French and Runner Beans

Very different crops but they all require a similar method for growing.

Runner beans are a staple of most British vegetable gardens and rightly so.  But they are a crop that it is easy to grow too much of.  Excellent for freezing, nonetheless I find that a short double row of maybe at most 16 plants is more than enough to feed me, my family, my friends and all my neighbours.

I prefer to sow my beans in early May under a cloche and to erect the canes once the plants have fully emerged by the end of the month.  Many people I know start their beans in trays in the greenhouse or on a windowsill in late April and transplant when all danger of frost is past, usually towards the end of the third week in May.  But I find that transplanting halts growth so why not do things the easy way!

French beans can be treated in exactly the same way as runner beans.  However, I do sometimes start beans that I want to grow over a long period to give me a good seed crop, in root-trainers in early April for transplanting outside in early May under a cloche.  French beans are a wonderful crop.  There are varieties that can be grown to harvest as green beans, others like my favourite, Ryder Top of the Pole that are grown for eating both as green beans and for their beautiful haricot beans harvested in autumn.  Others like the Italian Borlotto are grown to be eaten not as green beans but just as the beans in the pods ripen as fresh shelling beans or later as dried beans.

I also grow a native Kenyan Bean Sura Umbaya also known as Harage Purple for their delicious purple beans that make such excellent stews in winter.  But these I grow along with early dwarf French Beans in my polytunnels where the warmth makes them very happy.


Vital, rampant, like a lover you embrace the cane

Reaching to the sun, slender stemmed, white flowers abundant.

With the passing of the solstice your juvenile crop,

Tender, deep green, delicious after a moment’s steaming

Is the hors d’oeuvre. Left alone

Through a long, warm summer you become voluptuous,

Heavy with pods, swelling with promise, the pleasure must wait

Until the sheath that shelters your seed starts to pale

Green morphs to yellow. Now I can indulge in the entré.

White pregnant beans blushed lime green, no bigger than a fingertip, plump, tender

Begging to mix with summer’s bounty:

Tomato, garlic, onion, sweet pepper, chilli, parsley.

And with the equinox and late summer sun

Your pods, honey coloured, crinkle with the final course

Tasty pearls for winter stews of garlic sausages aromatic with fennel.

With you I am satiated, indulged, impassioned.

You never forsake me

My beloved Ryder Top of the Pole!

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