A bean feast is more than a sumptuous spread of leguminous vegetables, it is a celebration of self sufficiency and the ‘raison d’etre’ to which most gardeners will cite for their ‘grow their own’ activities.
And so in recognition of the title of this monthly section and in celebration of the humble bean, this very first entry of Bean Feast, must indeed be about beans.
Those in possession of a greenhouse will already have a variety of beans sown and growing in anticipation of a crop like no other. But it’s not too late to sow more and it’s the perfect time to start sowing beans even if you haven’t yet invested in the greenhouse of your dreams.
Beans come in all shapes and sizes even within the groups we place them in. French beans can be dwarf plants bearing clusters of delicate, thin, long beans, or climbers with pods of vibrant purple, flashed with red, or plain green. Even the seeds inside can vary from type to type. But what they all have in common is that they are easy to grow and have fleshy, tasty pods that are borne for weeks on end.
Runner beans can be as variable in terms of growth habit and appearance, mostly climbers, sometimes stringless, the pods can be flat, or more cylindrical, but also borne in abundance right through the summer.
Both types are not hardy which means that you need to give plants protection from frost, especially early in the season. Sow French beans and runner beans from April inside a greenhouse. Sow several seeds into large pots and planters for an indoor crop or into pots and modules in late April/May to plant outside after the last frost. Early sowings can be producing beans a few weeks ahead of the garden plants if you get your timing right.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can move a planter of climbers outside after several weeks of growth. Unless you have kept a careful check on the progress of the vigorous, vine-like growth they will be twirled among the greenhouse eaves like some toddlers knitting experiment, never to be untangled again.
Sow one seed to a large module or pot filled with top quality seed compost. Keep them warm and moist. Or sow five to seven seeds in a 3-litre pot. Sow some seed each week or fortnight until late May for a successional crop. Experiment and sow different varieties to discover your own favourites and what grows well in your garden.
When large enough to handle but before the roots and shoots get too tangled, plant them into a large container, or outside into a prepared bed (after the last frosts).
Pick the pods when young and pencil thin for the freshest, tastiest crops. Don’t allow the pods to age on the plant or they will cease cropping.
Beans are insect pollinated, especially by bees. If you grow them in the greenhouse be sure to leave the doors and windows open on sunny days to allow the bees safe entry and exit.
And if you don’t have a greenhouse you can sow both types directly into the soil from mid May where they will germinate according to the conditions.