French beans need a warm, sunny spot in well-drained soil. They are a tender crop that doesn’t like frost or cold temperatures. Fork in some well-rotted manure before you sow your beans.
Climbing French beans will crop continually into September, but dwarf French bean plants crop only over a few weeks, so you may want to make an additional later sowing.
For an early crop you can sow indoors in late April to early May. Use small pots, sowing one bean per pot 5cm (2in) deep. After hardening off (acclimatising) the young plants you can plant them outside at the end of May/begining of June after risk of frost has passed.
If temperatures are warm in May, you can sow outdoors, but seedlings may need some protection (such as fleece) at night. Sow into pots or directly into the ground.
Use small pots, sowing one bean per pot 5cm (2in) deep. Place the pots outside in a cold frame or another sheltered, warm position. Once the beans reach 8cm (3in) tall you can plant them out into their final positions after the risk of frost has passed in late May/early June.
Sow directly into the open ground when soil temperatures are warm enough. More sowings of dwarf varieties can be sown directly in the ground in June and July, for an early autumn crop.
Dwarf French beans
These grow to about 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.
When plants are flowering, water well during periods of dry weather. Placing a mulch of well-rotted manure or mushroom compost around the plants in July can help conserve soil moisture.
Climbing French beans
These need a support to climb up. The traditional method is to grow them along 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 canes 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.
Slugs and snails: These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
Remedy: There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
More info on Slugs and snails
Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
More info on Birds
Black bean aphid: Sap-sucking aphids will disfigure plants and cause stunting to leaves and stems.
Remedy: In the case of broad beans, pinch out infested tips. On other beans, catch populations when small and squash.
More info on Black bean aphid
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 dwarf French beans plants for several weeks and climbing French beans for much longer.
A simple summer salad of French beans atop mozzarella slices with an unusual yoghurt dressing.
‘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.