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Organic Gardening:

How to grow organic French beans


Cook lightly and serve with a knob of butter

French beans (Bush beans)

Phaseolus vulgaris

Family: Leguminosae (Group 7)

You will find organic French beans one of the easiest and most rewarding crops, even for beginners. They come in 3 types and 3 different colours: Pencil pods, which are round in cross-section and usually stringless - these are divided into yellow 'waxpods', purple pods (which turn green when you cook them) and green podded varieties; Flat podded types; and Filet or needle beans - these are the exceptionally thin Kenyan type.

The filet, waxpod and purple varieties are considered best for flavour. The last two have another advantage, in that they are easy to spot when picking time comes around. There are also varieties grown mainly for drying (e.g. haricots), as well as varieties that are usually shelled like peas (flageolets), very popular in France. Climbing types should be grown the same way as runner beans.

Recommended varieties

Loch Ness Pencil pod green Higher cold tolerance
Tendergreen Pencil pod green Early, stringless, prolific
Nassau Flatpod Stringless, long pods
The Prince Flatpod Recommended for exhibition
Kinghorn Wax Yellow waxpod Universally renowned
Purple Queen Purple pod Good flavour, high yields
Chevrier Vert White seeded drying bean Eat fresh as flageolets, or dry for haricots
Brown Dutch Drying bean Large speckled beans
Aramis Filet bean High yield, good flavour
Delinel Filet bean Excellent flavour, good yields
Blue Lake White seeded climbing pencil pod High yield, can also be used for drying
Climbing Purple Climbing purple pod Climbs to 5', decorative
Canadian Wonder Flat pod High yield, mainly for drying as red kidney beans

French beans are self-pollinating and do not have the setting problems that can occur with runner beans.

They are best grown on an open but sheltered site. They prefer rich, light soil, neutral to slightly acid.

Germination requires a minimum soil temperature of 12ªC, 53ªF. These temperatures are usually reached about late April to early May in the South. Indoor sowing avoids problems caused by cold, wet conditions, but it's a lot easier to leave it till conditions are right, you don't gain a lot unless the season is very late indeed. Sow 4-5cm (1½-2") deep, spacing 22-23cm each way (9"x9") for best yields.

Plants benefit from earthing up when young, and mulching. Pea sticks can be provided to keep lower leaves and pods clean. Cloches speed maturity.

Tools list
On a warm day when the soil is not too wet, dig it over with a fork and take out all the weeds and grass. Break up any lumps of soil and try and get what gardeners call a good tilth, which is when it's broken up into crumbs of roughly even size. If the soil is poor, sprinkle on a handful of blood, fish and bone (wear gloves) per square yard/metre and mix it evenly into the soil. Rake the soil flat.

Put the straight edge across the bed about 15cm from one end. Using your fingers, push 2 beans into the soil about 3-5cm deep, roughly 15cm from the side you are kneeling on. Don't cover them just yet. Measure 22-23cm from that point, and push another 2 beans into the soil to the same depth. Do the same all the way across the bed, then move the straight edge 15cm (6") further along the bed. This time, push the seeds in roughly halfway between the places where you planted the first row. Continue like this along the bed, making a sort of diamond pattern, until you have as many plants as you need (15 or 20 plants will easily produce enough beans for 2 people). Fill up the holes and give the whole bed a thorough watering.

Check the bed every few days until you can clearly tell the bean plants (in the diamond pattern) from the weeds. Start weeding between the beans every few days. If the weather is very dry for more than 10 days, give a single good watering to thoroughly soak the ground (2 or 3 average watering cans full for a bed 120x180cm/4'x6' is about right).

Water once flowering has started at 20 litres (4 gallons) per square metre/yard per week.

Harvest from July onwards (June onwards if cloched). You will need to hunt around under the plants to find all the beans. Do not pull them off the plant, or you will damage them, and they won't produce any more. Use scissors to cut the stalks close to the tip of the bean. The more often you pick, the more beans will be produced. Try not to let them get too big before you pick them, although you're bound to miss some, unless you are growing the coloured varieties.

Freshly picked beans must be cooked for at least 10 minutes in boiling salted water. Do not eat raw beans.

If you're interested in healthy food, you may also be interested in our sister site, The Health Site, Your Online Health Channel.

Article ©2004 Frann Leach. All rights reserved.

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