Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Beans for beans

Even when the weather is inclement during the winter months there's always at the very least routine smallholding jobs to do outside each day, especially if you keep livestock. However, when conditions are bad and with limited daylight hours, inevitably more time is spent indoors. Now is the time to formulate plans for the spring and summer. Keen vegetable growers will be compiling their seed order. What needs to be replenished? What new varieties will be tried out in the forthcoming year?

Today, prompted by stew for dinner, I've been thinking about beans. In the UK the emphasis tends to be on growing beans for their pods. The challenge is choosing the best varieties and picking them whilst they are still tender. French beans, broad beans and runner beans spring to mind. I grow these in moderate quantities and they are picked and consumed as they ripen. Broad beans and French beans are good for freezing to use later. We don't find runner beans do so well when frozen. 

However, John, a smallholder friend and keen vegetable grower, is a great advocate of growing beans for, well, the beans. They can be dried, stored and then used for cooking in their own right. Perhaps added to winter stews or maybe for bean salads. This is in fact a good, if indeed not better, reason for growing runner beans. When the summer glut and other competing vegetables makes the novelty of fresh, crunchy runner bean pods finally wear off, leave them on the plant to dry out and harvest the beans later.

There are a range of other beans that can be grown in this way, some of which are not only tasty but are also attractive in appearance. Borlotti beans are a good example; both the pods and the beans themselves. John has introduced to me to the Giant Bean. These plants produce enormous beans, twice the size of a runner bean. They are just as easy to grow and are a great addition to a stew.

Borlotti bean

Dwarf French bean 'Yin Yang'
Giant bean & borlotti ben

Incidentally, now is the time to save your cardboard toilet roll inserts. Beans like a deep root run, and if you prefer to sow your bean seeds indoors and then plant out, rather than sow directly, then toilet rolls are ideal. There are purpose designed root trainers that can be purchased but they can be on the costly side, particularly if you grow lots of beans. The whole toilet roll can be planted out too, so avoiding root disturbance. It will rot away in due course.

So here is what I'm planning to grow in 2018:-

  • Climbing borlotti bean usually sold as lingua di fucou
  • Greek Gigantes bean
  • Climbing French bean 'Cobra'
  • Dwarf French bean 'Yin yang'
  • Broad beans 'Aquadulce Claudia' and also 'The Sutton'
  • Runner bean 'Scarlet Emperor'


  1. I grew my Broad-beans in plant pots and the compost allowed them to have a very good root run when we planted them outside. I would like to grow Haricot beans because I have never seen them growing, have you?

  2. As I understand it Dave none of the millions of baked beans (made from haricot beans) that are eaten in the UK and Ireland are not actually grown here. The beans are imported mainly from the US. You'd be hard pressed to find them in our seed catalogues. They don't like cold soil and need a warmer climate. They also can go off in damp conditions. This means we don't have a long enough growing season in our summers. If anyone has a different experience I'd be interested to hear.