Beans for Breakfast
16 January 2023
The Best Beans for Breakfast!
If you were to visit any allotment or vegetable garden across the UK, I’m sure you would find that some of the most popular vegetables grown are Runner and French beans. This is probably because they are easy to grow and can be relied upon in most years to provide you with a bumper crop.
I know many gardeners who will only grow Runner beans saying the flavour of a French bean is not as good. Well, here is one gardener who doesn’t agree. I will always have a place in my garden and kitchen for both!
If you grow both types, it enables you to grow them over a longer period and you will have succulent beans ready to harvest from June through to October.
These types of beans don’t need to take up a lot of space, as they will grow just as well in containers as they do in the ground.
One good reason for growing Runner and French beans is they both make a good addition to our daily diet as they are high in vitamins and fibre plus can be enjoyed with many meals.
I must admit my whole family love eating Runner and French beans, I remember when I lived at home with mum and dad, my mother always prepared and cooked more beans than were ever needed for our dinner. This wasn’t being wasteful; it was because my father loved beans so much, he would eat them at every meal if he could, including his breakfast. Whatever beans mum had left over from dinner, she would save them, put in the fridge overnight then fry them up with some bacon for dads breakfast the next morning. He loves them like this, and I must admit so do I.
If we didn’t have beans for dinner, we often have them for tea served up with some new potatoes and some freshly boiled ham.
It makes my mouth water just thinking about it, and my belly is starting to rumble, must be all this talk of food that’s making me feel hungry.
I have even known some gardeners who eat beans raw as a snack. The only time I have ever eaten beans raw is when I have been tasting testing different varieties on trial. When eaten raw you tend to get a sweeter flavour. I once lived down the road from a lady who ate them raw dipped in salad cream each night whilst watching the TV. She said they were delicious and healthier than peanuts. Well, I can’t argue with that but one word of warning, try to avoid eating too many of the bean seeds inside as these can give some people an upset stomach if eaten in excess whilst raw.
Bean Jargon - Types of Beans
Runner Beans –
are mainly climbing types, in America they are often known as Pole beans, which are predominantly grown in the USA for their decorative flowers. What a waste as the main reason for growing these beans, as all UK gardeners know are their delicious succulent green pods that can be harvested from July through to the first frosts.
Runner Beans are a good source of Vitamin C, folate and Iron and have a high fibre content. Only cook for the minimum of time until tender as 1/3 of vitamins and some of the flavour is lost if the beans are overcooked.
Most runner Bean varieties need canes or wires for support, but there are a few dwarf types that are ideal for growing in containers. Unfortunately, the dwarf types have never really caught on, which is surprising, as they look attractive on the patio and I have known them to crop quicker and earlier than dwarf French beans sown at the same time.
Most Runner beans are not self-fertile so they need pollinating insects present to help the flowers set and to produce beans. Setting can also be a problem if we get excessive night temperatures, which was a real problem last year. It has been discovered by runner bean breeders that Runner beans are capable of putting up with any high temperatures in the day but do not like more than 2-3 days in a row of night temperatures exceeding 15C (60F). When the night temperatures are this high and the humidity levels are high the beans become stressed and will often drop their flowers rather than set. This is why so many of us last year had long bare stalks and a carpet of flowers on the floor.
It has also been discovered that most white flowered varieties can cope with the higher temperatures better, and will still produce a good crop under these warm conditions. This is why most of the runner beans sold in supermarkets are the White flowered types, normally imported in from Kenya.
I always recommend gardeners use a red flowered variety for early sowings and a white flowered variety for their later sowings, as this will help them extend their picking season whatever the weather.
Recent Breeding has introduced some partially self-fertile Runner beans that have been developed by crossing a Runner and French Bean together, resulting in a Runner bean that sets more easily and could be the answer to many gardener’s prayers.
Climbing French Beans
– When the weather is changeable or very hot making the growing conditions difficult, Climbing French beans will often crop better than Runner beans. Because French beans are self-fertile, they do not need any pollinating insects present to ensure a good crop. Being self-fertile also means they can be grown early and late in the season under cover, enabling you to extend the picking season.
Climbing French Beans grow well in the ground and containers and many have decorative flowers and coloured pods, and tend to be a little less vigorous, so they do not need quite as long support wires or canes as Runner beans.
Climbing and dwarf French beans are a good source of vitamin A and K, and many gardeners and cooks believe French beans are better used for freezing than Runner beans.
Dwarf French Beans
– Like their climbing cousins they are also self fertile, making them ideal for growing undercover early or late in the season. Being dwarf, normally only growing 30-40cm (12-16in) tall they need no supports, also makes them ideal for growing in patio containers or in growbags on a sunny patio.
