Borlottis are bestPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
Of all the varieties of climbing beans, I like borlottis best. ‘Runners’ may be speedy climbers, first to reach the top of the canes in the Great Bean Race, with pretty flowers and large, dangly pods, but unless the beans are picked when young, they become tough and stringy. Then there are elegant French climbing beans, delicate flowers and slender pods which need little attention apart from a quick ‘top ‘n’ tail’ before popping them into boiling water for a couple of minutes before serving them hot with a knob of butter, or blanching then cooling them for adding to salad Niçoise.
But in my books, borlottis top the list of climbing beans – ‘Lingua de Fuoco’ in particular, a variety which produces flattish pods, flecked with reddish streaks, sticking out at you from the foliage like so many tongues (the name means ‘tongues of flame’). Although the pods can be picked and eaten when young and tender, borlottis are best grown for their beans, so instead of picking the pods, simply leave them dangling so that the beans inside can swell and reach their maximum size. Apart from needing lots of sun and plenty of water, borlottis are easy plants to grow. By late summer, the foliage will show signs of wilting and the pods will begin to wither – but all is well, be patient and wait until early autumn when the plants will have all but died before removing the pods from the stems. Before you can harvest the beans, leave the pods in a sunny spot to dry out, by which time they will be crisp enough to split open and release the wonderful speckled beans which resemble tiny birds’ eggs.
The best is yet to come as there are numerous recipes which include borlotti beans – in hearty soups and warming winter casseroles!
Growing borlotti beans
In order to develop good-sized beans, borlotti plants need a longish period for the plants to grow and produce pods, so start the process in April or May. I find it easier to plant single beans in a small pots and place these in a warm, sunny spot until the shoots appear, from which point the plants will grow quickly. Timing is important: borlotti plants are susceptible to cold, so need to be ready to go into the ground after the risk of frost has passed. Before planting, they require hardening off for a few days by putting the pots outside during the day and remembering to take them in at night.
When the time comes for planting, first make a suitable frame or tepee from 8’ canes up which the borlottis will grow, then pop a plant at the base of each cane and water well. Once the plants start to grow, they may need a bit of help to start twining their leading shoot around the canes. Once they reach the top, pinch out the growing tip to encourage lots of flowering shoots to develop and you’ll have beans galore!