Beans are a wonderful crop to grow throughout the spring and summer months. They are fast growing and easy to grow. Gardeners from France to Israel, Mexico to Brazil all grow beans as part of their staple diets.
Beans are also very nutritious and improvers of your garden soil. Along with peas, they produce loads of nitrogen in the soil, through the nitrogen fixing nodules along their roots. You can plant a follow on crop that needs a very rich soil, such as lettuces after the bean harvest is finished.
For your health, this brightly-coloured vegetable provides us with good quantities of vitamin B, lutein, beta-carotene and the xanthin compounds. They also provide lots of fibre and are a good source of absorbable silicon which contributes to bone health and the formation of healthy connective tissues.
If you want a quick crop of beans then begin by planting some rows of bush beans over the next fortnight. Bush beans are the fastest growing subgroup. They will germinate within eight-10 days and begin cropping in seven-eight weeks.
The challenge for us is when to begin planting them, to avoid frost damage. We may get a late frost in October but it is worth getting started now. Plant out a couple of rows and then follow on with more plantings in two weeks' time. Plant the seeds to a depth of five centimetres and allow 12-15cm between plants. Set rows 60cm apart.
If the weather is kind, your little bean plants will emerge within 8-10 days and flowers will appear within six weeks and the beans will be ready in seven- eight weeks from planting. Plant them in full sun, in a well-drained garden bed. Do not water too much until the seedlings emerge but when you arrive at the hot summer days, keep them well watered. Mulch them well when they are beginning to shoot up.
Like many other crops, both of vegetables and fruit, the harvest season is quite short for bush beans, so the answer is regular succession planting through the next four months.
Provider is a heavy producer of tender, stringless beans. This variety can germinate under cooler conditions than many others. Simba is a new variety which will produce a big crop of dark green beans, full of flavour. Provider and Simba bean plants grow more quickly than many other varieties, so they are worth planting first in the season.
Blue Lake is one of the best tasting bush beans but it will take one or two weeks longer to produce its crop. This variety is very productive and grows tender, sweet pods which can be up to 17cm in length. The other bush bean that deserves a special mention is the French Roc D'Or. It is a classic golden yellow bush bean producing with straight pods that measure around 15cm. It is very disease resistant, along with Simba. Roc D'Or is very suitable if you wish to freeze part of the crop.
Climbing beans are worth planting and then waiting for the crop. They need a trellis or stakes to be able to grow well and they take longer to begin producing a crop. However, they will then produce a harvest over several weeks.
Bamboo or wooden stakes can be tied together to make a 'teepee tunnel' that will reach up to two and a half or three metres in height. If you only want to plant a few seeds, then set up three or four stakes in a classical teepee frame. You can then plant different varieties along each side of the structure. If you have the chance to travel though Italy, you will notice that nearly every gardener has resorted to the bamboo stands that are now growing along many rivulets, to make their frames for growing beans.
The Climbing Blue Lake produces wonderful, tasty green stringless pods that will measure close to 15cm. It will crop for several weeks and can manage pretty well through the hot summer days. Giant of Stuttgart is a European heirloom variety which produces very long flat, stringless pods. They are very tender and delicious and are much sought-after. The Purple King climber will provide you with a colour alternate. It grows well in hot summers, is heavy bearing and the pods have great flavour. Please note that the pods will turn a deep green colour when cooked.
If you want to use dried beans in soups or stews or as part of a Mexican or Brazilian dish, then plant out a couple of rows of borlotti beans which you can dry. They look amazing with their maroon and white seeds. Harvest them when the pods can be rattled and hang them up to dry in a protected spot. The colour of the beans will change to maroon and tan when they are dried.
Thai beef, beans and capsicum stir fry
700g sirloin beef
400g stringless beans
1 red capsicum
1 green capsicum
3 red onions
90ml sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed 2 cm length
2 tbsp fish sauce
⅓ cup lime juice
150g bean sprouts
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
250gms rice stick noodles
Optional: 3 red chillies, sliced
Cut the beef into thin strips. Cut the capsicums and onions into thin slices and the beans into 20cm lengths. Grate the ginger. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand until tender then drain and set aside. Mix the beef strips with 50ml of the sweet chilli sauce in a bowl. Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry the beef mixture then set aside. Stir fry the beans, capsicums, onions, (and chillies) crushed garlic and ginger in the wok with the remaining sweet chilli sauce until the vegetables are tender. Return the meat to the wok and add in the fish sauce, lime juice, bean sprouts and shredded coriander leaves. Mix in the noodles. Stir well and cook for one minute then serve.
This week in the garden
Plant out a selection of salad green seedlings into your garden bed to be able to enjoy open leaf lettuces, rocket and well before Christmas.
Plant out sweet corn, beetroot, zucchinis and cucumbers.
Prepare 1.5 metre circles with an excavated hole filled with compost, for planting out pumpkins.
Weed your established garden beds, one every few days, to keep on top of all those springtime weeds.
Apply a lime sulphur spray to your apple trees, just with a 1.5 per cent solution to prevent apple scab. Begin at the green tip stage and continue with a more dilute spray each 10 days over the springtime, or just before rain is expected.
Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.