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Best expert advice on growing beans

French Bean Colourful Climbing Mix

You don’t need a big garden to grow your own beans and there’s a load of excellent online advice to help you including video tutorials, expert articles and insta posts produced by some of the most knowledgeable bean growers in the UK. Take a scroll through these top tips and grow your best ever crop of bean plants – whether you prefer runner beans, broad beans, French beans or even something a bit more unusual, like edamame. 

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Best advice on runner beans

Runner Bean Seeds from Suttons
Runner beans are easy to grow from seeds
Image: Runner Bean Seeds from Suttons

Prolific and tasty runner beans are a great choice for the novice gardener, as Carol at The Sunday Gardener explains in her excellent article How to Grow Runner Beans. Their large seeds are easy to handle and they germinate quickly – usually within a week. Because runner beans have long root systems, she sows her seeds in cardboard toilet roll tubes that decompose when she plants them out.

For Bryony Willis, runner beans are a garden essential and one of the most rewarding vegetables because of their quick and satisfying results and the way they attract bees and other pollinators. Her inspiring post shows young bean plants settling into the soil in late May, and she revels in the promise of twirling tendrils festooned with flowers and long pendulous pods soon to come.

If you have plenty of space and a light soil, preparing a bean trench will help keep your thirsty runner bean plants well hydrated in the growing season, according to John at Allotment and Garden. In his very thorough article on growing runner beans he says you should dig your trench in winter, line it with cardboard or newspaper and fill it with vegetable peelings and soil.

If you want an early runner bean harvest in late May, Steve at Steve’s Seaside Life suggests sowing seeds in April and choosing one of three methods, demonstrated in his easy to follow runner bean growing video, to keep them warm and well protected. He starts his early beans in containers in the polytunnel, in bubble wrap tents inside or out, or in low polythene tunnels out in the allotment.

Best advice on broad beans

Broad Bean Seeds from Suttons
Sow broad bean seeds in autumn, winter and spring
Image: Broad Bean Seeds from Suttons

Versatile and hardy, broad beans can be sown at almost any time of year, depending on the variety. In his detailed video on growing broad beans, Charles Dowding, the No Dig Gardener, talks through all your choices, whether you sow your broad beans in autumn, winter or spring, for harvests from late May to early July. He advocates pinching out the plant tips when the plants are in full flower to deter aphid pests. 

Over at the Veggie Plot, Chris shares his video showing how to sow broad bean seeds – ‘De Monica’ from Suttons – straight into the ground in late autumn, having weeded and raked over the allotment bed. Showing off his summer broad bean harvest, Chris explains how he leaves the broad bean roots in the soil when he clears the bed for the next crop because they possess beneficial nitrogen-fixing nodules that will rot down naturally.

At Erica’s Little Welsh Garden, bad weather has delayed her planting out the broad beans she sowed indoors in October Her video shows her picking the best specimens to transfer to her raised, no-dig, bed in late January. By June, the harvest has begun.

Enthusiastic posts on broad beans from Karen and Rich at The Garden Smallholder remind us not only that November sown broad beans grown undercover outside can give your summer harvest a head start, but that the scent of broad bean flowers is a divine bonus.

Daniel, aka Allotment Chef, overwintered his broad beans – ‘The Sutton’ variety – in the greenhouse. His photo shows the beans flowering in early May. Previously bitten by the frost, he potted them in compost and fed them with seaweed concentrate.

For an insight into how broad beans develop, check out this clever time-lapse video by Dan at Allotment Diary. You can witness the beans germinating and breaking through the soil as little seedlings in footage filmed over 16 days, but sped up to show the whole process in just 60 seconds. Fascinating!

Best advice on French beans

French Bean Seeds from SuttonsFrench Bean Seeds from Suttons
French beans are stocky, tough plants that provide generous harvests.
Image: French Bean Seeds from Suttons

As well as offering a lovely assortment of varieties and colours – from cream and yellow to purple and speckled, as well as regular green – French beans come in both climbing and dwarf types, making them the perfect summer vegetable choice for every gardener. In his excellent guide to growing French beans David Domoney points out that French beans are decorative enough to grow in your flower border. He recommends choosing dwarf bean plants for smaller plots and letting surrounding plants support them, rather than using canes.

