Growing climbing beansPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg
After taking a close look at the weather forecast, I’ve finally planted out my climbing beans. A few other gardeners on the allotment site where I have my plot were brave enough to put their bean plants in the ground a week or two ago and ran the risk of the plants falling victim to a touch of late frost. We’ve had a few cold nights recently in this part of Bristol, with temperatures low enough to nip tender foliage – beans, courgettes, squash, outdoor toms and the like being very susceptible – and there’s nothing more disheartening than the sight of precious plants which have wilted in the overnight cold. With luck the foliage might recover and the plants survive, but the chances are they’ve had it and the only solution is to start all over again. Late sowings of most vegetable plants should catch up, so all is not lost if you lose your plants to frost (or slugs!) People who like to get their tender plants in the ground early go to extraordinary lengths to protect them. I’ve seen bean poles swathed in yards of fleece, cunningly held in place with clothes pegs – only to be swept aside by the wind or weighed down by an overnight soaking.
Climbing beans to try
I usually grow three types of climbing bean, runner, French and borlotti – fewer of the first two and lots of the latter. Borlotti beans, Lingua di Fuocco, are left on the plant and the pods dried in the autumn. The resulting beans, which resemble small, speckled eggs, are the perfect base for hearty winter casseroles, my personal favourite being spicy sausage and tomato. Much as I like ‘runners’, they must be picked and eaten when young and I’m not a fan of freezing them so don’t over plant or your friends and neighbours love beans. When it comes to runner or French beans, make sure you choose stringless varieties – my recommendations being Scarlet Emperor and White Lady (runner) and Cobra and Blue Lake (French climbing).
Whichever type of climbing beans you grow, they need a sunny spot and humus-rich soil, ideally sown above a trench full of rotting organic material - a ‘bean trench’.
How to support your climbing beans
All varieties of climbing beans are traditionally grown up a simple framework of long bamboo canes, either set out in a ‘wigwam’ of poles which are tied at the top – the perfect solution where space is limited or for growing beans in a large pot - or in a row with the canes in pairs, secured at the top to another cane which forms the ridge of the row. If you are growing climbing beans for the first time, take my advice and make the framework as sturdy as possible as strong wind will do its best to tear down a row of beans. I drive a couple of long iron poles into the ground at either end of where the framework will be and use plastic cable ties, rather than string, to join canes which are spaced 12in (30cm) apart with 45cm (18in) between the rows. I’ve given up trying to tie a secure knot in a length of garden twine, my hands two feet above my head.
If you have lost your bean plants to an overnight cold snap, it’s not too late to sow seeds directly into the ground – two seeds at the base of each cane and the stronger plant left to climb and crop.
Caring for climbing beans
Once the beans reach the top of the supporting structure, pinch their tips out to encourage vigorous flowering and heavy cropping. Beans need a lot of moisture to produce a steady crop so water well as and when required. Aim to harvest the pods when they are young and tender. Frequent picking and an occasional feed with liquid fertiliser will encourage more beans to develop and should keep you supplied with a crisp and tender crop all through the summer.