The Rough Guide to Beans
Are you an allotment beginner, getting ready for your first season as a veg grower?
Well, let me recommend starting with beans. Beans were the biggest success of my first season, and I’ve loved growing them ever since.
They’re easy to grow, very healthy and one of the most prolific croppers on any vegetable patch.
So, if you’re new to growing veg and fancy some lovely legumes on your plot, here’s the Real Men Sow Rough Guide to Beans:
Broadies are the first beans of the new season, and very welcome after the hungry gap.
Sow undercover into small pots of multipurpose compost in February, or early spring outside, and plant out once the plants reach 9 inches or so in height.
For the earliest crops, try overwintering a hardier variety such as Aquadulce. Broad beans are susceptible to blackfly, but many gardeners will tell you that overwintered broad beans suffer much less grief from the aphids.
If you do see any signs of blackfly, squirt off them off with warm soapy water as quickly as you can.
I like to enclose my broad beans within blocks, using stakes and strong string. This lets the plants support each other.
My favourite thing to do with broad beans is parboil, and then grind up into a mash with feta, olive oil and mint. It makes a very tasty toast topping. A spring time minty risotto with peas is also delicious.
French beans are one of the most prolific croppers on my plot. I regularly walk home with a carrier bag full during peak harvesting time.
I also love growing French beans as they’re not particularly fussy. French beans will stomach drier, poorer conditions than other veg, so will grow well if space is tight and you’re planting where other veg has been taken out.
Sow two seeds in pots of multipurpose compost any time during late spring (earlier if undercover) to late summer, before planting out when six inches or so high.
Climbing varieties are available, but I prefer the dwarf Tendergreen, which is great for kitchen gardens. French beans grow tall and thin, so plant close together so they can support each other.
French beans freeze well, and I sow a late crop in July/August purely for this purpose.
Keep an eye on the plants though, they crop fast! Pick regularly, when the beans are small and tender, otherwise they become stringy and tough.
What could be more traditional than runner beans growing up a wigwam? I love runners for the interest they add to a plot, and their red, white and pink flowers make them a really attractive veg to grow.
Runner beans are deep rooted and require rich soil for best results. Some gardeners make trenches during the winter, and fill them with kitchen scraps to give their runner plants a boost.
Don’t be tempted to sow runners too early. Earlier sowings can sometimes struggle to set flowers, and subsequently don’t crop as heavily. I sow my runners into multipurpose compost in mid May, with the aim of planting out in June.
Like French beans, runners grow at quite a pace, so keep an eye on your crop and pick early for the sweetest bean.
Fancy something a bit more adventurous?
How about the striking Borlotto bean, an Italian variety with cream and pink pods? Or for more of a challenge, try the spectacular yard long bean.
Yes, it really can grow to a yard long…
About Jono and his blog
In 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.
However, six years on, and mum now lets me work without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right.
I’ve found that there’s something joyful about allotments, growing your own food, and living within the seasons. I do my best to try and capture that feeling on my blog, Real Men Sow.
Guest blogger Jane Scorer has gardened the same half acre plot for over 30 years and has opened her garden for the NGS (Yellow Book) scheme. She has an RHS qualification, but feels that her main qualification is the years she has spent with her hands in the soil.
Variegation across the nation…
So, the dahlias are a fading memory and the Delphiniums are just blackened stalks and sadly, another fantastic growing season has fizzled out like a rainy Bonfire Night. But, surely there must be some reasons left to be cheerful! When all around is in tones of Sepia, there must be something in the garden to lift the gloom and lift our spirits.
There are still a few flowers blooming in the garden, but they are the last, lone remnants of the warm summer days. A rose here, a Michaelmas Daisy there, just welcome pools of colour amongst the falling leaves. Soon they will all have finished.
The berries are very plentiful this year and bunches of vivid lipstick colours dangle from the trees, but they are too transient and will be all too quickly gobbled down by hungry birds. I can’t rely on them to be there all winter, until the Spring bulbs begin to appear.
So … it HAS to be foliage which saves the dreary day, and brings some interest to those winter days. Not any old foliage, but lovely crisp variegated foliage in shades of greens, greys, yellows, creams and silver. I took a trip around my local nursery and found lots of lovely new variegated plants to buy.
When I buy a new plant it has to earn its place in the garden, and it has to offer me as much as possible … flowers, a long season of interest, interesting foliage, perfume and so on. The new variegated plants I have seen tick lots of boxes anyway, and the variegation adds another important element.
I bought a variegated Honeysuckle, ‘Harlequin’, for just £1 in the Bargain Corner. Now, Honeysuckle ticks so many boxes for me, beautiful flowers, strong scent, often evergreen, hardy and healthy. To add variegation to that list makes it a very special plant indeed. That means that even when not in flower,there is interest in the foliage. I would have thought that these little crackers would have flown off the shelves, but the owner of the nursery told me that people were just not interested… even discounted to £1. I cannot imagine why not!
Hydrangeas also have a variegated form, ‘Hydrangea Tricolour’ and again that is an additional element for an already attractive plant. The top leaves in the photo show how the variegation develops, with shades of green in irregular patches, contrasting with the crisp cream edging. It must look spectacular when it is also in flower.
There are few lovelier sights in late Spring than that waterfall of blue created by the flowers of the Ceonothus. That interest can be extended for a much longer season through the use of variegated plants, like Ceonothus ‘Silver Surprise’.
Some variegated plants, it has to be said, may not have the same vigour or hardiness of their plainer cousins. I will be interested to compare the performance of the new variegated varieties in the garden.
An old favourite of mine is Euonymus ‘Emerald n Gold’… tough, hardy, evergreen and reliable. Easy to propagate through cuttings, and great for filling any awkward little spots. The variegation is a bright sunny yellow, which makes you think of sunshine even when the skies are low and grey.
