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French Beans

Three little pleasures in life
* one spring afternoon, sitting in my allotment, watching Joe (not his real name) working hard at preparing a bed; carting manure, digging, building a superb bed - for what?
* sitting (again?) in my allotment on an afternoon in early summer, watching Joe.   He's been scrabbling around in the scrub at the end of the site for hours.   He's frustrated and the language drifting over shows it.   He's found four long poles for his runner beans, but he needs two more.   He's been round asking everybody if they have any to spare, and they don't.   It took him a week to find all 6 poles, long and straight enough, and then he had to erect the wigwam, and tie sprawling plants in.
* having a chat with Joe, standing this time (- I do make an effort sometimes), listening to him bemoaning the fact that his last picking of runner beans were so stringy that his kids wouldn't eat them on Sunday.   "After all that effort .  .  .  "There is a fourth pleasure, but I won't gloat, however much I enjoyed telling him what those plants were in my plot.   Everybody else grows runner beans, while I grow French beans.   Easier, a superb crop, and so much tastier than supermarket beans.
There's only one thing wrong - next year he'll be growing French beans because he's seen how good my crop has been for so little effort, and he'll be enjoying the sight of me struggling to get runner beans, because I want to know what all the fuss is about.   Life!
Growing French Beans
* French Beans will grow in almost any soil - best of all in a sunny bed, not exposed to high winds, well-dug and manured the previous autumn.
* Choose your varieties; I choose bush types - the yield per plant is smaller, but they don't need any support.   I usually choose three varieties -
* a dwarf French such as Slenderette or Aramis;
* a dual purpose bean -which can be used as slim, tender, tasty haricots verts; and if left a bit too long, can be used as flageolets (green beans out of their pods); and if left to mature, can be hung up to dry, and give me dried beans for the winter; probably Brown Dutch next year;
* and one for fun - a yellow waxpod type (supposed to have outstanding flavour), or a purple one, or a red spotted borlotti.* Sow the seed about 2 inches deep, 4 inches apart, in rows 18 inches apart.
* And immediately string garden twine along and across the bed - birds love these beans as much as peas.   I sow quite early to make sure I can replace the seedlings pinched by the birds.
* If the weather turns dry at or after the flowering period, these beans will need lots of water regularly to ensure a good and long harvesting period.
* Harvesting - don't let the pods mature too far.   As soon as they snap easily, and before the beans bulge in the pod, start picking - and pick regularly to prevent pods maturing.
* Alternatively, let some of the pods mature.   In Yorkshire, I then lift the whole plant and hang it indoors to dry.   When the pods are brittle and splitting, I shell the beans and dry them for a couple of weeks, and store for winter use.
* If you sow indoors in April, or under cloches, you can start picking in June.







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