By Pippa Rosen. VON member Pippa owns and runs Beans and Herbs, in Wiltshire www.beansandherbs.co.uk which sell seeds. All of the seed that Pippa grows on her land is grown vegan organically. Pippa also buys in some seed to sell which is organic but probably isn’t vegan organic, although Pippa is able to advise on what she grows herself. See also Pippa’s other articles: Beans and Herbs at The Herbary and Growing for seed
However much space you have, give beans a try! Every year I grow some climbing beans in large buckets placed in fairly sunny spots, maximum 3 plants per very large pot. They need daily watering, but I am always rewarded with a great crop as they are not fussy growers. There are three different beans suited to growing in a temperate climate – Broad (fava) beans, Runner beans, and French beans – Climbing or Dwarf (sometimes called Pole or Bush).
Warm weather friends
Runner and French types are warm weather beans, so start them off in pots and get them ready to transplant out in their final growing positions when there is no further likelihood of frost. This generally means sowing singly in 7cm pots in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill during May. Once the second pair of leaves appears and there is a good root system, it’s time to ‘harden off’ your plants. Put them outside during the day and bring them in at night for about four days/nights. Finally, transplant them out in their rows and tie lightly to tall canes (short canes for Dwarf beans). Water well. If they get too tall for their canes, pinch out (cut off) the growing tip. This will encourage pod formation. Or you can erect a ‘tepee’ with the canes tied together at the top. Pick carefully and pick often, as this will encourage more beans to form.
French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are of Native American origin, and were introduced into the UK in 1597. More varieties were taken to the US and Canada by immigrants from Europe, and, in some cases, have since been lost to their country of origin. Beans and Herbs catalogue offers some of these wonderful original varieties. ‘French’ beans are mainly grown for their tender green pods. Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus>) are also of South or Central American origin, and although known by UK gardeners since the 16th century, were grown exclusively for their scarlet flowers until the early 19th century. They can be eaten either at the green pod stage, or left for the seeds to swell and eaten like a shelled out Broad bean, or left to go dry and harvested at the end of the season for winter use.
Double the benefit!
Broad beans have been grown since ancient times. The shelled out immature bean seeds are high in protein and extremely nutritious. They are the hardiest of the beans, growing to approximately 1m tall, autumn or early spring-sown. They can also be grown as a green manure. For this, a small seeded variety is usually grown, known as Field beans, and this is turned over into the soil for nitrogen enhancement before the pods form. All legumes give this benefit – so by growing beans you will be helping to improve your soil at the same time as providing your own food.
Some Broad beans, such as Super Aquadulce, are particularly suited to sowing in October / November for harvesting the following year. They grow a bit and then stay more or less the same throughout the winter – plants are often less prone to blackfly when planted this way. Other varieties can be sown in early spring in small pots first and then transplanted outside. If blackfly is a problem, pinch out (cut off ) the growing tips of the plants as soon as the first few sets of beans have started to form at the bottom of the plant.
Dwarf French bean seedlings. Photo: Christine Mackay
To avoid slug damage to climbers grow the beans in larger pots with short canes in each. When they have just started to twist round the canes, carefully transplant outside next to tall canes already in place, which they will quickly find. Tie lightly. For the first couple of weeks, water early in the morning, not in the evening. The plants will grow fast to above slug level. There are other useful tips on garden hygiene, rotation, and pests and disease, on the Beans and Herbs website.
Wind and drought damage – make sure climbing beans are well supported on firmly planted strong canes because the crop can be very heavy just when the first autumn winds start. If possible, keep beans well watered throughout the season. If there is a dry spell, soak the ground around the roots and then mulch (e.g. with grass clippings) to keep the moisture in. Runner beans especially can become dry and withered without adequate water.
Label the canes with the bean variety. If you intend to pick some beans green, and leave some others for seed, it is better to plant in a row, rather than a tepee, so that you can see which whole bean plants you want to leave for seed. Don’t pick any pods at all from these plants, but keep picking pods often from the other plants to encourage more and more beans to come. Leave a minimum of 10m distance between different French bean varieties to ensure that they do not cross-pollinate with each other. Runner beans tend to cross with neighbours’, and they may not be growing the same variety as you! Broad (Fava) beans likewise can be hard to keep pure. If you are not concerned with keeping the original characteristics of each type of bean, you can plant different varieties as close to each other as you like and still harvest good seed for sowing the next year, although it will not be ‘true to type’. You might have a mixture of characteristics appearing in next year’s crop, which can be interesting and fun to see. But if you eventually wish to go back to sowing seed with the original characteristics, you will need to purchase the pure seed again.
Harvesting and storage
Harvest during a dry spell. You will probably start with harvesting a few that are ready, and leave some until the following week, and so on during September and October, depending on where you live. It is important that the pods are completely dry and brittle. Snip off the pod stalks with scissors and bring them indoors to shell out the beans. Spread them out on plates (labelled) and leave on a windowsill out of direct sunlight, for a few weeks to dry off still further. With experience you will be able to tell when they are really dry. They shrink slightly and they ‘tinkle’ if lifted and dropped down. Beans that are not dry give a ‘thud’! Store your seeds in brown paper envelopes, labelled and placed in a plastic box with a lid to stop moisture (and mice) getting in. Put this in a dry and cool (but not frosty) place. Beans for eating can be stored in a jar in a cool cupboard. Broad (Fava) beans will be grown earlier than other types and will therefore be ready for seed-collecting earlier. Sowing and harvesting at the right times, and correct storage, will ensure your seeds will be viable for at least the next two years.
Beans are high in protein, and are one of the least allergenic foods. They also contain niacin, thiamine, vitamin B6, folic acid, calcium, iron, phosphorous and potassium. So beans make a really healthy substantial meal. French beans are particularly suited to drying for winter use. (Kidney beans are a dwarf variety of French bean). Some Runner beans are also used in this way especially the white seeded varieties which make a good ‘butter bean’ substitute. When you can’t keep up with the harvest, the bean seeds start to swell in their pods and you can eat these as fresh shelled beans, which only need simmering for a short while. If you still can’t keep up with the picking, leave some whole plants to go to dry seed and harvest these at the end of your frost-free season for winter use. Nothing is wasted! They will need soaking overnight, or at least for a few hours, to rehydrate them. Boil them hard for 10 minutes and then drain. Give fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer until soft. Eaten in their first winter after harvest, these beans are digestible. However, shop-bought beans may be several years old and may have become oxidised and hard to digest. If you find them so, I recommend adding a few sprigs of the herb Winter Savory towards the end of cooking time.
Enjoy experimenting with bean recipes at all their various stages of growth. They can be tossed into stir fries, cooked and eaten cold in vinaigrette or mayonnaise, or used in soups or casseroles. The possibilities are endless and recipes for each type of bean will be found on the Herbs and Beans website. Here is an example, and there are many more bean recipe on this page of the Beans & Herbs website:
Country bean paté
175g or 6oz red or dark beans, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons tomato purée
2 tablespoons soya sauce or shoyu
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
50g or 2oz fresh wholewheat breadcrumbs
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp paprika
1 clove garlic, crushed
Drain the beans and rinse well. Boil fiercely for 10 minutes, then simmer for 40 minutes or until soft. Drain well and purée. Mash in the remaining ingredients and leave to cool. Serves 4-6. Patés keep for several days in a cold place and are best eaten the day after making, when the flavours will have fully developed.
Editors’ note: Depending on the locality, you may need to protect newly sown beans from squirrels and to protect young plants from pigeons. Better to net the area than to risk losing the whole lot!
This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 23 (Summer 2009), p20, and has been copied from from Pippa’s excellent website