Now Sowing: Beans, Beans and More Beans

Beans!
Borlotti, fasold, cannellini.

2016 is apparently the International Year of Pulses, so I thought I’d mark the occasion by sowing and growing a quite ridiculous number of beans this year.

Actually, I really didn’t need any encouragement. I love growing beans. They’re easy to germinate, easy to grow on, largely take care of themselves as long as you see to their basic watering and nutrient requirements, they look great when they’re in full flower and they produce masses of edibles: fresh green pods for summer salads and side dishes, soft new beans in late summer and early autumn, then dried, haricot versions to liven up any winter stew. Pick the right variety and they’ll freeze beautifully as well. Honestly, what’s not to love?

This year I’m growing twelve (count ’em: twelve) varieties of bean (including the broad beans already hardening off in the cold frame…) and I’m aiming to have between four (new-to-me varieties, to see how they do) and twelve (reliable favourites) plants of each. I spent a good couple of hours on Monday preparing my planting tubes – recycled toilet roll inners have always done the job for me – and another good couple of hours yesterday sowing around 120 runner and French beans (always a good idea to have a couple of spares of each, in case some of them do fail to germinate) in tubes and small pots.

May 2015 soaking the beans
Don’t forget the labels – sometimes they can look pretty similar…

There’s not a huge amount to tell in terms of method. I did soak the beans overnight in tepid water prior to sowing; I understand that it’s optional, but I have experienced failed germinations before, and I do know that getting water into the bean is always the most important part of the germination process, so soaking occurred. Then it was just a case of 1) add bean to tube, 2) top up with compost, 3) drench in water (albeit gradually, to avoid washing the bean back out of the tube / pot) and 4) leave on a shelf in the greenhouse to get going.

May 2015 bean tubes
A mass-germination event in the making…

Here’s a full list of the varieties I’m trying this year, and where I sourced them from:

  1. Vicia faba (broad bean) ‘red epicure’ – Suttons
  2. V. faba ‘The Sutton’ – SowSeeds.co.uk
  3. Phaseolus coccineus (runner bean) ‘Scarlet Emperor’ – from my own stock of saved seed.
  4. P. coccineus ‘blackpod’ – Heritage Seed Library.
  5. P. coccineus ‘prizewinner’ – Mr Fothergill’s (free with Grow Your Own).
  6. Phaseolus vulgaris (French bean) ‘fasold’ (climber) – my own saved seed, originally from my Dad-in-law, Guru Glyn’s saved seed.
  7. P. vulgaris ‘cobra’ (climber) – Thompson & Morgan.
  8. P. vulgaris ‘Medwyn’s exhibition’ (climber) – saved seed from Guru Glyn.
  9. P. vulgaris ‘Major Cook’s bean’ (climber) – Heritage Seed Library.
  10. P. vulgaris ‘peewit’ (dwarf) – Heritage Seed Library.
  11. P. vulgaris ‘purple queen’ (dwarf) – Unwins.
  12. P. vulgaris ‘cannellini’ (dwarf) – Unwins.
  13. V. faba ‘aquadulce claudia’ – Thompson & Morgan (to be sown in late Summer / early Autumn for over-wintering).

Those three Heritage Seed Library entries are heirloom varieties, so you won’t find them in any commercial seed catalogues. I highly recommend getting hold of ‘fasold’ if you’re in the market for a climber that’s vigorous, prolific and produces very tasty pods that freeze well, and black beans that you can use in all sorts of dishes. ‘Scarlet Emperor’ is pretty ubiquitous, but a solid performer and my go-to runner bean (so far, at least). The others should be pretty easy to track down as well.

Next bean-related job (potting-on aside): putting up a whole lot of bean support frames down at Plot #59. And when harvest season rolls around, we might have to invest in a new chest freezer…

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