By now, my readers will know by now of my love for climbing vegetables. This month I want to talk about the French climbing beans. These are the last to be planted out, the most tender and also the most delicious to eat. I can’t understand why people favour the squat French Bean. All that bending over to pick and being so near the ground they are much more vulnerable to pests like slugs. French Beans seem to do really well in raised beds. This goes against the received wisdom that beans require a deep bed. I’ve discovered that what they really need is nutrition, sunshine, pollinators and water - loads of it.
One way to achieve good moisture levels is to provide your beans with a deep compost bed before planting. I do prepare the ground by placing raw kitchen waste under the soil and I also try to overlay that with my own compost as thickly spread as possible. This will give the plants a very good start in life.
But the two things which will give the plants a good crop are sunshine and daily watering. My raised beds have a watering system which runs for half an hour morning and evening. In really hot weather I sometimes augment this with the watering can.
Last year (2013) I grew a variety called Haricot a Rame mangetout (ABOVE). Phenomene by EuroGraines. Rame refers to the climbing type. This one is advertised to go to 2.5m and it did! Mangetout beans aren't meant to be as stringy as other varieties. This means you can allow them to grow big before harvesting. (Though I can never wait!) If you leave them on the vine you do get a small crop of white beans, but for preserving a larger stand is required. As with all legumes regular picking will stimulate the production of more beans. This year I have grown Cosse Violette. So far the flavour of the Cosse Violette (BELOW) is divine.
The flowers of the haricot bean come out creamy yellow and matures to pure white. COsse Violette are deep violet and the beans equally colourful. But neither are showy like the runner bean flower, so I tend to team my French beans with other climbers. Last year my favourite combination had been with a dual coloured Spencer sweetpea, which has delicate pink and white leaves and looks as if some divine artist has hand painted each petal with water-colours. THis year I teamed the violet flowers of the French Bean with deep red sweet peas. Its perhaps a clash, but a good one.
I'm convinced that legumes grow better if you mix them up. Maybe it is the increased pollination, maybe it's the complexity of nitrogen fixing at the roots. However the best reason for combining the plants is that they look so lovely together.