Whether they're climbing or bush, Windsor Long Pod or Scarlet Runner, writes Mat Pember, beans benefit a lot from just a little care.
In the world of growing plants there are two types of people: bean people and tomato people. Between them is a great divide. So come October you'll need to decide what side of the fence you sit on. Are you a tomato or are you a bean?
Of course, we sit on the bean side this month, because the next month is actually better for tomatoes. Yes, we are fence-sitters and proud of it.
More tolerant of the cold than tomatoes, beans are a safer bet in early spring. As a flowering plant, they need a sunny spot and free-draining soil.
Don't overdo the nitrogen when you're preparing the patch - beans naturally produce this element. Only add a moderate amount of compost and position them where your hungry brassica crops previously grew. The spot where your broad beans grew - nitrogen-producers themselves - should be reserved for the tomatoes that come next month.
Propagating from seed - sowed directly in the patch - is the preferred method. It allows them to establish in situ from day one. Before planting, soak the seeds overnight. This helps break down the tough shell and gives it a water reserve to draw on during germination. Plant the seeds every 20-30 centimetres, and pop two seeds in each hole; the second a contingency if the first flops.
Once sown, give the patch a thorough soaking, then resist further watering until the seeds have germinated. Overwatering make them prone to rot and thus a tasty treat to rats (yes, they exist in your garden). With their reserve, they'll have more than enough to see them through this first phase.
If you're planting from seedling, apply the Goldilocks Principle: not too cold, not too hot.
That means avoiding frosts and burning sunlight. Make sure the seedlings are well hydrated before transplanting and space at 20 to 30 centimetres.
Beans - like tomatoes - come in two distinct forms: climbing and bush. Climbing varieties, such as the Scarlet Runner, need the help of a trellising system to sustain their growth. A bamboo teepee is the perfect structure and, once the vines are established, it provides a neat hideout for the kids and you, when you're in trouble with your partner.
Smaller, compact bush varieties, including the Windsor Long Pod, grow to just a foot in height. Usually faster to produce a bounty, bush beans are a good option when sunlight may be an issue and you want to avoid casting shade over the rest of the patch.
Water two to three times a week, or more if you're growing them in pots. When they're roughly a month old, apply a sugarcane mulch to a depth of two to three centimetres, leaving a little breathing space around the stems of the plants because they're prone to stem rot. If you're growing climbing varieties, there's the added maintenance of attaching the sprawling vine to the trellis. You should avoid having the plant flailing about in the air, which among bean growers is known as legume vertigo.
After roughly two months, when the plants begin to produce their flowers, they'll benefit from an application of liquid potash to help promote pod growth. As the bounty begins to form, the choice is yours - pick them young and sweet (to eat pod and all), or wait for them to mature, and shell the beans.
Whatever you do, ensure you pick the beans regularly. Harvesting the produce from the plant frees up energy for it to produce more flowers, and then more pods. No one wins when you let the beans overcook on the vine, but we all win by sitting on the fence.
TIP OF THE MONTH: FEEDING CITRUS
Come October, we often bemoan the limits of our gardening prowess when we look at our yellowing citrus, and so the instinct is to feed them with fertilisers. Overfeeding citrus is a common gardening faux pas, because the yellowing is often not a result of lack of nutrition in the soil, but more to do with the plants' ability to draw them up.
With soil not yet sufficiently heated, the water flow of plants (that is, the blood flow), is low, and plants are not able to draw on the stash of nutrients in the soil. So they yellow off, as they do every winter, and many gardeners may add excess citrus food, doubting themselves of being able to fulfil the simplest of tasks.
EASY DOES IT
As the soil warms up, the water flow of plants increases and citrus can pump soil nutrients through their veins. This is when overfeeding them can wilt the plants and encourage foliage at the expense of flowers and fruit. It also makes them susceptible to gall wasp. So sit tight, water your plants and add food in small doses.