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17 October 2014

Growing Dwarf French Beans

This year, rather than growing tall French beans, which take a bashing from the wind in my exposed garden, I decided to try the dwarf variety, and I was impressed with the result.

French beans like a warm, sunny site with moisture-retentive soil, which isn't too wet. Prepare the site by digging-in well-rotted manure or garden compost in late autumn or early winter.

Seedlings can grow slowly and erratically in cool conditions, so you are best to wait till late spring or early summer before sowing, putting two seeds to a pot at a depth of 2 inches. Once the seedlings are 3 inches tall, plant them out 6-8 inches apart.

Dwarf beans are said to be best grown in small blocks, where the plants support each other, though they can also be sown in single or double rows. I grew mine in my raised beds in single rows and just put in a thin cane to keep them upright. As they only grow about 18 inches tall, dwarf beans shouldn't need a lot of support, unlike the climbing variety.

If you are caught out by a cold snap after sowing, cover the plants with fleece if possible, or newspaper as an alternative. Seedlings may also be attacked by birds and damaged by wind, but putting a supporting layer of twiggy brush around young plants will help to keep them upright and keep birds away.

Place a mulch of well-rotted manure or mushroom compost around the plants in July to help conserve soil moisture, and water well during periods of prolonged dry weather.

Start picking the pods when they are about 4 inches long. They are ready when they snap easily and before the beans can be seen through the pod. By picking regularly you can crop plants for several weeks.

Once all the pods have been harvested, water the plants well and feed with a liquid fertiliser. This way you may get a further cropping of smaller, yet worthwhile pods.

I grew a variety called "The Prince" which gave me more pods than I was expecting - not a bad thing, while other recommended varieties include Kenyan Bean and Purple Teepee, the latter having beautiful purple pods which turn green on cooking.

I will definitely be growing dwarf French beans again next year, and I would recommend that you also give them a try.
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