French beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil. Fork in some well-rotted manure in late autumn or early winter before you sow your beans.
They are tender and don’t like frost or cold temperatures, so wait until May or June to sow the seeds.
It is best to start the beans in small pots, and sow two beans per pot 5cm (2in) deep (only plant the strongest plant). Place the pots outside in a coldframe or in a sheltered position. Once the beans reach 8cm (3in) tall you can plant them out into their final positions.
For an earlier crop you can sow in April, but you will need to keep these pots indoors, and then can plant outside at the end of May.
Climbing French beans
These need a support to climb up. The traditional method is to grow them in a double row of bamboo canes (use 1.8m/6ft tall canes), with 45cm (18in) between the rows. Place the bamboo canes 15cm (6in) apart within each row and slope them inwards and then tie near the top to a horizontal cane.
If you don’t have room for rows of canes, you can also make wigwams. Again, use 1.8m (6ft) tall canes and use four or five canes per wigwam, spacing each cane 15cm (6in) at the ground. Tie the tops of the cans together. Growing beans up wigwams is a good method for container growing.
No matter which method you choose, plant one bean plant at the base of each cane, and loosely tie the shoots to the cane.
Dwarf French beans
This type only grow to abut 45cm (18in) tall and are best grown in small blocks, where neighbouring plants provide support. Space plants 15cm (6in) apart.
If you are caught out by an unexpected cold snap after planting, cover the plants with fleece or newspaper until it is warmer.
Water well during periods of prolonged dry weather. Place a mulch of well-rotted manure or mushroom compost around the plants in July to help conserve soil moisture.
Begin picking the pods when they are 10cm (4in) long. Pods are ready when they snap easily and before the beans can be seen through the pod. By picking regularly you can crop plants for several weeks.
Once all the pods have been harvested, water the plants well and feed with a liquid fertiliser. This way you may get a further cropping of smaller, yet worthwhile pods.
There are two types of French bean: dwarf or climbing. Dwarf beans are easier to maintain and pick but don’t produce as many beans as climbing types.
‘Kenyan Bean’ AGM: This dwarf bean produces slender, stringless pods. They are tender, easy to prepare and delicious.
‘Purple Teepee’: A dwarf bean with pretty purple pods. They turn green when cooked.
‘Algarve’ AGM: A climbing bean with straight, flat, mid-green pods and totally stringless.
‘Golden Gate’: An attractive golden-yellow climbing bean which produces a heavy crop over a long season.
Find out more about the latest AGM French beans.
Slugs and snails: These feed on the young seedlings. You’ll see their tell-tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
Remedy: Methods of control include beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers and copper tape. Experiment, as you may find some more successful than others. Traditional slug pellets contain metaldehyde, which can harm other wildlife, pets and young children if eaten in quantity. Slug pellets of powders based on aluminium sulphate or ferric phosphate are less toxic.
Find out more information about slugs
Find out more about snails
Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, will strip the leaves of young seedlings.
Remedy: Young seedlings are easier to protect – you can place chicken wire, fleece or plastic netting over them to keep the birds off.
Birds are usually not such a problem when the plants are older and growing strongly but if you are still suffering from bird damage, cover the plants with netting. This does make picking difficult but, unfortunately, there is not an easier way of keeping birds at bay!
Find out more information on pigeons
Aphids: Most vegetables suffer from aphid attack at sometime during the year. Damage is mostly noticeable in early summer and you will see colonies of green or black aphids at the tips of plants. They suck sap from leaves and stems and excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which then often attracts black sooty moulds to grow. In most cases the damage can be tolerated.
Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies. In most cases you won’t need to spray, but you could use pyrethrum, plant or fish oils or thiacloprid.
Find out more information on aphids