Climbing French and dwarf French beans are excellent plants to fill gaps left in the vegetable patch from harvesting early crops, such as potatoes. They can be sown directly into the soil and can crop within ten weeks of planting.
French beans are the most heat-tolerant beans of all and these crop heavily in hot conditions, although they often fail in cooler summers. I always sow a mixture of French and runner beans, and now that we have windier summers I use tripods rather than rows - as bean crops can be devastated by strong summer gales.
When to plant French beans
French beans can be sown between May and July. To get a succession of beans, plant a dozen or so seeds every few days to stagger the crop. Different beans mature at different rates, but dwarf French bean ‘Stanley’ is the fastest maturing dwarf bean to plant and you will get a good crop around ten weeks after planting.
Unlike runner beans, it’s possible to repeat-sow French beans until late-July at least. Later sowings are dependent on weather.
French bean seeds can be sown directly into the ground in June when the nights are warmer and the soil temperature is higher. They should emerge within two weeks.
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Where to plant French beans
French beans have soft leaves and they suffer in strong winds so try to find them a sheltered position.
When to sow French beans
Sow French beans straight in the ground from May onwards because the soil is warm enough to ensure rapid germination. If starting indoors they can be sown in April.
French bean germination time
French bean seeds should germinate between 7 to 14 days, and be cropping within 10 weeks.
Starting French beans in pots
If starting in pots begin sowing in mid April and sow two beans to each small pot.
Weed out the poorest of the two when young.
Once all risk of frost has gone and the beans have started to produce leaves plant two plants to each cane.
Planting French beans in the ground
If growing in the ground wait until mid May, when as beans are frost-tender and will only germinate in warm conditions.
Sow French beans directly into well-watered soil creating rows 30cm (12") apart with three to four inches between seeds. Plant them at a depth of roughly two inches. If planting around a tripod plant three beans around each cane and plant a handful of beans inside the tripod as spares for gapping up.
Try to sow at least two varieties of bean because varieties are influenced by the weather. White-flowered beans have paler seeds and red-flowered forms have darker seeds.
As a general rule the paler the seed the more heat tolerant the variety is:
Red-flowered beans often drop their flowers in hot weather once the night-time temperature reaches 16 C (62 C)
White-flowered varieties thrive in warmer summers, the dark-podded climbing French beans ‘Blauhilde’ and the green ‘Cobra’ are star performers.
Growing a selection of varieties will ensure a crop - whatever weather summer brings.
Water seeds well in dry weather until they germinate.
Using canes to grow beans
Climbing French beans are best grown on a tripod. Always put the structure up before sowing any climbing varieties.
A tripod of eight tall canes (securely tied at the top) withstands strong winds much better than a long row and one tripod could be accommodated in the flower bed as well as the vegetable patch.
Place three climbing bean seeds round each cane and thin, if needed, once they come up. Also sow a handful in the middle of the tripod (or at the end of the row) for gapping-up, then sow dwarf beans in any remaining space.
Caring for French beans
Once the beans begin to flower water them if the weather is dry.
Once climbing beans reach the top of the pole pinch out the shoots so that they bush out lower down.
Slugs can be a pest for young beans, runner beans and climbing French beans, especially if the weather is wet. Keep slugs at bay by using plenty of coarse grit or by planting decoy plants, such as lettuces or French marigolds, nearby. These should lure any slugs away, for if they nip out the growing points of the young beans the plants never recovers.
When to pick dwarf and climbing French beans
Pick your bean crop regularly to encourage more. Often August is a peak month so, if you plan to go on holiday recruit a neighbour to pick them and eat them for you.
How to freeze French beans
If you've got a surplus of French beans you can freeze the excess by blanching them and freezing. Blanching will preserve the colour and flavour, making them easy to cook from frozen in future meals.
- Trim the ends of the beans and cut into pieces
- Boil in salted water for about 3 minutes
- Plunge into ice water for about 3 minutes
- Transfer beans to a tray and place in the freezer
- Once frozen transfer beans to a freezer bag or tub
Good varieties of climbing French beans
Climbing varieties of French beans take up less space and tend to be more resistant to slug damage.
A climbing French bean with dark stems and foliage, plus violet flowers so it is decorative as well as edible.
A first-rate climbing French bean.
Good varieties of dwarf French beans (18 inches/45 cm)
Dwarf French Bean ‘Stanley’ AGM
For vegetable growers, who find themselves with gaps after harvesting potatoes and other early crops, the dwarf French bean ‘Stanley’ is the fastest maturing dwarf bean to plant.
It’s disease resistant, can be planted between May and July inclusive, and will produce slender green beans within ten weeks. This variety crops more abundantly than any other I’ve ever grown, producing lots of white-seeded green beans all at once.
Six-inch long stringless, slender pods with extra flavour due to being purple podded. Holds its pods well above the main foliage for easier picking and less damage from soil splash. Fast-maturing variety that I always grow.
A strong-growing bean with long, dark green pods and black seeds.
Bright-yellow, waxy-podded bean with slightly flattened pods, grows best in sunny summers.
‘The Prince’ AGM
A Sutton’s speciality, with continuously heavy crops of long, slender, flat pale-green pods. Best eaten young.
A traditional Italian variety of French bean with colourful pink and white flecked bean pods.
Good resistance to Bean Mosaic Virus and Anthracnose. Dwarf Bean ‘Nomad’ produces bumper crops of straight, stringless, dark-green pods. Flavour is outstanding.
'Cantare' AGM (Duchy Originals Organic Seeds via T&M)
Heavy yields of dark green pods of about 10cm (4") in length that can be picked over a long period.
French runner bean hybrids
Over a period of many years runner beans and climbing French beans have been crossed by Tozer seeds to produce large, tasty bean pods that resemble runner beans, but when snapped have the plumper profile of a French bean.
The first runner x French hybrid. Vigorous and long-cropping, producing pods that resemble the runner bean in shape
Another runner x French hybrid that crops heavily and produces 9" long beans. Plant 'Firestorm' with 'Moonlight' for a good crop, whatever the weather.
Visit our fruit and veg section for more growing guides, including guides to growing runner beans, peas and broad beans.
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