Beans are part of the legume family – brilliant at locking nitrogen into the soil and helping to improve its fertility. There are several different types of beans you can grow from the runner bean through to the broad bean. All are delicious and best eaten fresh.
Varieties to choose (all sold by Kings Seeds)
The hardy varieties can be sown during October/November to be ready for picking by the following May. For summer crops, seeds can be planted straight into the soil from late February to May (use a cloche for protection during the first few weeks if sowing early in February when the weather is very cold). Each seed should be sown 2ins/5cms deep at 9ins/20cm spacings in the row. If planting in double rows ensure there is 12ins/30cm between each pair of rows.
When the first flowers and small pods appear water the plants regularly to help the pods swell. (If there is a drought you may need to water more frequently.)
Broad beans can grow up to 36ins/1m tall to prevent them falling over construct a ct’s cradle of sticks and string to hold them upright.
French Beans (aka Climbing, Snap, String and Dwarf beans)
French beans can be sown earlier than runner beans because they are slightly hardier but still cannot be sown or planted outdoors until after the danger of late frosts has passed. It is best to start the earliest sowings off under glass in pots or trays filled with good quality compost and then plant out from mid-May onwards. The plants should be planted out 12ins/30cm apart in rows then have at least 2ft/60cm between each row. Alternatively if space is tight the plants can be grown up a wig wam structure. All French beans like sunny positions and as little wind as possible. Support the climbing types with canes or netting. All types of French beans are self fertile so the flowers will set and form beans without any problems.
When the first flowers and small beans appear water the plants regularly to help the beans swell. (If there is a drought you will may to water more frequently.)
Incredibly popular to grow, Runner beans however can only be sown outdoors once all the late frosts have passed. Make sure your ground has been well conditioned the previous autumn by the addition of plenty of organic material, as these beans need moisture holding soil, don’t be tempted to overdo the manure otherwise you will all leaves and no flowers.
For best results start the sowing under glass in pots or trays filled with good quality compost from late April to the end of May. Transplant after hardening the plants off between late May and June, when the soil has warmed up. Set the plants at 12ins/30cms intervals in the row with 3ft/90 cms between rows planting them on the left side of the cane or pole to allow them to climb up naturally. If you are sowing them directly into the soil drag a shallow hope about 3ins/75cms deep and drop in two seeds removing one after germination. Runner beans can also be grown up wigwams or netting.
Encourage the plants to grow up the canes by trailing and loosely tying the leading shoot round the bamboo/pole. Runner beans need to be pollinated by bees because they move the pollen around the flowers. If the flowers are slow to set try watering the plants with lime water (1good handful of lime per 2 gallons of water) it sometimes helps.
After first flowers and small beans appear water the plants regularly to help the beans swell. (If there is a drought you may need to water more frequently.)
Black fly (aka Black bean aphid) attacks bean plants by sucking their sap causing the plants to become disfigured and in a severe attack the bean pods will fail to develop. You will see clusters of black insects on the stems and leaves of the plant. To help deter the aphids on broad beans, pinch out the top 7cm of the stems when the first pods begin to form. You can use an insecticidal soap spray to help control the outbreak or squash them with your fingers.
Bean weevils will attack the leaves of bean plants, biting U-shaped holes around the outside of the lower leaves. The attack is unlikely to cause any long lasting damage the crop.
Slugs and snails will eat all young plants given a chance. You can buy the safer Ferric phosphate based pellets or opt for other remedies including beer traps, sprinkling sand or coffee grounds round the plants or laying down strips of copper tape. There will be some element of trial and error until you find a method which works for you.