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Bean Bonanza

Just in time for Bastille Day, Fiona Lawrenson introduces the fast-growing and deliciously tasty French bean which, ironically, hails from the US, not France

Despite their name French beans are American in origin. They are a great joy to grow, especially if you make life easier for yourself by being patient and sowing them directly into warm earth between the end of April and the middle of May.

French beans are incredibly fast growing, whether as bushes or climbers. They can be sown directly into the soil of a well-prepared veggie plot or grown in containers or grow bags. They'll produce the best results in a sheltered location with neutral or slightly acidic soil that is rich in nutrients and light in texture.

If you intend sowing your beans directly outside, then both the time of year and the soil temperature are critical. Cold and wet weather will cause the seeds to rot rather than to germinate and the soil temperature needs to be around 12oC. You can get around this by growing the seeds in trays or individual pots under glass and then transplanting them out when the conditions are more favourable - but why worry? Just plant your French beans outside later in the season and let nature take its course. I have found that transplanted stock can take a real knock back and is slow to recover, so precious time can be wasted.

Sow your healthy seed at a depth of 1 inches and 8 inches apart in rows spaced 9 inches apart. The seeds will take approximately 8 to 12 days to germinate. You can stagger your crop by planting them outside at regular intervals from late April to the end of June. To give the plants extra stability, build the soil up around their stems. Use 'pea sticks' to support bush plants and cane wigwams to support the climbing varieties in much the same way as you would for runner beans. Keep the soil moist by regular watering and mulching around the plants, especially at the time of flowering to help the flowers set seed.

Pick the beans at regular intervals, when they are 4 to 5 inches long, to ensure a young, tasty and prolific crop. Try growing unusual varieties, as these will not only give colour to your plate but also plenty of taste to your palate.

To Cook
Simply top and tail the French Beans and cook them is slightly salted boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. They should still have a slight crunch to them. Serve the beans with black pepper and plenty of butter melted over them.

Varieties to try
Bush Plants:
'Purple Teepee' - a quick maturing bush plant with masses of dark purple pods.
'Rocuqencourt' - yellow, padded bush plant. Ideal for colder areas.

Climbing Varieties:
'Rob Splash' - cream background to pod with purple flash.
'Golden Gold' - soft golden, yellow pod.

Suggested Supplier
W. Robinson & Sons
Sunny Bank
Lancs PR3 0BN
Tel: 01524 791210 for a catalogue


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