These are more tender than the Runner beans, which are slightly course in texture. I personally prefer them to runners: Successional sowings will provide French beans throughout much of the year. There are several varieties including dwarf and some of the newer ones have unusually coloured pods.
Soil Preparation French beans prefer a light soil; therefore if your soil is heavy loosen it up by forking in plenty of organic matter. Dig the ground to a spade's depth during the previous autumn adding well-rotted manure at the rate of a bucket to the sq. yd. Leave the ground rough, especially if it is heavy, frost and cold winds will ensure that it is friable for a light forking in spring. When you are ready to sow add fish manure with 6 per cent potash content at 3 oz. (90g) to the sq. yd. and unless the soil is chalky, give a surface dressing of carbonate of lime at 5 oz. (150g) to the sq. yd.
Sow when the ground has warmed up; this is generally around the end of April but can be as late as mid May in the north. Wait until there is a dry period as damp conditions are the vegetable's greatest enemy.
To give straight lines to your rows use a piece of string attached to two pegs, if the string is pulled taut it will give a good guide for the drills. The drills should be 2 in. (50mm) deep with the seeds sown 6 in. (15cm) apart, use the back of a rake to lightly cover the beans completely and firm down. The drills can be either double narrow rows or a wider drill can be dug, about 4 ft. (120cm) wide, the beans placed in this 6 in. (15cm) apart but each bean is placed in a zigzag fashion the first at one side of the drill the next at the other. Sow a few extra beans at the end of each row, when the seedlings are about 2 in. (50mm) high they can be transplanted to fill up gaps within the rows. To have a continuous cropping of beans sow seeds at two to three weekly intervals until the end of July. I like to try out different varieties in this way, it gives me the chance to compare the cropping statistics, flavour and it adds interest and excitement to the harvest.
In windy situations it might be necessary to aid the beans to stand upright, all this entails is a few busy twigs which are generally termed pea sticks, pushed into the ground to give support so that the plants do not trail on the ground. Alternatively, stout canes can be placed at each end of the row and two or three rows of string tied between them. This is done on each side of the row, the string will support the beans and stop them falling over. Keep the ground free from weeds; these will take nutrients out of the land, which should otherwise be used to feeding the crop. Put down a few slug traps around the base of plants, beer in a shallow container is popular though an upturned grapefruit skin works quite well too.
Pick the crop when it is young and tender. Do not allow the pods to produce seed, as this will discourage the plant from cropping again. Beans seem to keep their flavour better if they are picked no more than an hour before they are cooked. Nor should they be over-cooked, they should still have retained a little crunchiness to be enjoyed at there best.
There are several excellent varieties, including many new and exciting ones; some string-less and some climbers. Check out what is on offer, growing these beans will more than repay the time and effort you may put into it.
Terry Blackburn. Internet Marketing Consultant, living in South Shields in the North-East of England. Author and Producer of blog http://www.lawnsurgeon.blogspot.com Author of "Your Perfect Lawn," a 90 Page eBook devoted to Lawn Preparation, Lawn Care and Maintenance. Find it at [http://www.lawnsurgeon.com]
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