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Broad and French beans

Growing an early bean feast

Broad beans
Checking broad beans for pests and diseases…

Broad beans are one of the first – and easiest – veg I grew. It’s possible to sow directly in autumn or February in sheltered, southern gardens, with well-drained soils, for a May harvest.

However, I wouldn’t recommend this in the north, if you have a damp or clay soil (which warms up slowly in spring) – the beans are likely to rot, or be eaten by mice.

Potted guide: broad beans

  • You’re better off sowing under glass in deep pots in an unheated greenhouse in January/February for planting out in late spring.
  • If you want to sow direct, try autumn or from March-early May – stagger the sowings every fortnight, for harvests throughout the summer.
  • Choose a well-drained site improved with compost or well-rotted manure. Sow seeds 5-7.5cm deep and 15-23cm apart, depending on the variety.
  • Sow in single rows 45cm apart or double rows 23cm apart with 60cm between each row. In raised beds, space 23cm apart. Sow a few extras to fill in any gaps.
  • Tall cultivars, such as Aquadulce Claudia need staking. I’ve also grown The Sutton, which is compact for exposed, windy sites and doesn’t require it. When the lowest truss of blossom has formed small pods, pinch out the tips to promote fruit set and reduce blackfly.

Varieties: Aquadulce Claudia/Super Aquadulce (autumn/early spring sowing); Masterpiece Green Longpod; Medes; Scorpio; The Sutton; Witkiem Manita.

Potted guide: French beans

Confusingly known by several names, dwarf/French/green/bush beans can be sown indoors in February for early crops under glass.

It’s more usual to sow them indoors from mid-April for transplanting outdoors after the frosts, or direct sow outdoors from late May to July.

  • For indoor sowings, place beans 2cm deep in 7.5cm pots of seed compost. Put in a propagator or seal inside a plastic bag at 12-25C until germination, which takes 7-10 days. Do not exclude light.
  • Once germinated, grow on in cooler conditions under glass for extra early crops, or harden off gradually and plant out when all risk of frost has passed.
  • From late May-July, sow 2 beans per station 5cm deep and 23cm apart. Plant rows 60cm apart, or up a wigwam to save space. Support with garden canes, string or netting – put in place when planting.

Suggested French bean varieties – some new, some heritage: Speedy, Opera, Delinel, Purple Teepee (purple), Nomad, Cobra, Amethyst (purple), Concador (yellow), Fasold, Boston, Helda, Bellini,Sonesta (yellow), Flajoly, Tendergreen, Golden Teepee (yellow), Cantare, Creso (yellow), Blue Lake, Pencil Pod Black Wax (yellow), Selma Zebra (marbled), Monte Cristo, Mascaret, Mascotte, Tiger Bean (striped), Berner Landfrauen (mottled), Brienzer (pink mottled), Bird’s Egg Horticultural (red striped), Coco Bicoloured (white/grey/pink speckled), Sansoucy.