Sow seeds for runner, climbing French and dwarf beans from April onwards and you’ll be picking lots of tasty pods through the summer months. A common problem for the new gardener is to plant these too soon and then face the problem of frost protection for increasing sized plants. All of these beans can be treated the same way.
Where to grow
Beans are perfect for a sunny, well-drained spot. They prefer to grow in moist, fertile soil in a sheltered spot away from strong winds, but can also be grown successfully in pots.
What to do
Prepare the soil for planting by digging over and adding plenty of organic material, such as well-rotted manure or leaf mould – this will help to improve the soil’s moisture-retaining ability and fertility. Many gardeners swear by preparing a bean trench in the winter and filling it with the rotted contents of the compost bin. Once covered with soil in late spring, the seeds can then be sown on top of the trench.
If you are growing beans in containers, choose pots at least 45cm (18in) in diameter and make sure there are plenty of drainage holes. Fill with a mixture of equal parts loam-based compost and loam-free compost.
Before planting, create a support for climbing French and runner beans. Either make a wigwam with 2.4m (8ft) canes, lashed together with string at the top, or create a parallel row of canes, which have their tops tightly secured to a horizontal cane. Each row should be 60cm (23in) apart and canes spaced 15cm (6in) apart in the row.
How to sow seeds
Sowing seeds indoors gives a faster and more reliable germination rate, particularly for runner beans. At the end of April sow a single bean seed, 4cm (1.5in) deep, in a 7.5cm (3in) pot filled with multi-purpose compost.
Water well, label and place on a sunny windowsill to germinate. Seedlings will be ready to plant out after about three weeks. Before planting, put in a cold frame or a cool porch for a few days so that they can cope with the conditions outside.
Alternatively, climbing, runner and dwarf beans can be grown from seed sown directly in the soil between the second half of May and the middle of June. For dwarf French beans, plant two seeds, 2.5cm (1in) deep, next to your support and about 5cm (2in) deep for climbing French and runner beans. Water well. After germination remove the smaller and less robust of the two young plants. As they grow, ensure the plants continue to twine around their canes.
Regular and plentiful watering is vital. Runners should be watered particularly heavily, twice a week in dry weather, both when the flower buds appear and once they’re open.
Mulch around beans to help keep moisture in the soil when the conditions are dry and at the same time prevent weed growth..
Regular picking is essential – it’s true that the more you pick, the more they produce. Most should bear pods from July and cropping of all types can continue until the first frosts, or longer if plants are protected.