Broad beans, French beans, Runner beans.
Broad beans (Vicia faba) are planted in the early spring, same time as peas (Pisum sativum). They will be ready to eat in June, same time as peas.
In shops, though not off good farmers markets, Broad beans are too old. They need to be picked when young and eaten straight away.
There is an amazing variety of French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). The beans come in many shapes and sizes and colours. We have dwarf French beans and climbing French beans. The pods can be pencil or flat, green,yellow, purple, waxy or non-waxy.
Sow French beans in May, the soil temperature needs to be a minimum of 10 degrees Centigrade for germination. If I sow late April it can be a couple of weeks before they germinate, but mid-June they are up in a few days.
Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) have beautiful flowers and were originally grown for their flowers not to eat. Try Painted Lady. Flowers can be purple (Scarlet Emperor), white or bi-colour (Painted Lady). The seeds are different colours too.
Sow Runner beans in May.
French beans and Runner beans will be ready for eating in August. Pick when young. Old beans are tough and stringy. French beans can be eaten as green beans, ie their pods, or for their beans. The beans can be dried.
With climbing beans pick out the growing tip before the plant reaches the top of whatever it is climbing. Many gardeners do not pick out until it reaches the top, causing overhang. Picking out the top encourages side shoots and a higher yield.
Surplus beans can be frozen but never very nice. Best eaten fresh. Give away surplus.
Seed saving is easy. Either leave on the stalks until dried, or as more likely, it will be the ones you miss when picking to eat. Do not bother to pick the large mature beans, they will be tough and stringy, leave for next year’s beans for sowing. Places beans in an airtight jar or container and place in a freezer for a couple of days. This kills bean weevil.
Remember to label, otherwise you will have beans you do not know what they are.
With Runner beans, if saving the seeds, only grow one variety as they easily cross-pollinate. With Broad beans keep well apart. With French beans a couple of rows apart will usually suffice.
Beans, like peas, are very easy to grow,and delicious when eaten fresh from the garden. The only problem with French beans and Runner beans is that the slugs and snails eat the young plants.
Several years ago I gave a friend many different varieties of beans to grow on his farm in Tenerife. He did very well, had loads of beans. Only one problem, he failed to keep the beans he collected separate. Hence I have a mixed bag of beans.
I can see what I think are three types of Runner beans, white, light-coloured and dark-coloured. I have selected the light-coloured and sowed today. I am hoping they are Painted Lady. We will see. The dark-coloured I think are Scarlet Emperor. I have looked in a packet of Scarlet Emperor and they look the same.
What I think are Painted Lady I have sowed today.
A few years ago I had French beans variety Orca. Sadly when I sowed they all got eaten. I had three left and last year I gave to my friend Sian. She lost one, one plant got destroyed, but one plant did survive and she got some beans. She was going to give them back to me. I said no, with my luck, I would lose them. Please grow them again, I asked. She cannot this year as she has a small garden and is trying to rotate her crops, but I hope she does and successfully produces more beans.
Middle of last week, ie about a week ago, I sowed French beans variety Orca (Istanbul). I cannot be certain they are Orca, but they look like Orca. I found them on a seed market outside the Spice Market in Istanbul. My only regret is that I bought too few. A further regret is that I failed to buy any of the other seeds. What I think are Orca I planted last week.
I always sprinkle a layer of compost from my compost heap on top of the soil. This get drawn down into the soil.
Peas I planted early March. Broad beans late March. Both are up and doing well.
Broad beans suffer from blackfly. Mist with water or slightly soapy water does the trick.
Watering peas and beans when the pods start to form helps to fill them out.
Always try to grow old traditional varieties. Not only do they taste better but you are helping to maintain biodiversity. Seed swaps are springing up all over the country. The best known is Seedy Sunday Brighton, held in Brighton early spring, which this year celebrated ten years of seed swapping. It is a pity they now hold it in Hove Town Hall, not the lovely Old Market, which was sold August 2010.
Real Seeds are a good source of seeds. They also supply seed saving instructions when you buy their seeds.
Victorian seed catalogues show hundreds of seed varieties. We are now down to a handful of commercial varieties. EU Rules make it illegal to sell most traditional varieties. That is why it is so important we grow these old varieties to stop these varities becoming extinct.