbing varieties which may grow as tall as runner beans. In recent years there have been many introductions and also new ideas about spacing – today the recommendation is to plant the seeds much more closely than the older textbooks advise.

Seed facts
Points to watch for: Never plant before the recommended time – seed will rot in cold and wet soil.
Expected germination time: 7-14 days
Approximate number per ounce: 60
Amount required for a 10ft row: ½ oz (15g)
Expected yield from a 10ft row (Bush varieties): 8lb (4kg)
Expected yield from a 10ft row (Climbing varieties): 12lb (6kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 2 years.
Approximate time between sowing and picking: 8-12 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Easy

Soil facts
· French beans will succeed in any soil provided it is neither very heavy nor acid. Lime, if necessary, in winter.
· Pick a reasonably sunny spot which is sheltered from high winds. The site should not have been used for beans last year. Dig in autumn and add compost or well-rotted manure. Prepare the seed bed about 2 weeks before sowing – apply a general-purpose fertilizer such as Growmore at this time.

Planting
Sow 4in (10cm) between seeds 2in (5cm) deep, with 18in (45cm) between rows.

Calendar
· For an early crop sow a quick-maturing variety in early May. If you want to pick beans before the end of June then you will have to grow the plants under cloches. Put the cloches in position in early March and sow the seeds in the soil beneath them in early or mid April. Remove the cloches in late May.
· The maincrop is sown during May. Successional sowings up to the end of June will provide pods until early October.
· For a late autumn crop sow in July and cover the plants with cloches in mid September.
Sowing time: Mid May to June; Can be sown in April under cloches or cold frames, and up to mid July.
Picking time: Usually July to mid October; less usually from the end of June to the end of October.

Looking after the crop
· Protect seedlings from slugs and hoe regularly to keep weeds down during the early stages of the crop’s life.
· Support the plants with short twigs or pea sticks to prevent them from toppling over. Use twiggy branches or plastic netting for climbing varieties.
· Spraying the flowers is not necessary in order to ensure that they will set properly. Moisture at the roots, however, is essential to ensure maximum pod development and a long cropping period. Water copiously and regularly if the weather turns dry during or after the flowering period.
· Mulch around the stems in June. Once the pods have all been harvested, feed the plants with a liquid fertilizer. In this way a second crop can be obtained – smaller, of course, but very welcome.

Harvesting
· Begin picking when the pods are about 4in (10cm) long. A pod is ready if it snaps easily when bent and before the tell-tale bulges of maturity appear along its length. Pick several times a week to prevent any pods maturing – you can then expect to continue cropping for 5-7 weeks. Take care not to loosen the plants when harvesting – hold the stems as you tug away the pods, or play safe and use a pair of scissors.
· Dried beans (haricots) are obtained by leaving the pods on the plant until the turn straw-coloured, and then hang the plants indoors to dry. when the pods are brittle and have begun to split, shell the beans and dry them of a sheet of paper for several days. Store the haricot beans in an air-tight container.

Varieties
Most French bean varieties grow as compact bushes 12-18in (30-45cm) high. There are a few, however, which are climbers and will clamber up supports to a height of 6 or 7 ft (180-210cm).
Green varieties – Flat-pod and Pencil-pod
These make up the most popular group, with scores of old and new varieties. The well-established ones are generally Flat-podded or ‘English’ varieties – flat, rather wide and with a tendency to become stringy as they mature. The Pencil-podded types are usually stringless.
The Prince: Aptly named – the most popular of all French bean varieties. It is a dwarf-growing Flat-pod which is recommended for exhibition.
Masterpiece: Another old favourite Flat-pod – suitable for early sowing. An excellent general-purpose bean, say the experts.
Canadian Wonder: A heavy cropping Flat-pod – once popular but no longer to be found in many catalogues.
Tendergreen: Perhaps the most popular of all the Pencil-podded types, and justly so. Early, stringless, excellent for freezing and prolific.
Loch Ness: A stringless Pencil-pod which will withstand colder conditions than other varieties.
Cordon: Another tough variety which survives under conditions which would damage the old favourites. A stringless Pencil-pod which gives high yield – a successor to Glamis.
Flair: This Pencil-pod has the reputation of being the earliest French bean.
Pros-Gitana: A truly continental bean – round, narrow and stringless.
Phoenix Claudia: The Pencil-pod which is recommended for sandy soil and very early sowing.
Remus: Something different – a Pencil-pod which bears its pods well above the leaves. Very tender – can be eaten raw.
Chevrier Vert: The most popular haricot variety, which you will find in some but not all catalogues. You can cook them at the flageolet stage or allow them to dry as cream-coloured haricot beans.
Blue Lake: The most popular climbing variety, its 5ft (150cm) stems producing a plentiful supply of white-seeded Pencil-pods. Beans can be dried as haricots.
Garrafaloro: Another climbing variety, but the pods are different – this plant produces 9in (22cm) long Flat-pods. Flavour described as ‘distinctive’ and ‘unusual’.
Coloured varieties – Yellow Waxpod, Purple
Coloured pods have an obvious novelty value, but they also have practical advantages. The pods can be easily seen at picking time and the stringless Yellow Waxpods have an excellent flavour.
Mont D’Or (yellow): The 6in (15cm) round pods have a waxy flesh and contain black seeds. Cook whole – considered by many to be the best of the Waxpods.
Kinghorn Wax (yellow): A stringless Waxpod renowned for its flavour. The flesh is creamy yellow.
Royal Burgundy (purple): Quite compact (12in/30cm) bearing purple Pencil-pods which turn green when cooked.
Purple-Podded Climbing (purple): Grows about 5ft (150cm) high. Decorative with its pendent bunches of dark purple beans which turn green when cooked.

Troubles
See runner bean.


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