Step-by-step: French Beans

Packed with flavour but none of the 'stringiness', and coming in yellow, purple and speckled cream and red, French beans will give you a colourful crop all summer.

Step-by-step: French Beans
  • If you didn't get around to sowing them indoors last month, you can direct sow French beans outdoors at the end of this month into free-draining, fertile soil in a sunny, sheltered spot.
  • If you're growing climbing varieties, construct a frame by inserting double rows of 6ft (1.8m) sloping canes into the soil, with a horizontal cane on top, or build a sturdy tepee of five canes. Push one bean into the soil at the base of each cane.
  • If you're growing dwarf French beans, which only reach around 40cm, plant or sow in blocks so neighbouring plants provide support. As the seedlings emerge, thin to around 10cm between plants.
  • Try to succession sow – sowing a small amount in late May, again in June and once more in July, so you don't get a glut.
  • (If you do, let the pods dry completely on the plant, crack them open and pop the dried beans into an envelope for next year's crop.)
  • Drench the plants with water each week and give them a mulch of compost around the roots to conserve moisture.
  • You can begin picking when the pods are 10cm long, nipping them off with your finger and thumb.

Buy it
Try reliable dwarf bean 'Castandel' (www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk), 'Amethyst' for pretty purple pods (that turn green on cooking), or borlotti 'Splendido' (both www.thompson- morgan.com), which can be harvested later for haricot beans. Climbing bean favourites include organic 'Blauhilde' (www.sarah raven.com) or 'Eva' (www.organic catalogue.com).

Top tip
Beloved by slugs, ensure you put copper collars, or rings of gravel and sharp sand, around your young seedlings so they don't get munched. You may also need some protective netting at the start to keep birds off.

Dig in
Cook a handful of beans per person in boiling water for
3–5 minutes until tender. Sauté 2 cloves of garlic and 50g pine nuts in rapeseed oil, then toss the beans in the flavoured oil until coated. Season and serve.

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