In this month’s Grow It Yourself column Michael Kelly from GIY International talks legumes and what to do, sow and harvest this month.
French beans are, I think, one of the most underrated of vegetables. Of all the legume family, they are my favourite to eat, more desirable to my mind than runner beans, broad beans and perhaps even peas. I recall a sublime food experience at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, sitting up at a counter at lunch time and eating french beans that were (I presume) briefly blanched before being fried in butter and sprinkled with loads of rock salt. Perhaps that’s where the love affair started. French beans also freeze really well, so if you have the space they are REALLY worth growing.
Though teepees of climbing french beans are no doubt visually appealing, I think that dwarf french beans (the plants of which grow to no more than 45cm tall) are easier to harvest from and surprisingly productive for such a neat little plant. Back in mid April, I sowed a module tray of dwarf french beans in the pottting shed. Three weeks later, I planted these out in the polytunnel in two short rows in one of the side beds. There were 12 plants in total, and I planted them out 15cm apart in two rows 40cm apart.
Just two months or so later, aided by the sub-tropical climate in the polytunnel, the little plants are host to masses of slender, vibrant, delicious french beans. Cue repeats of my La Boqueria market experience. The good news is that once we’ve finished these, I’ve another 3 long rows (about 4 metres) of them outside in the veg patch (sown in late May) which are about 3-4 weeks from harvesting. These will provide masses of beans for the winter freezer. You can still try a sowing of dwarf french beans at this time of the year, as long as you’re willing to provide them with some cover (a fleece or similar) in October if the weather turns cold. My favourite variety is Purple Teepee which I once mispronounced at a talk as Turple Peepee to much hilarity.
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Things to do this Month – July
Any ground that has finished cropping must be quickly cleared away to take more vegetables. Use your produce – eat it, freeze it, process it, exchange it, give it away. Continue to water and feed plants and practice good weed control. Earth up brassicas such as Brussels sprouts – these plants will grow tall and require a good deal of support. Net plants to keep butterflies and the cabbage moth away.
Cut down legume plants that have finished cropping – leave the roots in the soil as they fix nitrogen in the soil. Give pumpkins plenty of water and apply a high-potash liquid feed.
Continue successional sowings and use quick maturing varieties for autumn use – Swiss chard, lettuce, rocket, salad onions, radish, turnips, peas, French Beans (dwarf), carrots. Sow for winter use – spring cabbage, Hungry Gap kale, parsley, perpetual spinach, chicory and coriander. Plant strawberries now for a good crop next June. Propagate rosemary, sage and mint from cuttings now.
July is a peak month for produce – enjoy it! First crops of French and runner beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, courgette and aubergine, marrows, globe artichokes. Continue to harvest new potatoes, beetroot, calabrese, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, carrots, turnips, shallots, garlic, radish, spring onions, salad crops, strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, currents (black, red and white), gooseberries, loganberries, peas, broad beans.
Recipe of the Month – Good Old French Bean Salad
Here’s a lovely Jamie Oliver recipe for serving french beans with a tangy mustardy dressing – I am a big fan of the delicate herb chervil and it makes a good bedfellow with the beans. We love this as a salad in its own right, or as an accompaniment to a main meal.
- 4 handfuls French beans, stalk ends removed
- 2-3 heaped teaspoons French mustard, to taste
- 2 tablespoons good-quality white wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, optional
- ½ clove garlic, finely grated
- 1 small handful fresh chervil, optional
Bring a pan of water to a fast boil, add your beans, put a lid on the pan, and cook for at least 4 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the mustard and vinegar into a jam jar or bowl and, while stirring, add the olive oil to make a good hot French dressing. Season carefully with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add the finely chopped shallot, the capers if you’re using them and the garlic. Drain the beans in a colander. Now, while the beans are steaming hot, dress them. Serve the beans in a bowl, sprinkled with chervil if you like.
Tip of the Month – Looking after Climbing Beans
Loosely tie the plants to supports to start but after that they should climb themselves quite happily. Water plants “copiously” during dry weather to maximise pod development. Pinch off the growing tip once the plants have reached the top of their supports (about 8ft). Mulch around stems to preserve moisture and keep weeds down. Don’t forget to succession sow – you could have a second, much later crop of beans in October, if you sow some seeds now.
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.
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