If you want to grow your own runner or climbing beans, you have until around the end of June to get started. Photography: Alamy.
We forget how beautiful vegetables can be. Usually, when we admire a swollen pumpkin or a glossy cabbage, we’re thinking about how it might feed us, not about its colour or its shape. It’s like looking at a racehorse and only seeing prize money.
Even the most functional veg patch, however, has something to delight the eye, from the blowsy blooms of courgettes, to rosily glowing rhubarb. Runner beans and climbing French beans, in particular, give a garden structure and colour, with their red or white flowers and their towers of greenery.
If you want to grow your own this year, you still have a month or so to get started. Begin by finding a sunny, sheltered spot with good drainage. Next to a fence is fine. If you have the sort of neighbours who can’t resist offering advice, someone will tell you you should have prepared the ground months ago, by digging in manure to raise fertility. Tell them to go boil their heads. You’ll still get a crop, just lighter than it might have been. If you’re worried, you can work in some compost right now – just make sure it’s fully mature.
Your beans will need support, and it’s best to provide this before sowing. If planting next to a fence, you can simply run twine down from the top so the beans’ tendrils have something to wind around; otherwise a traditional option is to “plant” two parallel rows of roughly 2.5m stakes or canes, tilted towards each other so the tops cross 50cm or so from the end. Then lash them together to form a row of A-shapes, and link the tops with more stakes or canes. You can also use netting, purpose-built willow teepees, hoops, trellises, arches… There are suggestions galore at bit.ly/RvRMiG.
If you’re using poles, sow five or six seeds at the base of each, then thin to leave two or three of the most vigorous seedlings; with a fence or similar, sow single seeds about 5cm apart, then thin to one seedling every 15–20cm. Water well in dry weather, especially when the plants are in flower. Once the beans are big enough to harvest, pick regularly to prolong cropping.
Phil Daoust is a food writer based in England and France. Twitter: @philxdaoust