French Beans

french beansSuccessional sowings will provide French beans throughout much of the year. There are several varieties including climbing and dwarf with some of the newer ones having unusually coloured pods.

Soil Preparation
French beans prefer a light soil; therefore if your soil is heavy loosen it up by forking in plenty of organic matter. Dig the ground to a spade’s depth during the previous autumn adding well-rotted manure at the rate of a bucket to the sq. yd. Leave the ground rough, especially if it is heavy, frost and cold winds will ensure that it is friable for alight forking in spring. When you are ready to sow add fish manure with 6 percent potash content at 3 oz. (90g) to the sq. yd. and unless the soil is chalky, give a surface dressing of carbonate of lime at 5 oz. (150g) to the sq.yd.

Sowing
Sow when the ground has warmed up; this is generally around the end of April but can be as late as late May in the north. Wait until there is a dry period as damp conditions are the vegetable’s greatest enemy.

To give straight lines to your rows use a piece of string attached to two pegs, if the string is pulled taut it will give a good guide for the drills. The drills should be 2 in. (50mm) deep with the seeds sown 6 in. (15cm) apart, use the back of a rake to lightly cover the beans completely and firm down. The drills can be either double narrow rows or a wider drill can be dug, about 4 ft. (120cm) wide, the beans placed in this 6 in. (15cm) apart but each bean is placed in a zigzag fashion the first at one side of the drill the next at the other.

Sow a few extra beans at the end of each row, when the seedlings are about 2 in. (50mm) high they can be transplanted to fill up gaps within the rows.
To have continuous cropping of beans, sow seeds at two to three-week intervals until the end of July.

General Care
In windy situations it might be necessary to aid the dwarf beans to stand upright, all this entails is a few busy twigs which are generally termed pea sticks, pushed into the ground to give support so that the plants do not trail on the ground. Alternatively, stout canes can be placed at each end of the row and two or three rows of string tied between them. This is done on each side of the row, the string will support the beans and stop them from falling over.
Climbing beans will need similar support to runner beans in the form of poles, strings or netting.
Keep the ground free from weeds; these will take nutrients out of the land, which should otherwise be used to feeding the crop.

Harvesting
Pick the crop when it is young and tender. Do not allow the pods to produce seed, as this will discourage the plant from cropping again. Beans seem to keep their flavour better if they are picked no more than an hour before they are cooked.