GROW GUIDE - BEANS (not all of them)
Beans are everywhere, If someone was to name the different types they knew, someone else would most likely name those same types something different. There are dozens of cultivated types of beans with thousands of distinct cultivars among them. It might also surprise you to know, a peanut is actually also a bean!
For this grow guide there will only be a few types covered and these will be based on the method of growing them rather than the colour of seed and so forth.
For a bit of background, both peas and beans are legumes, this means they produce their own nitrogen through bacteria they nurture in their roots called Rhizobia. These are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia, a much more useable source. This means they are extremely self sufficient and most feeds do more harm in the way of weed boosting than good!
Broad beans are the bean best known for overwintering, they are extremely hardy and the Aquadulce cultivar can survive under snow throughout the winter and still crop. In more sheltered parts of the UK it is also fairly easy to overwinter, either with Aquadulce or Bunyard's Exhibition. By planting in the autumn (October is traditional) the beans have time to germinate and develop roots before the cold pushes them into hibernation. When they start to grow in the spring, other beans will have just started to germinate and they can have a head start of six weeks with good weather.
This doze however have a downside, if the autumn is warm, the beans can put on a lot of leggy growth that is less hardy than the compact strong growth they would normally form. This soft growth is less hardy and more prone to diseases from the warm conditions!
Broad beans have a large seed that is extremely easy to plant, if you are sowing in the ground, it could be wise to sow two in the same hole. If you are sowing in pots undercover then this is un-needed as you can simply transplant out the stronger plants. To encourage germination, you can soak seed for 50-60 mins in warm water (although be carful as the seed is much more easily damaged this way) which can cut germination down 3-4 days.
Beans should be sown outside at about 5cm depth, largely for protection but about 2cm is enough for proper germination in pots.
The main requirement beans have is light, they will happily grow with little food and are semi-drought tolerant but they will require full sun. Some cultivars that are either tall or especially prolific will appreciate staking with a cane as otherwise winds can damage the plant and snap the stem. If you particularly want to feed or encourage broad beans, a bit of super-phosphate will encourage root growth and you can buy bean boosters which is a granulated form of Rhizobia.
When flowers start to appear, they need slightly more water, keep this going until harvest (but don't drown them). If they are having trouble setting, misting the flowers with some slightly sugary water will help attract pollinators and keep the flowers fresh.
After flowers start to appear, pinch the top growth out of the broad beans as this will increase yield and the already existing plant material will mature making it more resistant to blackfly compared to soft fresh growth.
Pods are ready for harvest when they have started to swell slightly, this should be from the bottom up so keep an eye on your crop as the younger you harvest, the better the taste. If you want to save seed then let the pods fully mature until they rattle and shell the beans, bite them and if there is very little indentation then they are ready.
Broad beans are normally eaten shelled, however some people also eat the young immature pods, boiled like snap peas.
Aquadulce Claudia (AGM)
This is the premiere overwintering bean, it is suitable for the coldest weather and it gives an extremely early crop.
Bunyard's Exhibition is another overwintering bean, less hardy but can be sown wither autumn or spring and has a slightly better taste.
Whitkiem's Manita is a very early bean that crops only weeks after an overwintered cultivar. It has a sweet taste and produces small beans. One of the most popular.
Red Epicure is (as the name suggests) a red seeded cultivar. It has a strong taste and has very fragrant red flowers. Defiantly an interesting bean, its colour is preserved if only briefly cooked.
Karmazyn is a gourmet bean, a light pink it has a smooth slightly nutty taste that is very popular. Prolific but stout it is highly regarded
Masterpiece Green Longpod
Masterpiece Green is the most popular bean brought at the shop, it is very prolific and highly productive, producing 6-7 green beans per pod with a very good taste.
Broad beans are susceptible to blackfly, their most prominent pest. With either physical or chemical control it is simple to control them and it is beneficial to pinch out their top growth.
Runner bean seed is slightly smaller than broad bean seed, it can be started indoors or out. Ideally runner beans like to be planted above a trench filled with some composted manure, this helps them hold moisture to the roots and gives them good soil to grow into. As the big problem with these beans is moisture, they dislike sandy soil (although they will still grow in it) and a mulch is beneficial.
Due to the vigour of the plants, soaking seed offers little benefit and is not recommended.
As these beans are vigorous climbers, they will need either canes or trellis to grow on. There are a number of ways to supply this, the traditional way is two 6-8ft canes crossing with a horizontal cane at the join. If you don't have the room however a tepee will still allow them to climb.
As the beans reach the height of the canes, it is a good idea to pinch the top out as this will help the plants bush out, producing more flowering side shoots whilst diminishing the risk of blackfly.
