Grow your own: French beans

French beans are a great choice for new comers to veg growing and especially good for those with little space. Just one plant will produce many beans over along period so a whole row will keep a family in beans easily.

They will also crop over a long period if the pods are picked regularly. There are two types, climbing or dwarf, and they can form either round pods or flat and sometimes coloured too.

French bean varieties

  • ‘Cobra’
    A really heavy-yielding climbing bean with round green pods about 18cm (7in) long. Lovely mauve flowers.
  • ‘Goldfield’
    A wonderful yellow flat podded type. The beans don’t have that stringy edge to them and at 25cm (10in) long are certainly great value. Would be attractive in the flower border.
  • ‘Delinel’
    A French ‘filet’ type of bean producing masses of thin round pods. This really is an amazing cropper and just goes on forever as long as you keep harvesting them. Plants are sturdy and remain upright too.
  • ‘Borlotto’ (Dwarf)
    There is a tall climbing version of this one too. Picked young the green beans arelovely and tender. Alternatively, wait until the beans mature turning a fiery red and streaked cream. The seeds can be used in stews or soups.
French Beans sprouting from it's plant.

Sowing & Growing French beans

French beans are not fully hardy so it is best to make early sowings indoors in pots or cell trays. Use multi-purpose compost and sow four beans to a 9cm (31⁄2in) pot or one seed per cell if using deep cell trays.

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Just hold one end of the seed and insert into the compost about 2.5cm (1in) deep. Cover with more compost, water well and place in a propagator or on a warm windowsill. It will take 7-10 days for the seedlings to emerge.

If the seeds are in a propagator, remove as soon as you see the seedlings breaking through the surface. They will stretch and go leggy if left in the heat for too long. Place the seedlings on a sunny windowsill or on a greenhouse bench to grow on.

Growing on

Choose a sunny spot to grow your beans and prepare the ground by adding plenty of well-rotted garden compost or farmyard manure. A sprinkling of Growmore or chicken manure is a good idea too, French beans like a rich soil.

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By early to mid May the pots of beans can be placed in a sheltered part of the garden or in acold frame to get used to cooler temperatures. Protect plants from any late frosts with some fleece. By the end of May, beginning of June, plant out into the veg plot.

Climbing beans will already be quite tall, so put your canes or poles in place first and then plant one or two plants next to each support. Tie the stem to the pole loosely to encourage the bean to grow up that support. It is a good idea to use a slug control at this early stage.

Space French beans about 15cm (6in) apart in the row with rows about 45cm (18in) apart. Water the plants well during dry spells. Once the beans are about 8cm (3in) long start harvesting, they are better if picked small.

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