At Harrogate Flower Show I found an old gardening book written by Cecil Henry Middleton. Mr Middleton as he was known, was the celebrity gardener of his day with a radio audience of some 3.5 million who listened avidly to his weekly programme’ In Your Garden’. He went on to become the BBC voice of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. In May he recommends sowing a variety of French bean called Dutch Brown. This is a bush or dwarf type bean that can be eaten as a young pod, a young bean or grown on and dried as a haricot. I discovered some of these beans on a heritage website last year. I managed to get ten beans to sow and grow on for a crop I could then sow for a harvest I could dry and use for soup in the winter. Whilst dwarf beans are the most frequently grown there are some climbers as well.
The title French bean however is an adopted name as this vegetable originates from South America. It is a half hardy plant that does not tolerate any frost. The earliest you should be thinking of sowing direct into the ground is probably early June. But if you have a greenhouse, cold frame or sunny porch you can get them started in pots in May. The vegetable can also be decorative with flowers that can be white, pink or red and some of the pods of certain varieties can be yellow or purple although they do turn green when cooked.
For successful growing your soil should be free draining and light, plant in full sun if possible and avoid cold winds, apply a general granular fertiliser to the soil some three weeks before planting or sowing. Plant or sow as late as you dare bearing in mind most bush types mature fast in around sixty days. A June sowing should be available to eat from late July into August. Successional planting at two week intervals could provide you with beans into October.
Harvesting young pods can start when they snap easily. For haricot beans allow to dry on the plant and collect when pods are brown and starting to open, if picked late in the season place in greenhouse to aid drying.
The climber I’m going to grow is another heritage vegetable called Carter’s Polish. It has a mottled purple coloured pod that is grown for drying and I’ll be growing it here amongst the cottage flowers. A good starter bean is a climber called Cobra. I’ll also grow Blue Lake, another climber. For bush varieties try Safari or Purple Queen, both do well.
Mr Middleton’s most famous piece of advice during the Dig For Victory Campaign involved using mortar from the site of bombed buildings to use as lime on your garden soil. But he will be remembered most for his contribution to allotments and grow your own. If new to gardening then growing French beans in summer is a great start.
Mike I’Anson – May 2016