If you only grow a limited range of vegetables you really should make space for French Green Beans. They are one of the most useful edible crops and one that gives a good return from a small space - available in dwarf varieties as well as climbing.
Recently French beans have become very popular and a variety of heritage seeds are readily available including coloured varieties with purple or golden pods and haricot type beans for drying. Added to that you can produce out of season beans from an unheated greenhouse which must be far better than flying them in from afar!
French beans are not difficult but need better growing conditions than runner beans so a little care will be needed.
When To Plant
Sow on a warm window sill indoors or in an unheated greenhouse in mid April for an early batch of plants to put outdoors. Sow outdoors in May, June and early July where you want plants to crop. The plants are not frost hardy so don't plant outside until mid or late May - it's easy to get caught out with a late frost.
Grow dwarf varieties 15 cm apart with 25cm between rows or grow climbing varieties up supports 20cm apart in single rows on a Bean Frame or Tower.
Water bean plants sparingly while they're young and in cool weather, but more generously after they are well established and carrying a crop - The plants don't need extra feeding if the ground was well prepared before planting.
Climbing French beans are more productive than dwarf varieties and have a longer cropping season so grow these where you have the space.
Growing in Containers
Beans make decorative plants in planters or containers where space is short and do well grown this way. Space plants in containers 10 cm apart in each direction and let them scramble up trellis against a wall or plant ten plants around the edge of the pot and place an obelisk or support in the centre for them to grow up.
Growing Under Glass
Sow seeds of dwarf French Beans on a warm window sill indoors in March then grow on in a cold greenhouse for an early crop. Plant these in a well prepared bed or large pots from mid to late April and with luck you can be eating beans in May and June.
French Beans Harvest
Green French Beans can be picked as soon as the beans are big enough - they’re most tender while small. Snap pods off the plants cleanly along with part of the short stalk that joins them to the stem. Pick regularly as pods left too long on the plant developed fat beans inside which are tough to eat.
Climbing French Beans tend to crop from late June to the end of August but depending on sowing times it's possible to have green beans outdoors from late June to the end of September - you'll need to so several crops to achieve continuity over this time.
Root Rot in Cold or Damp Weather
Seeds can rot or young plants will rot at the roots if they are planted in cool dull and damp growing conditions early in the season or in a cold spell in summer. Seeds come up best in small individual pots indoors with compost on the dry side and don't put plants out until growing conditions are warmer and drier.