Peas and beans

Flavoursome when picked fresh, easy-to-grow peas and beans are often mistakenly overlooked. Graham Rice highlights some AGM winners to try

For many, peas are something you reach into the freezer for and beans come in cans, but gardeners know that they're easy-to-grow crops and so much tastier if we grow our own.

Easy peasy

Peas and beans are easy to handle with their large seeds and seedlings are instantly recognisable, so are easy to weed around. They grow strongly and many crop heavily. They also have one other invaluable feature; the nodules on their roots take nitrogen from the air and when plants die, this fertility is released into the soil. So always leave the roots in the ground when you clear them away at the end of the season.

Fresh is best

And then there’s the flavour when eaten straight from the pod. Freshly picked peas are so tempting that half the crop never seems to make it as far as the kitchen. So many peas and beans have been bred to stay firm as they travel from Africa to the supermarket, but what do they actually taste like? Garden-grown taste better.

So here’s a range of flavourful peas and beans, all winners of the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit. Give them a try!

Classic overwintering broad bean

‘Aquadulce Claudia’ has been going strong since 1850. It's the variety rightly recommended for sowing in autumn for an early spring crop. Not only does it cope well with winter weather but produces a good crop of tasty white beans in pods up to 25cm (10in) long. Grows tall, especially when sown in the autumn, so needs support. Can be sown in late winter too.

Broad bean for small gardens

In small gardens, and gardens that are unusually windy, a dwarf broad bean is invaluable -  ‘The Sutton’ fits the bill nicely. The neat plants reach only 30-35cm (12-14in) and are unusually bushy. Each 15cm pod contains five, fat, pale green beans which have a good flavour and freeze well. Grown for almost a hundred years and still superb.

Ideal runner

'Red Rum' is one of the heaviest cropping of all runner beans. You'll need fewer plants than with other varieties, so you use less space. Bright red flowers mature to produce straight, 22cm (11in) fleshy, stringless pods with a fine flavour. This is even better if the pods are picked smaller – and more frequently. Unlike many runner beans, pods set well in hot weather.

Golden goddess

The lovely pale yellow pods of ‘Golddukat’ are slightly curved and flattened. At 17cm (6in)  they're noticeably longer than those of other dwarf French beans. The flavour is good and if the beans are picked while still small, they make a colourful, crisp addition to salads. With its attractive colouring, ‘Golddukat’ is also a good choice for patio containers.

Top yielding climbing French bean

‘Musica’ was the highest yielding variety in the most recent RHS trial, just short of a kilo (2 lb) per plant. It has wide, flat, 26cm (10in) pale green, stringless pods with a good flavour. It has less foliage than many other varieties so the beans are easier to pick. Although they're at their best at about 20cm (8in), they don't turn stringy even at 25cm (11in).

Early climbing French bean

Climbing French beans come in round-podded and flat-podded types, but ‘Eva’ is between the two. Its pods are oval, about 25cm (10in) long, and is not only one of the earliest of all varieties but it’s also one of the heaviest croppers. One plant produces almost a kilo (2.2lb) of beans, partly because it is resistant to three different virus diseases.

Good looking good yielding French bean

The attractive, dark green round pods of ‘Nomad’ remain straight and retain good colour right through the bean. Reaching about 12cm (6in) in length, they're tender, stringless and are amongst the best tasting of all French beans. The self-supporting plants have good resistance to two important bean diseases, bean yellow mosaic virus and anthracnose, and this helps ensure a good crop.

Classic garden pea

‘Kelvedon Wonder’, first introduced in 1925, is the classic, second early pea with valuable resistance to wilt disease and tolerance of downy mildew. There are two 8.5-9cm (3in) pods at each leaf joint, packed with eight or nine peas. Sow every two or three weeks, even as late as July, for a long season of cropping.

Favourite sugarsnap

‘Sugar Ann’ is an invaluable, triple use pea. Its fleshy pods, 7.5cm (3in) long pods can be picked while small and juicy or they can be left to develop their full sweetness but then they'll need the strings removing. Young leaves and shoot tips can also be picked and eaten in salads. The neat growth is self supporting.

Neat and prolific

The combination of relatively short plants and a heavy crop makes ‘Delikett’ ideal where space is at a premium. Pick young as a mangetout or allow them to mature to rich green 8-9cm (3in) pods. These are cylindrical, completely stringless and keep their quality for longer than most after picking. Best sown every ten to twelve days for a long season.

french beansUseful links

Understand hardiness ratings

Grow Your Own

Basic vegetable growing techniques


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