New Gardener Series: How to Plant and Grow Beans

As we move through the New Gardener Series we will be taking the vegetables and flowers we grow at Pig Row and showing you step by step how to do it. You can also find all the links to the New Gardener Series at the bottom of each post, allowing you to flick back and forth and find information that is useful to you. We'd like to thank our members on our Pig Row page who have asked for this and are supplying us with questions to answer on our channel here. All the how to you'll find in this series is from our experience of our Dig for Victory garden and our small garden at Drovers. Showing that you can grow in any space with a little ingenuity and a lot of love. Today, we're taking you through the world of beans....the musical fruit.

How to grow beans


Beans are a legume, part of the Fabaceae family of plants which tend to be upright, epiphytes (a plant which uses another for support) or vine. You will see this in such climbing beans as runner, pea and in modern climbing French beans. In this post we will deal with when and how to grow them. We start ALL our beans at Pig Row undercover, this can be in a greenhouse, coldframe or windowsill. We do this to get ahead of the late cold weather and have more mature plants in open ground in the first week we can sow in open ground after the frosts. In late March fill 5" pots with a good multipurpose compost and dib two holes (dib means to make a hole in the soil) up to the first knuckle on your index finger, place a seed in each. You don't have to worry which way the seed goes round, beans are natural growers and will always seek out the light. Pinch both sides of the hole together covering the seed. We plant 2 to each pot, 1 for the ground and 1 for the slug. You will come across this saying time and again in gardening, sometimes the slug takes both...oh well. If you choose to direct sow, then leave it until all frosts have passed (normally for us around the end of April, start of May) and again, plant two seeds to station about three inches apart (a station is the place your plants will grow from).


Choose your support for runner beans carefully

In the 2nd-3rd week of April, prepare your planting area, you can find a complete post on that here which outlines the importance of manure and rich compost in your planting area. Your runner beans will need a pole or trellis to grow up. Make sure there is a post every 12"-18". You can plant closer than this but we wouldn't advise going below 10", beans are a thug of a plant if given a good start and you do want some air circulating around them to stop mildew and fungus spreading rapidly. We use the traditional A frame, see photo above, but you can use wigwams too. Just tie them all together with a good twine, we use the jute twine you can buy in large rolls from most garden centres. We use hazel poles as they last for many seasons and can be easily stored. Bamboo is fine but has a limited shelf life, they tend to rot after two years and can bow under the weight of the beans. Make sure wherever you choose to plant them is sheltered, you can see the effects of an exposed site on beans here. You can also plant runner beans and climbing French beans in smaller spaces, including pots. Dwarf beans, which include butter and traditional French beans are planted in rows or blocks, you can see them in the photo below, in open ground Make sure that all frosts have ended before planting out your small plants at the end of April, start of May and if there is a late forecast of frost, cover them with fleece (fleece is a horticultural fabric which protects crops from radial frost). 

Planting runners beans for next year


If you have manured or composted your soil well, you will notice that the soil is warmer here than in other parts of the garden where the soil has not been cultivated. When planting the small bean plant, place one runner/climbing bean to a pole and in the case of dwarf beans, we plant them around 8" apart - we plant them closer because a few years back we suffered torrential rain and the beans were flattened but when we planted them closer the following year and had another belt of hard rain, we found out that the beans supported each other from flopping over. You may also notice that we have string spanning between them in a diamond, criss cross shape in the above photo, this is not to support them but to keep pigeons off. You will discover climbing beans on hazel poles will grip quite naturally but that they may slip on bamboo, so there may be some additional tying in on the latter. After planting them, water in well. Water every 2-3 days if the weather is dry, water in the morning and not at night. Night watering merely promotes slug activity and cools the soil down. After 10 days start to feed the plants with manure tea. You have to remember, though you have fed the soil, beans are hungry plants.

Don't do one sowing of beans per year, stagger them for higher yields

We do a second sowing of runner beans undercover or in open ground, from mid-April onwards. We do this for two reasons, (1) beans store really well and many of the runner bean varieties can be left to dry on the plant, then stored over winter as haricots for soups and stews, and; (2) you never know what the weather will throw at you. This again boils down to our wartime garden ethos: Be prepared

When do you pick runner beans and dwarf beans?

Runner beans will start to crop from early to mid-summer, the more you pick them, the more you will have. When the plant has reached the top of your canes, pinch out the growing tip and the plant will send out side shoots with more beans! You can do this when they are around 18" high and pinch back to a pair of leafs. This will produce more side shoots and heavier crops. So, you can have one plant in a pot but be inundated with beans. If given a good start, beans are an aggressive plant. French and dwarf beans are not as aggressive as runner beans, they are also more susceptible to weather changes.

French beans will only give you one good harvest in the UK

Unlike runner beans, you tend to get one flush of crop from French climbers and dwarf varieties. You pick these type of bean when they 4-5" long and still tender. After that they can become tough. If you see the photo above, you can still see the beans through the pod, they are pencil thin and ready to eat. Beans that get too thick, we pickle. You can feed the beans with manure tea whilst they are growing and with a comfrey juice after you have harvested all the beans, comfrey promotes further flowering. The best tip is to use comfrey juice when all beans are flowering and when flowers have set to turn to manure tea. There is no guarantee with French or dwarf beans that you will get a second crop.


Learn how to feed beans with comfrey and manure

In the case of climbing French beans and dwarf beans, remove when the harvest is over. With a pair of secateurs cut the plant at ground level, leaving the roots in the ground to rot down. Do the same with runner beans too. All beans are nitrogen fixers, this means if you dig them up you will find the roots have little bulb like swellings, this is nitrogen. Leave in the soil to rot down. You now have open ground and can follow them with leeks and winter lettuce to cover the ground.



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