If you want an early, bumper harvest of French beans, the climbing varieties are probably your best choice, according to Richard at Sharpen Your Spades, who grew 20 plants on his allotment. He suggests you go on to sow a few dwarf French beans in July and enjoy a nice little harvest as late as October.

For a gorgeous splash of reddish pink colour, and some tasty beans to dry and store for the winter, Katrina at the Homegrown Garden grew some borlotto French beans. She warns that you need to sow them early enough in the season so the beans have time to swell before the first frosts. 

Best advice on edamame beans

Edamame bean seeds from Suttons
This new edamame bean is much easier to grow than older varieties
Image: Edamame bean seeds from Suttons

Gaining in popularity, exotic edamame (or soya) beans come highly recommended by Sally at The Organic Plot. She says recently developed early ripening varieties of this legume are reliably easy to grow in the UK climate. She picks young edamame pods and boils them for their yield of delicious bright green beans to use in salads.

Edamame beans are a staple in the Japanese kitchen and a particular favourite of Hayley at Hayley’s Lottie Haven. She usually soaks beans before sowing, but advises that edamame can be prone to rot, so it’s best to use less water when starting them off. Hers began life in root trainers before being planted against a fence. Hayley captured the simple pleasure of harvesting and cooking edamame – with a side of chilli – on the allotment. 

Best advice on planting out beans

Runner Bean Seeds ‘Hestia’ (dwarf, stringless) from Suttons
This superb runner bean variety grows to just 45cm – ideal for patio containers
Image: Runner Bean Seeds ‘Hestia’ (dwarf, stringless) from Suttons

Over at Life on Pig Row, Andrew likes to use his imagination when it comes to growing beans. In his entertaining blog post he talks through planting out runner and French beans, pointing out their versatility in any space. Why not try growing them as a trailing plant from an upstairs window box for a cascade of beans down a wall? He also stresses the need to give the bean roots a good soaking when you plant them out.

Don’t be tempted to plant out your beans until the risk of frost is over, warns Elaine of The 3 Growbags in her chatty #DigYourOwnaForCorona article. The shock of lower temperatures could kill them. She explains how to harden off your young bean plants by putting them outside for a short time each day and bringing them in each night until they’ve acclimatised. Support them with twiggy sticks and watch out for slugs!

Claire at Claire’s Allotment sows her broad bean seeds in half toilet roll tubes and that makes them very simple to plant out, as she demonstrates in her clear, step-by-step planting out broad beans video. You don’t need to remove the plants from the tubes as they will decompose in the soil.

Best advice on supporting beans

Liz Zorab constructing bean support
Adding a few cross canes creates a firm structure to support your beans
Image: Byther Farm

Climbing beans need something to cling to as they grow and everyone has their own preferred support method, whether that’s a few sticks in a container or a sophisticated structure. For a really thorough guide to some of the choices available check out the terrific bean support guide from Liz Zorab at Byther Farm. She demonstrates how to create a bamboo cane wigwam, an A frame of canes, an inverted bean support and a rather fancy wooden pergola bean support.

Keen cook Mark, at Mark’s Veg Plot, grows lots of runner and French beans for eating and storing. His thorough guide to planting out beans shows the variety of cane arrangements he creates in advance in his garden and allotment for the plants to cling to as they grow. Depending on how bushy the bean plant will become, he plants either one or two seedlings per cane.

Bean supports can be an attractive garden feature in themselves, according to Ade at Agents of Field. He creates different structures each year, such as this rather clever arched bean support over a path for his borlotto and climbing purple French beans. The aim of his design was to save space, make picking easier, give good ventilation and deter black fly.

In his informative video on planting out beans, including his record attempt at growing the world’s longest bean, Tony at Simplify Gardening runs through three different ways to build inexpensive support frames, using canes and old scaffolding poles, for your climbing beans. His V-shaped structure, for example, makes his bean harvest very accessible.

If you prefer a more naturally attractive look, Carol at The Sunday Gardener suggests you support bean plants on small saplings, branches or twigs rather than bamboo canes.

With such great tips from the experts to follow, and so many varieties to choose from, a beautiful crop of tasty beans should be easily achievable this summer, whether you have a tiny patio or a generous allotment plot. Sow beans from seed or buy bean plants if you want a head start, but do give them a go this year if you haven’t tried growing your own beans before.

Lead image: Bean (Climbing French) Plants – Colourful Climbing Mix

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