Growing Runner and French Beans

Growing Runner and French Beans

The taste of fresh homegrown runner or french beans lightly cooked is one of the highlights of my summer and my mother also appreciates a gift of tender freshly picked juicy french beans.

I usually grow a stringless runner and a climbing french bean but this year I am also growing a climbing bean suitable for drying. So far growing dwarf french beans in my raised beds has not fared so well due to a tendency to slugs and splash back from the soil. This year I am trying container growing and hoping I get a better crop.

For both types of beans I tend to start them off indoors - using pots or recycled toilet roll inners. I have not yet tried root trainers but that is also a suggested option. Room temperature and moisture are sufficient for germination. Beans do not need soaking before sowing but do provide them with moist but not waterlogged compost. Germination takes 7-14 days. Protect the newly emerged shoots from slugs. Beans are frost tender and will need hardening off before planting them outside once the risk of frost has passed. This is usually at the end of May in my area although I have put beans out up to a couple of weeks earlier and then covered with fleece if frost is forecast. Timing the crop so that they don’t get tangled before planting out is an art and sometimes they seem rather too delicate for separating or tying in to their supports. Maybe I’m just a bit too heavy handed? Intertwining beans shouldn’t be so much of a problem when making a later sowing direct into the ground.

Site the beans where they get some sun and warmth during daylight hours but are sheltered from the wind. Prepare the soil with added compost or manure in autumn to give nutrients and retain moisture. It can be done a few weeks before sowing but allow the soil to firm before sowing the  Create supports for the climbing varieties. Supports need to be sturdy and well anchored and about as high as you can reach, approximately 2 m (6’) so beans are accessible for picking. Beans can be a top heavy plant and susceptible to wind damage so depending on the space you have available, use pairs of canes in rows, a teepee arrangement or a mixture of stakes and netting. They can look good as part of a flower bed as they come in varieties with scarlet, pink, purple, white and bicoloured flowers.

If sowing outdoors do not sow until after the threat of frost has passed and aim to warm the soil by covering with fleece or a cloche prior to sowing. Runner and French beans are tender plants, so not frost hardy, and their growth can also stall in periods of poor and cool weather, but growth will pick up again as the weather improves. Once bean plants have reached the top of the poles the growing tip of the bean needs to be nipped out. This will encourage side shoots.  Last year one of mine escaped up into a nearby tree which made picking a bit of a challenge!

Harvest the beans regularly to encourage further flowers. If the beans get too old they become stringy and tough and put energy into the development of seeds rather than producing more flowers. 

Water regularly throughout the season so moisture levels stay even and give a tomato food feed every 2-3 weeks for additional nutrients especially if growing in containers.

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