How to Grow French Beans
French beans are worth growing whatever the size of the vegetable plot. They are ready for picking two or three weeks earlier than the first runner beans, and the expense and trouble of staking is avoided if dwarf varieties are grown.
In spite of their name, it seems that Peru was their country of origin, and that they were spread by man into Mexico and central America before the arrival of Europeans. Their name derives from their long-standing popularity in France.
There are three types:
Dwarf beans, which can even be grown in tubs or window-boxes.
Climbing beans, which are grown up poles like runner beans; or up tall bushy twigs or netting like peas.
Haricot beans, which are dried beans taken from the pods of French beans that have been left to mature on the plant. There are some varieties better suited for use in this way, though all may be eaten green if preferred.
The three types need the same growing conditions and general cultivation.
Planning the crop
French beans thrive in light, well-drained soil in a sunny position. It is helpful, though not essential, to choose a sheltered site, as they are rather vulnerable to wind damage.
Dig the ground in the autumn before sowing, adding well-rotted manure or compost at the rate of a bucketful per square yard.
How many to grow
A double row of dwarf beans 30 ft (9 m) long may yield about 20 lb. (10 kg) of beans. A similar row of climbing beans should yield double that amount.
A 30 ft (9 m) row of haricot beans will provide a number of pickings of fresh beans, and a winter’s supply of dried beans.
Among the most successful dwarf beans are: `Canadian Wonder’: heavy cropper; long, flat pods.
`Cordon’: entirely stringless variety; pods remain tender for a long time.
`Earligreen’: ready a week earlier than most other varieties; can also be used as a haricot.
`Flair’: prolific and disease-resistant; especially good for freezing.
`Tendergreen’: round, fleshy, juicy pods; heavy cropper; stringless; good freezer.
`The Prince’: long-podded; a good exhibition variety.
Varieties of climbing French beans include: `Blue Lake White Seeded’: consistent cropper; good flavour.
‘Purple-podded Climbing’: pods turn green when cooked; heavy cropper.
Varieties grown mainly as haricots include: `Comtesse de Chambord’: heavy cropper; short pods.
`Granada’: larger pods than `Comtesse de Chambord’; excellent flavour whether eaten green or dried.
How to grow French beans
By sowing in succession, fresh beans can be picked from late June to October. French beans are not hardy, so to be sure of success do not sow outdoors until a week or so before the risk of frost has passed — until about mid-May in the south and g yolk the end of the month in the north.
However, sowing a week or two earlier may, with luck, yield an earlier crop. If a late frost kills the seedlings, a fresh sowing can be made. Successional sowings may in any case be made until early July.
Sow the seeds 2 in. (50 mm) deep, with the rows spaced 18 in. (455 mm) apart. Set the seeds in pairs, 9 in. (230 mm) apart, and remove the weaker of the two if both germinate.
When sowing, a drill may be formed with a draw hoe to the required depth, or the beans may be planted with a trowel. In each case, allow about 1 in. (25 mm) between the seeds in each pairso that removing one does not disturb the roots of the other.
An earlier crop can be grown if you have a greenhouse, frame or cloches.
To raise early plants in a greenhouse or frame, sow the seeds in boxes of seed compost. Sow in late March or early April if the plants are to be set out under cloches; in mid-April if they are to be planted direct into open ground. They should germinate without artificial heat.
To plant under cloches, transfer the plants From the boxes in early May. Delay planting in the open until towards the end of May (early June in the north) and harden the plants of first. Plant the beans 9 in. (230 mm) apart in rows spaced 18 in. (435 mm) apart.
French beans also may be sown under cloches in mid-April, at the spacings advised for unprotected sowings, and the cloches left in position until the beans outgrow them.
Give support to climbing beans when they are about 4 in. (100 mm) high.
Pests and diseases
Common pests of French beans are Bean seed fly, Black bean aphid and slugs and snails.
Diseases most likely to occur are Anthracnose, Foot Rot and Halo blight.
Dwarf beans start to crop within eight weeks of sowing, and many produce pods for up to eight weeks after that. The more they are picked, the more they produce—so look over the plants every day or two and remove pods while they are young and tender.
If they are left too long, the pods become stringy and the plants stop producing.
To make sure that you do not pull the whole plant out when harvesting, hold the stem with one hand and pull the pods downwards with the other.
Whether cooked immediately or preserved, French beans should be used as soon as possible after gathering.
To dry haricot beans, leave the pods on the plants until they have ripened and turned white, which will be in September or October. Choose a dry day to pull up the plants whole, and hang them in a dry, airy place.
When the pods feel crisp and dry, shell the beans and spread them out on trays to dry thoroughly. Store in jars.