Preparing soil for sowing french beans
French beans prefer light soil, but can be grown in heavy clay soil if enough fine organic matter is forked in. During the Autumn or Winter dig in old compost or well rotted manure at one bucketful to the square meter. Leave the ground rough during the Winter to let the cold winds and frosts get to it. In the spring give the soil a light forking and add some organic fertilizer.
Sowing French beans
French Bean seed should never be sown if the soil is wet and cold – never pour water in the drill at sowing time. For an early crop of French beans – sow under cloches.
Start in late March or early April for a harvest in June by sowing seeds in boxes of potting compost in a cold frame 5cm (2in) apart and 5cm deep.
Gradually introduce the seedlings to colder climates by raising the frame light to allow air circulation and leave off completely on fine warm days.
Transplant the French bean seedlings towards the end of May, 22.5cm (9in) between plants and rows 45.5cm (18in) apart.
Sow French beans towards the end of May in 7cm 6 cell modules. Plant one seed per module about 4cm deep. Use a fine seed compost. Water and leave in the greenhouse or polytunnel to germinate. There should be no need for a heat bench or propagator this time of year. The seeds should germinate in 7 – 14 days and will grow quickly.
Plants that have been raised indoors will need to get used to the outdoor temperature and conditions before they can be planted outside, this will take about a week to 10 days depending on the weather. French beans hate the cold and are likely to suffer shock so make sure you do this. The best way is to use a cloche or mini greenhouse. You can leave the cloche off the plants on dry frost free days and replace at night. Gradually increase the time with the cloche removed until the end of the week when you leave it off day and night. If the weather is mild you may not need the cloche, just move the plants outside for longer periods each day. If you have started your seeds on a windowsill you will need to leave them in an unheated room for a day or two before moving outside to the cloche.
Direct Sowing Dwarf French Beans
French beans can be direct sown outside towards the end of May. It is possible to start them off earlier if you have a more southerly garden, I’m keeping on the safe side. Sow beans 4cm deep with a spacing of 15cm between plants and 40cm between rows. Slugs Slugs can be a major problem when seedlings are small. Use an organic slug pellet or use a beer trap for control.
Main Crop French Beans
Put cloches in place two weeks before sowing to warm up the ground. About the last week in April put out a line of string as a guide and form a V-shaped drill 5cm (2in) deep with the hoe.
Sow the French beans seed 15cm (6in) apart and then rake the soil back over lightly to cover the beans completely.
Firm the soil down with the flat part of the hoe – this sowing should be ready in early July.
Sow the next crop in May without glass. For a succession of crops and regular picking of beans you will need to sow a row of French beans every three weeks from April to the middle of July.
If you want to discover the best cropping powers and flavour for your particular garden try sowing a different variety each time.
It can be sometimes necessary to water under cloches when the plants are 15cm (6in) high. In early October, cover the mid-July sowings with cloches again to protect the French beans from frosts. This way it is possible to pick French beans until the second week of November.