Green beans come in bush or pole varieties and within these there are many, varied cultivars from runner beans to dwarf beans. Traditionally called "green" beans the cultivars come in a whole range of shapes, sizes and colours including purple, orange, yellow and mottled. So plenty to brighten up the veg garden and put on a show.
What to plant
What to plant depends a lot on what you like to eat, when you want to eat it and a little on the space you have.
Bush green bean varieties grow to about 2 feet (60 cm) tall. They come in a week or two earlier than pole beans, but produce fewer beans
Pole bean varieties can grow 8-10 feet (2.5-3 m), and need a trellis or something to climb on for support. They’re called “pole beans” because one popular way to grow them is in “teepees” made of bamboo poles or branches. Pole beans take longer to start producing than bush beans, but they produce for a longer period and seem to have a bit more flavour.
Runner beans are the ancestors of the modern green bean varieties and grow to 10-12 feet (3-4 m), Many are put off by the stringiness of the shop bought ones but picking them fresh from your own garden is a different matter so these should still be on your list of potentials.
If you really like green beans and have the space, then plant both bush and pole beans. The bush beans will come in early in the summer, followed by the pole beans which will keep producing after the bush beans are done.
If you have space, start the beans off indoors on a windowsill or in a propagator, in late April or May. Sow a single seed 1" (2.5cm) deep in Rootrainers or small pots. Put them outside when the weather is good to harden them off. They are a tender plant though that doesn’t tolerate frost so wait to plant them out until the risk of frost has passed. Usually in late May/early June in the UK. If in doubt (and to give them an extra boost) then once outside, cover them with a cloche or a tunnel to get them off to a great start.
You can sow them directly outside from May to July but virtually no one does! Some types such as Climbing French beans will crop continually into September. But dwarf French beans crop only over a few weeks, so you may want to make an additional later sowing.
Beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil. Fork in some well-rotted manure before you plant yours out.
It is perfectly possible to grow beans in containers. The Pea and Bean Planter holds 6 bean plants in the space of little bigger than a tea tray. It has pockets to slot your canes into so makes it easy to support them. This planter allows those with just a balcony or very little outside space to enjoy a summer's worth of home grown beans.
You can also grow beans in Vegetable Planters or even a 5L Vigoroot Pot with a Water Saucer so the plant can take water as and when it needs it. Beans will usually need a much larger volume of compost than this to grow successfully. But, because Vigoroot air-prunes the roots then a compact 5L pot is all you need.
When properly spaced, bush varieties grow together into small bushes and support each other, and need no trellising.
All the climbing varieties need support though. From the traditional A Frame or tippee arrangements of 6' to 8' bamboo canes held with ties to the sturdier no nonsense Steel Pea & Bean Frame. This frame is great for beans, peas and even sweet peas. It is a perfect option if you find tying canes together to be a bit too fiddly. But your veg garden doesn't have to be boring, there are also more ornamental frames such as the Square Ornamental Frame or even a statement piece like the Eiffel Tower which could make your garden stand out from the crowd.
Whatever method you choose, loosely tie the plants to your support an they will naturally start to climb. Once the plant reaches the top of the support, remove the growing point. This will encourage side stems.
Runner beans sometimes fail to set (there are flowers but no beans) This was a particular problem in 2018 when there was actually a summer in the UK (!) The prolonged spell of really hot weather meant that there was insufficient moisture and flowers did not set. To avoid this ensure the soil is constantly moist and doesn't dry out and mulch in June to retain moisture. Watering the plants in the evening will also help and gently spraying the whole plant including near the flowers to increase the humidity encourages flowers to set.
Flower set is better in alkaline, chalky soils. If your soil is neutral or acidic adding lime will help.
French beans set flowers more easily than other varieties so if this is a persistent problem then it might pay to choose a different variety the following year..
Bush beans will take about 50 to 60 days to be ready to harvest. Pole varieties will be a little longer at 70 to 80 days.
Harvest the beans regularly as this will stimulate the plant to produce more beans. Picking regularly will also prevent any pods reaching maturity. Once a pod reaches maturity the plant will stop flowering and no more pods will be set. and the bean season will be over too soon.
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