Concentrating on Beans
6th May 1998
Most show schedules have classes for beans of some description and all are usually well entered in, particularly the broad bean classes at local shows during the month of August and early September. Runner beans are also regularly exhibited, particularly South of the Country but not so often seen up in Scotland as they are after all tender plants that require warm soil for an early start.
French beans is another class that is becoming more popular and there is now a class for these at the highest level. There are many varieties to choose from with the 'Prince' having been one variety that is hard to beat when well grown, and over the past few years a purple speckled flat podded variety has won a couple of times at the Welsh Championships.
Undoubtedly to grow them to perfection, Runner beans are the most difficult of them all and when you are competing against the likes of Charlie Maisey who has won the National Championship numerous times, it becomes an even more arduous task. Charlie can produce a set of eighteen beans that appear as if they had come out of a mould, perfectly straight and unblemished with a lovely deep green colour.
The Runner beans can be sown now directly into 4" pots, one bean per pot and when sowing the seed take a close look along the scar where the bean was attached to the pod. At one end of the scar there will be a dimple always make sure that the bean goes into the compost with it"s length vertical and the dimple at the bottom of the scar. I was taught this by the past master of growing Runner beans, Brython Stenner, he assured me that by placing the seed in the compost in this manner the germination would be much more even.
The pots can then be placed on the greenhouse staging or even in the cold frame at this time of year and within ten days or so they should be through and from that point on they really make some fantastic growth so you have to make sure that their plot has been thoroughly prepared and ready to take the plants. It should have been well manured during the Winter months and a base dressing of Chempak BTD applied at 4 Ounces to the metre run of trench.
To get really top quality beans they need plenty of space to develop so you erect a frame work consisting of strong end posts and 8' canes tied to a stout wire running along the row from the posts. Long rows will most certainly need intermediate posts as the whole structure when the beans are in full growth can be hammered should we have any gales.
In Charles"s case he actually uses cut down young fir trees that are growing at the back of his garden and these can be about 3" in diameter at the base and 15' in length. I have actually visited Charles's garden and seen him standing on a tall step ladder in order to harvest beans at the top of the stakes and in order to stop the beans growing on when they get top the top of his stakes early on in the year, he actually knocks them off from ground level using an 8' cane; they are therefore capable of growing to a great height. Plant the beans a minimum of 12" between each plant so that they have plenty of room to develop and in order for the developing beans to get enough light to them.
Your broad beans can be sown now directly in to the soil, I open up a shallow furrow the width of a spade and then position the seed individualy along the drill in a domino fashion so that every resulting seedling has sufficient room to develop properly. Broad beans of course are not so classy as the Runner beans and it's very difficult to get a straight set of them as they inevitably twist or bend as they grow and are probably the most difficult of all the vegetables to stage well.
Once the Broad beans have approached a metre in height the top young growth can then be removed. This will help to increase the crop as well as the size of the pods, it will also prevent the old black fly from settling on them and finally, don't throw away the tops, they can be boiled just like spinach and are really quite tasty. Support for the Beans is essential and some stout posts at both end with a few rows of string enveloping the plant should be sufficient.
French beans can be started off directly outside at this time of year but I have also had some fantastic pods from plants that had been grown throughout in pots. Indeed all my Beans for Chelsea, including Broad beans, are all grown in large pots with 4 plants of Broad beans being grown in a 10" pot, so you really don't need to have a garden in order to grow decent quality beans for the kitchen.