So, even though it is gloomy old November, there are still some reasons to be cheerful
You can read more of Jane’s blog posts at Hoe hoe grow.
Both of us were staring at the same wall mounted moss collage in a corner of the Grand Marquee at the Chelsea Flower Show. We got chatting and I found that my new acquaintance was no less than Sue Fisher, the author of ‘Growing up the Wall’.
Green walls have taken off in a big way as a means of introducing flora to sterile concrete places, to insulate buildings and now as a means of feeding ourselves.
Well, here is a subject for all keen gardeners short on space. Sue Fisher has written many books on gardening and she has a serious background in horticulture. No surprise then that ‘Growing up the Wall’ is a serious manual for the would-be vertical grower. The full title of the book is “How to grow food in vertical places, on roofs and in small places.” Only last week, I had a question on how to use a little balcony that gets some sun. This book answers that question and many more as well.
Part two runs through suitable edible vegetables, herbs and fruit by alphabetic listing. You will learn the necessary soil depth, the overall height of the plant and get tips on sowing, varieties and aftercare.
Balconies apart, the text tackles all sorts of containers and growing spaces – everything from window boxes and hanging baskets to full-blown edible roof gardens. This is a really handy book. Knowledge is given without it being daunting.
After reading this book I will grow up.
You can read my own blog here
Crops for a Cool Climate
Over the years in which climate change has been discussed in the media, there have been continual suggestions that it will be of benefit to gardeners – allowing us to grow fruit and vegetable crops that enjoy the continental climate, but fail to thrive in a traditional British summer. As those warm summer days have failed to materialise, and look increasing unlikely, I am eyeing up my new allotment with a view to planting crops that will enjoy our cool climate.
Spuds are a good choice, as potatoes don’t need a lot of sun to do well, but the possibility of warm, humid periods means blight is a big risk and I’m going to try growing resistant Sarpo varieties in place of old favourites.
Perennial veg and fruit are always good choices, as they don’t rely on one season’s weather to provide a crop. Rhubarb is an allotment staple that usually does well, and red and white currants need far less sun to fruit well than blackcurrants. Asparagus is designed to start growing in cool weather. Globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes and Chinese artichokes are usually worth the space they take up.
I’ve had success with courgettes and summer squash in a lacklustre summer, but good crops of fruit are not guaranteed. Tomatoes are tricky unless the sun comes out, but the smaller the fruit, the more likely they are to ripen. Sub-Arctic Plenty is a determinate, cherry tom variety that was bred to crop outdoors in Greenland, and I’ve found it reliably does so here as well.
Leafy veg love wetter weather, and if I can keep the slugs off then spinach and chard, cabbages and all of the Oriental leaf vegetables will keep me in greens for months. Leafy herbs like mint, coriander and parsley should also do well, but basil will be happier on the kitchen windowsill.
There’s no reason I have to stay on the beaten track, either, as there are more unusual species from around the world that will have no problem with this weather. Achocha, one of the Lost Crops of the Incas, is a climbing plant that romps away in cool summers and produces masses of fruit that can be used like green peppers. Oca, or New Zealand Yam, (another native of South America) is a pretty, clumping root crop. It doesn’t need a hot summer to crop well, although it does benefit from a long autumn and a mild frost or two before the big freeze begins.
Edible flowers are all the rage this year, and calendula and borage both self-seed quite happily in my garden, adding splashes of colour to borders and dinners throughout the summer. I’ll be introducing those to the allotment as well, and it wouldn’t be complete without a few nasturtiums, which seem to flower well regardless of the weather and have edible leaves to boot.
Borage and bee
Every year is different, and each autumn it’s interesting to see what has done well and what faltered. What have been your big winners, in the cooler summers of recent years?
I have been to Chelsea before – I have always loved it and I’m sure I always will. Never before have I felt so excited about going as I did this year. The last time I went to Chelsea, it was the second day and I went with one of my best friends, a florist who runs a fantastic florist shop in Berkshire called Green Parlour. My friend Emma had got the tickets for us and we had a wonderful day looking around the show together – looking for inspiration for her floral designs. This year was quite different. I had been lucky enough to be accepted for Press Day and I was so excited to be able to see the showground, whilst it was still quiet before the gates opened to the general public the following day.
The fantastic Get Well Soon garden at Chelsea this year
Walking around the grounds so early in the morning was wonderful, and gave me the chance to speak to the garden designers and exhibitors as they were putting the finishing touches to their displays. You could tell how much work had gone into their exhibits and although they were clearly nervous waiting for the judges to come around, everyone was so friendly and keen to speak to me about their gardens.
There are so many things that I love about Chelsea – I love to see what medals have been awarded and I love to listen to the opinions that people have of the gardens as they speak to their friends. Every garden will divide opinion and it’s easy to see why. There is such a range of different gardens that they will never be to everyone’s taste. For me, the larger show gardens are hard for me to get passionate about. It’s not that I don’t think they are beautiful – I do! I find it hard to draw inspiration from them though, as they are so different to my own garden. The artisan gardens are a different matter though, they are about the right size for my garden at home. I can find so many things in them that I would like to bring home to my own garden.
The wonderful “Get Well Soon” garden by The National Botanic Garden of Wales was fantastic – full of things to show us that gardening is good for our health. I chatted to the ladies who were putting their finishing touches to the garden, who were all very friendly and I will definitely be going down to visit them in the garden in Wales.
The Grand Pavilion is another fantastic part of Chelsea – there are displays from nurseries from up and down the country. It’s a great way to look at plants that you might want to order as bulbs. The scent is indescribable and hits you as soon as you walk in.
I’m already counting the days until next year!