“ Dwarf French Beans may not require support in good conditions. However, the weight of the pods does tend to drag them to the ground, attracting slugs and other pests. It is best to tie them into a short bamboo pole or let them scramble through twigs inserted into the ground next to them. This will also give some protection to the plants if the weather conditions turn windy. „
Although the current weather would beg to differ, summer is here so that means that there are certain crops which can now be planted straight outside - in the hope that the sky will realise that it is actually the month of June and remember what to do. Dwarf French Beans (DFBs) are one of those crops that can be planted directly into the soil now, and you'll only have to wait about 8 or 9 weeks before you can start picking the pods.
Some people know DFBs as haricot beans, string or green beans. I know them as gorgeous and easier to both grow and prepare than their longer podded and taller growing relative, the runner bean. I'll try to cover the main points around growing and using DFBs below.
They can be started indoors or under cover in late April / early May, but don't plant them out unprotected until all risk of frost has passed as the plants don't tolerate frost. To start from seed, push a seed (the patterns on them are very pretty, they look like an exotic egg shell) about a centimetre into moist rich compost. They will sprout within a week, but still need to be kept in compost that is moist as they can be quite thirsty and will grow quickly when in the warmth. These seedlings can be planted out late May / early June, or you can just plant the seeds themselves directly out around those times too. They only grow about a foot high and don't really need support until the flowers start to turn into bean pods - the weight of these can sometimes drag the plant down under the weight. You can support them with small sticks which isn't as tricky as building 8ft long beanpole wigwams for their larger cousins the runner bean.
They do well in rich soil, so add lots of compost and mix in well. Also, the sunnier a spot you can put them in the better. Don't let the soil dry out, they are quite thirsty plants. Also, there's no need to give them a nitrogen rich feed as they are in the legume family - the roots have nitrogen producing nodules which convert nitrogen from the air and is then put into the surrounding soil by the plant. If you do give them too much nitrogen, they will produce a lot of leaves but not too many flowers and subsequently beans. Plant them out at a minimum of 5 inches apart for best results.
Start picking the pods off when they are about 5 to 6 inches long, but they can be eaten when smaller than this and are much more tender the smaller they are. The beans very rarely need to be de-stringed, which makes them very easy to use in cooking for things like stir-fries or even just washed, chopped and thrown into salads. Like most members of the legume family (peas, sweet peas, beans etc) they will keep producing pods so long as you keep picking them - so when your pods start coming through get picking and the plant will keep rewarding you with more lovely pods to eat.
PESTS AND DISEASES COMMON TO DFBs
DFBs can be prone to a disease called Halo Blight, named after the light coloured halo that surrounds brown spots on the infected leaves. It's thought to be caused by bad seeds, so although you can dry out and store your own seeds for next year's crop, it's better to buy from a reliable supplier. Unfortunately, there's no cure for this so if you spot it then the only course of action is to (annoyingly) pull up the plants and burn them - don't add them to your compost bin as it might spread into your compost. Leaving the plants I the ground that have halo blight will just eventually kill all the plants and you won't have a crop of beans to pick.
DFBs are also prone to the tiny little black fly that also loves broad beans. I treat this by spraying them with soapy water - this suffocates them and they will fall off. A good companion plant for DFBs (and indeed the garden in general) is Marigolds - hoverflies are attracted to marigolds and will eat all the aphids like black and green fly too. Hoverflies look like tiny wasps, so don't be alarmed if you see them in your garden - their presence should be encouraged as they'll do you a massive favour in return for you having planted them lots of marigolds.
Unfortunately, slugs are a pain when it comes to DFBs. I try not to use chemicals in my garden, but do have to say that those little blue slug pellets containing metaldehyde are very effective at killing the slimy little suckers. For the organic purists, beer traps work well (a sunken dish of lager which intoxicates the happily drowned slugs) as does dried bran powder. Don't be tempted to use salt - this will poison your soil and kill any plants you have growing.
Some of the most commonly available varieties to buy from seed in the UK include Purple Teepee (the pods are purple, but unfortunately lose a lot of their gorgeous deep colour when you boil them), Golden Gate (yellow coloured pods) and Tender green (the classic green DFB, pretty much like the ones for sale in supermarkets which have been flown thousands of miles from Kenya and have lost all their taste and soul by the time we get to eat them).
The pods can be eaten whole before the beans inside start to swell as you would eat green beans - washed and boiled as part of a classic "meat and two veg" combo. If you want to freeze the pods, wash and trim them, then dip in boiling water for a minute (this is known as blanching) and they'll last for months in a freezer bag in the deep freeze. The beans inside the pods can be left to swell, then picked out and allowed to dry for storage. These are handy to add to stews in the winter months when there's nothing much happening on the veg patch. Also, you can keep the dried seeds to re-plant the next year.
DFBs are a good source of fibre, are very low in calories and also contain good levels of vitamins A and C.
Fairly easy to grow, very tasty and good for you. Also, with DFBs you don't need to spend a fortune on 8ft tall bamboo canes as they are pretty much self-supporting. The full five stars from me. Thanks for reading.