Keep the plants well watered, especially when flowering and on hot days it can be worth misting the flowers gently with water to help keep humidity up. If you want a large crop of plants, try pinching the tip of the plants out at 15cm, this will delay growth slightly but increase yield by encouraging side shoots close to the ground.
Red flowered beans are traditional, however there is more and more a movement to using white or bicolour flowers as they are more drought resistant and birds are less tempted to eat them (which is not surprising given red flowers are edible to humans aswell!). Although there have been no direct tests as far as we are aware, red beans seem more readily pollinated than white.
It is important to keep up to date with harvesting, always try to pick before beans start to swell in the pods as this will not only provide a better bean, it will encourage more to be produced! If too many bean pods reach maturity, the plants will stop producing pods to focus on the existing ones, potentially reducing cropping from 8 weeks to 3-4!
Runner beans can obviously be used as an edible pod, however the seeds themselves can be used if you want, they make good drying beans for haricots and they can be used similarly to kidney beans fresh ideally you would do this in the later stages as otherwise you will get reduced yield! In addition, the flowers can be eaten (red) and make a good addition to many foods!
White vs Red. White flowered beans were developed to be less attractive to birds, however they are also less attractive to insects. If you have trouble with birds eating the flowers and cant (or would prefer not to) then white flowered beans may help.
Scarlet Empire is a derivative of the old favoured Scarlet Emperor, it has the same taste but is more productive, has longer pods and is more vigorous! Stringless.
Red Rum is an extremely popular red bean, It is stringless, vigorous and crops well even in high heat.
Wisley Magic (AGM) is an extremely heavy cropping prolific bean that is one of the fastest growing we sell, although they do develop small strings in the pod, they have a superb flavour.
Moonlight is a white cross between a runner and a french bean, bred by Tozar. It is prolific even in hot weather when beans more often than not fail.
Painted Lady is a bicolour bean from Victorian times and it still holds up well against modern cultivars. Its bicolour flowers are less attractive to birds and it has remained popular in gardens for a long time, sort of speaks for itself!
The main problem with runner beans is a lack of water, ensure they are well watered and you are almost guaranteed a crop. To this end a mulch of manure or compost will help trap moisture by the roots, and when you water the plants it is worth just misting the leaves with a fine spray.
To deal with aphids and black fly, pinch out the tops when they reach the end of the canes and deal with the problem as it emerges. Either physical control or pyrethrum are useable (but only spray with Pyrethrum in the late evening to avoid scorch and bee damage!)
A very poorly known (in the UK at least) fact is that runner beans are perennial. They produce root tubers that can be lifted and allowed to rest on a bench or such before being planted out again in the spring! Whilst ideally this would cut down on growing time, they tend to have a poor survivorship rate in the UK and are likely to carry any diseases from the previous year. Whilst this is not really worth doing as a home gardener, if you have a particularly good or unusual bean (or are just curious), you can use this to avoid cross pollination randomness.
There are a number of similarities between bush and climbing beans, the main difference however is how they grow. Climbers (shockingly as the name suggest) climb and have a longer though slightly slower cropping period. Bush beans on the other hand are quicker to grow and more compact, ideal for space saving. They crop quickly but for a briefer time meaning you can get the first yield but may want successive sowing.
French beans, regardless of the growth pattern, are best sown in early April for an early crop. It is more reliable to sow them in pots indoors and you will get quicker germination but it is possible to grow them in the ground aswell. They like a free draining soil (much like broad beans) and a lot of sun.
Depending on the bean, either grow them in blocks of plants (for the bush cultivars) or along canes/trellis for the climbers. There is no real need to feed them and most cultivars are extremely vigorous. French beans are self pollinating so you should have a good yield but do remember to water them after flowers appear. Keep an eye on the weather, especially if there is frost or such inbound and protect with fleece.
As with all beans, it is ideal to harvest them early, before the beans start to swell. This reduces the strain on the plants and they will set more fruit for you later. After you have harvested them initially, a second feed will increase cropping.
Obviously you can eat the pod when young, but if you leave the pod for seeds to mature, you can shell and cook or dry the seed itself. If you do this then you really should boil the beans for at least 10 mins as this helps degrade the toxin in the seeds, (the same as red kidney beans).
Blue Lake - These are the archetypical french bean, near stringless with great taste, they are highly popular.
Cosse Violette (AGM) - This is a slightly uncommon cultivar with superb taste and a vivid purple pod. They are entirely stringless and can grow up to 10 ft if allowed. Highly recommended but sometimes hard to get.
Cherokee (Trail of tears) - This bean has a history to it, it is the same bean that the Cherokee native peoples took out of Georgia when they were forced out across America. It is superb as a dried bean but also very edible as a pod.