Like the climbing types the pods come in a variety of colours all offering different tastes and textures whether eaten freshly picked or taken out of the freezer and cooked.
Sowing of Runner or French beans is very similar the only difference is in how deep they are sown and the compost and conditions they are sown under: -
I like to do some of my Runner bean
sowings in pots and some I sow direct into the ground outside. The Runner beans sown in pots are sown into soil-less multipurpose compost, I push one or two beans into each pot, and these are pushed down to the depth of the first joint above my fingernail on my index finger. The pots are then placed in a heated greenhouse at a minimum temperature of 10-15C (50-60F) and grown on in the glasshouse, before moving to a cold frame to gradually harden off prior to planting out after all risk of frost has passed.
The beans sown outside are sown either into drills approximately 7cm (3in) deep or I like to dib a hole approximately the same depth along the row and drop two beans per hole then I rake the soil over and lightly firm. The beans are spaced 20-30cm (8-12in) apart along the rows.
Whether I sow in pots or direct outside will depend on the time of year I am sowing the seed and how much space I have. I often make my earliest sowings half-sown direct outside under cloches and half-sown in pots. This gives me a guaranteed crop and enables me to use the indoor sowings to gap up any plants nipped by an early frost, or to replace those that have been eaten by slugs. If I am lucky and don’t lose any plants, I can use them to plant an additional row.
I sow my Climbing and Dwarf French beans
in pots and direct outside also. I have found that climbing and dwarf French beans are very particular about what compost they are sown into. As a rule, they do not like germinating in some of the soil-less composts. If they lay too wet for too long, they will often rot, so I always do a 50/50 mix of soil-less seed sowing compost and Perlite or horticultural grit. This helps keep the compost more open and free draining.
The seeds are sown into 7cm (3in) pots and pushed into the compost so they are just under the surface. I then water the compost so it is just moist, but not too wet to avoid rotting. The pots are then placed in a warm place at a minimum temperature of 10-15C (50-60F) and they will start to germinate in 14-21 days. These plants are then grown on and placed in a cold frame to harden off prior to planting out after all risk of frost has passed.
I sow outside in drills similar to runner beans spacing the beans 10-15cm (4-6in) apart. If I want to sow the seeds against a wigwam, I dib out holes 5-7 cm (2-3in) deep beside each cane and drop 2-3 beans per hole.
Sowing these beans at different times of the year can extend the picking season.
Mid-February to early March
As already mentioned, Dwarf and Climbing French beans are self-fertile making them ideal for early sowings. These early sowings can be made into pots and then transplanted into large pots or into the growbags or the greenhouse or polytunnel border. I like to plant 3-4 dwarf French beans into a 25cm (10in) flowerpot and grow on in a heated glasshouse. Or I plant the dwarf or climbing French beans into a Growbag of the glasshouse border. The climbing types are trained up strings and take a little longer to crop than dwarf types. These early sowings will give me a few good pickings of beans, at a time when the beans are at their most expensive to buy in the shops. From these sowings I normally can expect to be picking my first beans by May or early June. If you have the space this method is certainly worth a try.
Late April to Early May
You can make your first sowings under glass of climbing and dwarf French beans as well as Runner Beans. These can be grown on ready for planting outside at the end of May once all risk of frost has passed. For this sowing I would use a red flowered Runner bean like Enorma. As already mentioned, I also make an early sowing of Runner beans direct outside in rows. The rows of this early sowing are covered with a cloche to help warm the soil to give emerging seedlings some extra protection.
I make my second sowing of Runner beans under glass in pots ready for planting outside in early June. This sowing is only made in pots as I often plant these in places on the vegetable plot that have already been used for early sowings of lettuce or radish. I also make further sowings of climbing French beans in pots ready for planting outside and I make further sowings of dwarf French beans outside in drills.
Around the 10th
of June I make my final sowing of Runner Beans. This can be made in pots or drills depending on space. I usually make mine in pots so I can use the plants to fill in gaps where early crops of peas have been harvested. This sowing will provide young beans ready to harvest in September going through o October depending on the weather. For this sowing I would use White Lady or Moonlight a white flowered variety.
During June I also make sowings of dwarf French beans and climbing French beans direct into the plot. I make one sowing at the beginning of June and a further sowing the 3rd
week of June.
July to August
I sow dwarf French beans in the 2nd
week of July and the 1st
week of August. The July sowing will provide beans in late August going into September. Whilst the August sowing can provide beans later in September. The success of these sowings will depend on the weather in September. If we were unlucky to get an early frost in September you may need to cover your plants with a cloche or some fleece. But in recent years we have had an Indian summer with very mild autumn and I have been picking this sowing well into October.
