Jack and the Beanstalk
first grew climbing beans when she was 5 years old.
" I remember holding the hard, shiny seed with its beautiful
black and pink shell, which glistened like a highly
polished jewel in my hot, sticky hands"
Dad and I would construct
several wigwams with whatever we could find. We were
never that well prepared on the care front and some
of the structures would look a little unorthodox but
that wouldn’t deter us. It was the end result
that mattered! I would push the beans in at the base
of each pole and wait for the recreation of "Fiona and
the Giant Bean Stalk". Well, needless to say, I'm still
waiting – but I am not deterred!
My reasons for growing
these handsome plants have somewhat changed. I still
find the fact that from a tiny seed a giant of 12ft
can grow and reproduce in a matter of weeks fascinating.
Gardeners have played
upon this fact for generations. The decorative factor
that these plants can bring is unmistakable and can
transform the humblest of veggi plants with their elegant
stems twining their way around their support to display
a delicate profusion of flowers followed by a cascade
of long, thin beans hanging down like icicles.
Climbing beans are
also an excellent source of vitamins such as C, A and
B1 and minerals like calcium and iron – all needed
to ensure a healthy diet.
In the kitchen, climbing
beans can have many uses. Served fresh and young their
pods can be eaten raw in salads. They blanch easily,
freeze, dry and when pickled make excellent chutney.
Whatever the type of bean, they are extremely versatile
and no discerning vegetable garden should be seen without
French Climbing Beans
need to be grown in an open but sheltered location as
they can be badly damaged by the wind. The soil should
be rich in well rotted organic matter, light in texture
with a neutral to slightly acidic pH level and, ideally,
should be prepared several months before planting.
Don’t be tempted
to sow the seeds early as this will only hinder their
growth. They hate cold, wet soils and will not germinate
below 12oC, so leave planting until late April/early
May in the south and 2 – 3 weeks later in the
north. It’s a good idea to warm the soil before
sowing by covering the prepared bed with black plastic
or a cloche.
Take bamboo canes,
about 10 ft long, and arrange into a circle spacing
the canes approximately 12"”apart. If you can,
push them about 8 – 12” into the ground
so that the canes are sturdy and won't topple either
in the wind or holding a sturdy crop. Then bring all
the canes in at the apex and tie with string to make
Plant 2 seeds, 2”
deep and 4” apart, at the base of each cane, water
in and cover each seed with an old plastic bottle cut
in half to act as a mini cloche. This will just encourage
the seed to germinate a little earlier.
As the young plants
grow, gently earth up around the stems with soil to
give extra support. Mulch around the plants to help
retain moisture vital to the plants as they grow and
Give the plants extra
watering once the flowers appear, especially during
a dry period. Each plant needs approximately 2 gallons
twice a week. This will help the pod set and make the
beans less stringy. French Beans do tend to have less
problems with this than runner beans because they are
The beans are ready
to crop when you can snap a pod cleanly in half. This
is usually mid July and carries through until the first
frost. Remember to keep picking, as this will encourage
the plant to continue flowering and produce a better
quality crop. If you stop, the plant stops cropping
and runs to seed.
For my money, French
Beans are tastier and less problematic than runners
as well as having some pretty amazing coloured pods
and beans. If you haven't tried them before, then give
them a go – you won't be disappointed!
Rob Splash: Cream background to pod with purple flash.
Strong purple flower.
Rob Roy: Cream background to pod with pink splash.
Golden Gold: Soft, golden yellow pod.
Climbing Purple: Dark purple pod.
For the selection of beans available from Greenfingers
reprinted with permission from Greenfingers.com