Borlotto lingua - This is a flat climber as opposed to the round climbers above, it is the Italian fire tongue bean, one of the most well known of all the Italian cultivars, It is best eaten as seed rather than pods and is traditionally thrown in stews. Decorative seed and pods of green and red.
The problems associated with French beans are similar to broad beans, they are often attacked by aphids and blackfly. Again the tips should be pinched out once they reach the required height and a close eye should be kept. You can physically crush the pests (blackfly form colonies so its fairly easy) or you can spray with Pyrethrum in the late evening.
Soy beans are still a fringe bean, they are not readily grown in the UK as their particular Rhizobia bacteria are not often present in UK soils, this means unless you can find an inoculate they will have low vigour and low productivity whilst also needing feed. Whilst it is possible, it is not as easy as most other beans!
Soya beans are best sown in May-June and transplanted as soon as the weather gets warm. They require a fair amount of heat and long light levels so keep an eye on the weather. Best germination is achieved using a propagator.
After germination and potting, gently accustom them to outdoor weather by letting them out in the day but keeping them inside or very well sheltered at night. They require a well drained soil and high light levels. After transplanting them it is ideal to mulch the ground around them as they like a moist environment. Although they can grow to 1.2m they will largely be self supporting. Any movement will help strengthen the roots but they can be staked if needed.
The beans are ready when the leaves fall of the plants and the pods are fully swollen, The pods are largely weatherproof so they can be left on the plant or picked as you require.
Soya beans are only grown for their seed and they must be boiled for 10 mins prior to eating to break down the toxin that is prevalent in many bean species. You can either boil the beans or the pods (although only the seed is really edible). They are a high source of protein (even more than most beans).
There are no pests as such for soya beans in this country, the main problem is that they are poorly adapted to the climate here, needing hot conditions and that they struggle to grow without their own cultivar of Rhizobia present. Keep them well watered and if you succeed then congratulations!
"One for mouse, one for crow, one to rot and one to grow."
Dose this remind you of a film and a magic ring at all?
There are a number of different types of pea, almost as many as the beans above, fortunately they grow in much the same way and the main difference is how the fruit is used.
The first differentiation is the pea itself, there are two main types, wrinkled and round. Wrinkled peas are formed because they have a slightly altered DNA sequence that reduces the starch they make, this means they store energy less efficiently, have problems with water management and are less viable in the wild. It also makes them sweet and tasty.
As a result of this, round peas are stronger and hardier (but less tasty raw) so they are best sown early in the season. Wrinkled peas are better sown late.
The other division is how the are used, shelling peas, you obviously eat the seed but snap peas and mangetout peas you instead eat the pod.
Peas are best sown indoors. This is indisputable as outside they are prone to mice, birds, rotting and freezing (as the rhyme above notes). By starting them indoors, you get a faster crop, your wrinkled peas are more suited to the warmer weather and you are less likely to have crows fluttering around your house! Peas are best sown about 5cm deep in march and they will germinate much faster than most beans. Again they are leguminous so they provide their own nutrients and there is very little need to feed them. After the cold weather has passed (especially for certain cultivars) they should be planted outside in a warm sunny and well drained environment.
There are a handful of overwintering peas, they are however susceptible to pests, worth a try but keep an eye on them!
Peas are rapid growers, all but the dwarf cultivars will need a trellis or cane to climb up. Be carful when young as they are prone to being attacked by slugs and snails. One common practise is to have a row of canes and use pea netting so they can scramble around as much as they like. Keep them watered after flowering and watch out for blackfly!
Keep an eye out for the taller cultivars, they are now very rare, having been replaced by the machine harvestable 3ft peas. Prior to this 7ft peas were commonplace and give you over double the crop for the ground space taken up
Peas are harvested at different times depending on the cultivar, take note when you buy the plants or the seed so you know what to expect and it can be wise to have a few later plants. Harvest when the pea pods are full for shelling plants and for the pod plants, just as the peas are starting to develop (around 7-8cm long)
Peas can obviously be used for fresh peas and in any number of different ways, if you want something different look for cultivars marked sugar-snap or mangetout.
Champion of England - An old English pea, nearly extinct that grows 7-8ft Tall Shelling Pea
Lord Lestershire - Another old pea that grows 8ft and has a long cropping period- Tall Shelling Pea
Meteor - Dwarf overwintering pea - Shelling Pea
Asparagus Pea - Winged peas that have a mild asparagus taste - Shelling Pea
Peas tend to suffer from physical damage caused from pests most, in particular pigeons and slugs, (pea weevil is damaging but often once a plant is growing it is insignificant). Mice will happily ferret out seed and devour them where they can. The pea moth will happily lay its eggs in the flower and destroy peas in the pod, whilst you can spray you have to spray the flowers so if you get problems with them try instead growing the peas slightly earlier or later to protect pollinators.