Alternatively, you can make these later sowings in a polytunnel to ensure this later sowing matures ok whatever the weather.
A handy tip when sowing in June, July or August if the soil is quite dry, water the bottom of the drill prior to sowing so the moisture is trapped underground where the seeds require it to germinate.
Runner bean trenches Yes, or No?
Many older gardeners will tell you, or if you have been reading all the old reference books you will have seen the mention of planting runner beans in a specially prepared trench. These were trenches that were often dug 45-60cm (18-24 in) deep, left open all winter and gradually filled with compost, newspaper and all old garden waste. Once almost full the trench was filled up with soil, then left to settle. This was all done months before you were ready for sowing. What a lot of hard work!
I personally don’t think all this work is necessary and my method is a lot simpler. I always dig all my ground in the autumn and incorporate a good quantity of organic matter, as I do with the entire vegetable plot, not just beans. Then when it comes to sowing or planting time, I take out a shallow trench about 5cm (2in) deep and spade width. I then rake this level and add some Growmore fertiliser at 60gm sq meter (2oz per square yard) and rake this into the surface. Once this is done you are ready to dib out seeds or transplant out your beans. The idea of the Shallow trench is to hold water around the bean’s roots, this is essential when watering in the summer. I believe I get just as good a result using my method, as those dedicated gardeners with their labour-intensive trenches.
Whatever type of bean you are planting make sure they have a well-prepared soil to grow in. The ground should have had plenty of organic matter added to it in the autumn or winter and prior to planting or sowing the soil should be raked down level. Add to the soil some Growmore fertiliser at 60gm sq meter (2oz per square yard) lightly raked into the surface. Once this is done you are ready to dib or plant your beans.
Drills can be drawn out at the correct depth and the seeds can be spaced along the drills as already explained.
If you are planting out of pots, I space runner and climbing French beans 23-30cm (9-12in) apart along the rows. Dwarf French beans are planted 20-30cm (8-12in) apart.
When your Climbing French or Runner beans
are growing away well, either from direct sown or transplanted plants you will have to give them some kind of support. You can support them with either a net or bamboo canes. I prefer canes, as they are stronger and will not blow about like those grown on a net in the wind.
Supporting the beans with canes can be done in either a wigwam shape, if you sowed or planted in a circular shape. This is easy as the beans can be tied in a bunch at the top of the canes or you can use a purpose made wigwam support ring.
My preferred method of support is to grow the beans in a long single or a double row. If on a single row, I tie 240 cm (8 ft) canes to a cross wire or cane that is supported by strong posts. If I sow a double row this is supported by two canes tied together at the top along a cross cane or wire, again tied to strong posts. It is important to use good strong supports, as the weight of beans combined with a few hours of strong winds can soon ruin a good crop of beans that have been poorly supported.
Climbing French and Runner Beans sometimes need a little encouragement, so they start to climb their poles. You can easily help them by gently twisting the plants anticlockwise around the canes to help them climb, if this isn’t done the bean plants will just make an untidy mass at the base of the canes, before they eventually climb.
Dwarf French and Dwarf Runner beans once sown or planted will grow away quite happily without any form of support. Water them in as necessary to get them established and keep the plants clean from weeds as they grow, by hoeing regularly. If your crop is quite heavy and your beans are lying close to the soil, it is a good idea to mulch along the rows with straw to help keep the beans clean for easy harvesting.
Watering and Feeding
During the summer it is important to keep all beans well-watered. This is most important as flowers are developing and bean pods are swelling. Without water the beans will not develop properly and will quickly get old and tough.
Of all the beans I grow Runner Beans probably need the most watering followed by the climbing French beans. During midsummer I have been known to put 54 litres (12 gallons) of water on a 6m (20ft) row of Runner beans per evening during very hot weather. If you don’t water you will not get good beans.
Feeding is also important and I like to start feeding my rows of Runner, climbing and dwarf French beans with a high potash Tomato food once a week as soon as I pick my first feed of beans. This regular feeding will keep the beans producing flowers and beans over a longer period.
Make sure you only water along the rows of dwarf French beans in the evening, this not only gives them time to absorb the water but it will also avoid scorching of the bean leaves which can occur if done whilst the sun is shining.
Getting Beans to Set
Setting of Beans is not a problem with Climbing or dwarf French beans but can be a major headache for some gardeners when growing Runner beans.
As already mentioned, if the night temperatures are very high this can make bean set of Runner beans very difficult, and all you can try to do is cool your plants down by watering the roots in the evenings.
Along with this watering I also spray the flowers in the evening and early morning with clear water or sometimes with a sugared watered solution to encourage bees to come and pollinate the flowers.
