To help you produce an abundance of beans this year, we turned to an expert grower for practical advice. Jono, the original founder of the ever-popular gardening blog, Real Men Sow, is a man whose own hard-won experience has taught him how to get the best from his beans. Here are his top tips for sowing and growing bean seeds in your garden or allotment.
New to veggie growing? Start with beans
Are you an allotment beginner, getting ready for your first season as a veg grower? Let me recommend that you start with beans. Beans were the biggest success of my first season and I’ve loved growing them ever since. They’re easy to raise from seed and one of the most prolific croppers on any vegetable patch. They’re also a really healthy addition to your meal plans.
Growing broad beans
Broad beans are the first beans of the new season and very welcome during the ‘hungry gap’ when the winter crops are over but spring plantings have yet to mature. Sow your broad bean seeds undercover into small pots of multipurpose compost in February, or directly outside during the early spring. If you start your broad beans under glass, you should plant them out once they reach approximately 23cm or 9” in height.
For the earliest crops, try overwintering a hardier variety like ‘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 them with warm soapy water as quickly as you can.
I like to enclose my broad beans within blocks, using stakes and strong twine. This allows the plants to support each other. Harvest your broad beans before they get too bitter – my favourite thing is to parboil them and then smash them up with feta, olive oil and mint. It makes a very tasty toast topping. A spring time minty risotto with peas is also delicious.
Growing French beans
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 love growing French beans as they’re not particularly fussy – they’ll stomach drier, poorer conditions than other veg, and grow well if space is tight and you’re planting into gaps where other veg has been taken out.
Sow two French bean seeds per pot of multipurpose compost at any time from late spring (earlier if undercover) to late summer. Plant out when 15cm (6”) 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 them close together so they can support each other.
Keep an eye on your French beans because they crop fast! Pick regularly, when the beans are small and tender, otherwise they become stringy and tough. French beans freeze well, and I sow a late crop in July/August purely for this purpose.
Growing runner beans
What could be more traditional than runner beans growing up a wigwam? I love runners for the interest they add to a plot – plus 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 plants a boost.
Don’t be tempted to sow runner bean seeds too early because these plants 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, water well and regularly, and pick early for the sweetest flavour.
Fancy something a bit more adventurous?
How about the striking Borlotti bean? ‘Firetongue’ is a climbing, Italian variety with beautiful cream and pink pods. Or for more of a challenge, try the extra long Runner Bean ‘Enorma’ for exhibition quality crops that could take first prize at your local show!
Looking for more information and advice? Head over to our pea and bean hub page for practical tips and inspiration.
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.
Since the first seed catalogue was published in 1855, Thompson & Morgan has grown to become one of the UK’s largest Mail Order Seed and Plant companies. Through the publication of our catalogues and the operation of our award-winning website, Thompson & Morgan is able to provide home gardeners with the very best quality products money can buy.