I have also found that if you water the rows of beans with Lime water, by adding one table spoon of lime to 2 gallons of water, and watering along the rows this can also improve bean set.
It is also possible to encourage pollinating insects to the rows of runner beans by planting some Sweet Peas near or in the rows with the beans. This method can look attractive as well as work quite well on the allotment.
Growing in Containers
If you want to grow some beans and you don’t have a large allotment to grow them in or you don’t want to plant a wigwam in you flower borders why not try growing them in containers. Many of the Runner and climbing and dwarf French beans have very attractive flowers and look spectacular grown on a sunny patio.
You can grow the dwarf French types or the Dwarf Runners in 25-45(10-18in) containers with 3-5 beans planted in each container. I like the Dwarf runner Hestia with its attractive red and white bicoloured flowers.
You can also grow the taller Runner or climbing French bean types in 60cm (24in) diameter containers with an obelisk or wigwam of canes for support. For these you could try climbing bean Cobra quality green beans. Or a bicoloured Runner bean like Painted Lady.
All these beans and many more grow very well in containers filled with good potting compost. I like to use a mix of John Innes No 3 compost 50/50 with a Multipurpose soil-less compost. This mix will give containers a little extra stability as the plants grow, but won’t be too heavy if you want to move them around the patio and use them in your displays.
All beans grown in pots need regular watering and feeding to keep the beans coming. It is best to feed containers at least twice a week once the beans have set with a high potash tomato food to encourage your crop of beans to continue for as long as possible.
Occasionally aphids, usually Blackfly can attack Runner and French beans, if this pest is seen using a suitable insecticide or an organic soap spray can easily control it.
Sometimes during very hot weather you may get an attack of Red Spider mites on the leaves, I saw a lot of this last year when I visited a local allotment site in August. Red spider turns the leaves silvery / yellow and small spider webs will also be present. This microscopic pest can be cured by spraying with a suitable insecticide or by spraying the foliage with water in the evenings during hot weather. Red spider does
Ready to eat
Dwarf and climbing French beans produce masses of beans over a very short period that’s why several sowings are important.
Runner beans will continue to produce beans over a longer period and will often after the heat of early summer, followed by a wet August or September will reward you with a second flush of beans to harvest.
Whatever beans you decide to grow always pick them when they are young and tender beans, for the best flavour. Any pods that are getting old will soon start to show beans in the pods, and will be stringy, tough and useless to eat. Always try to pick the beans using a pair of scissors, or snap the beans off the plants cleanly to avoid any unnecessary damage to the plants.
These easy to grow vegetables, are almost always guaranteed to reward you with a heavy crop of beans. If this happens why not sell your surplus at the gate, or give them away to friends or family. Alternatively keep the freezer well stocked, then you can enjoy delicious succulent and tasty beans whenever you fancy them, you may even want some for your breakfast I know one family that does!
– A white flowered variety, producing smooth stringless beans of delicious flavour. Heat tolerant so sets better during warm weather, plus the white flowers as less prone to being picked by birds.
– Attractive red and white bicoloured flowers producing a heavy crop of succulent 23-30cm (9-12in) long beans.
– An old favourite with scarlet flowers followed by a heavy crop of smooth and slender beans.
– Partially self-fertile, made from a cross of Runner and French Beans, White Flowered and produces good quality beans.
- Partially self-fertile, made from a cross of Runner and French Beans, Red Flowered sister line to Moonlight, producing good quality beans.
Dwarf Runner Beans
Dwarf, attractive red and white bicolour flowered variety, producing a heavy crop of stringless beans. Stunning in containers.
Jackpot Mixed –
a mixture of dwarf varieties with red, white, salmon pink and bicoloured flowers.
Climbing French Beans
– One of the heaviest croppers throughout the season, with exceptional flavoured stringless smooth 18cm (7in) long pods from mauve flowers.
– Deep purple pods, that turn green on cooking with a fine flavour.
- Bright Green flat pods, very prolific for outdoor or indoor sowings.
– An old favourite, producing a heavy crop of pencil podded stringless pods with pure white beans inside, which can be used as haricots at the end of the season.
Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco
– sometimes known as Fire-tongue because of its attractive bright green flat pods splashed with red, which disappear on cooking.
Dwarf French Beans
Vigorous plants with many clusters of fine pods that sit high on the plants for easy harvesting.
– Heavy cropper, uniform slender green beans.
The Prince –
An old favourite producing long slender 16cm (6 1/2in) pods with a magnificent flavour. Popular choice for the kitchen and exhibition.
– A Heavy cropper with attractive and very tasty purple pods.
By Andrew Tokely
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