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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

French Beans - are really South American

The French beans, both dwarf and climbers, sown in early March are now producing lots of beans. French beans are also known as snap or string beans and were originally native to South America. Apparently, their name derives from the fact that the Huguenot's who fled France in the 1690's starting cultivating the bean in England around this period. French beans are eaten along with their pods before the seed begins to bulge. Once the seed has matured and the pod has dried out the beans are called haricots.

French beans need a light but rich soil. Prepare your vegetable bed in the autumn by digging a trench and adding well rotted compost or manure and like all legumes add lime if the soil is too acid, aiming for a pH of 6.5 to 7.0.  Growing French Beans in the same spot as last year is to be avoided to avoid diseases, so plan ahead and use a rotation cycle for your vegetable beds.

In the spring fork over the vegetable bed in preparation for growing your French beans, breaking it down to a fine tilth. By early March the soil should be warm enough to start planting beans. To sow your French beans make a groove or drill in your prepared bean bed, 5cm deep for climbers and 2.5cm deep for dwarf beans and plant the beans 15cm apart in the drills. Ensure rows are 30cm apart for climbers and 45cm apart for dwarf beans. 

French beans like lots of water so make sure you don't let them dry out, as regular watering will ensure a longer cropping period. Hoe to keep down the weeds when seedlings are small and mulch with straw to keep down weeds and keep the soil moist. 

Support your French bean plants with short twiggy branches or pea sticks to prevent them falling over or being beaten down by heavy rain or strong winds. Use poles or plastic netting for climbing varieties.

Aphids love French Beans, indeed all green bean plants, so keep an eye out for them. A serious infestation will badly stunt plant growth. Check over the leaves and stems of your vegetables, especially the tender growing tips and gently squash any colonies you find. When watering your plants with a hose try knocking the aphids off with the spray, as this can be effective. And if all else fails spray with water to which a ecologically safe washing-up liquid has been added.

Begin harvesting your French beans from mid-May onwards. Pick when they are about 10cm long, the picked pods should snap easily when bent. Pick often so none of the green bean pods mature. This will ensure cropping for 5 to 7 weeks of this delicious vegetable. You can generally expect 3-6Kg from a 3 metre row.

Take care when removing the beans from the stalk not to loosen the plant at the roots, instead use scissors or secateurs to cut the beans off the stem. 

If you want dried beans, leave some pods on 1-2 plants and let them dry thoroughly. Hang the plants somewhere to finish drying indoors until the pod dry's enough to remove the beans. Lay the beans out to dry and when ready store them in an air-tight jar. Beans are also ideal for freezing.

French beans are very low in calories, contain no saturated fat and are a very good source of vitamins, minerals and plant derived micro-nutrients. They are very rich source of dietary fibre. French beans contain excellent levels of vitamins A, B1,B6,C, antioxidants and beta carotene. They also contain good amounts of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium which are very essential for body metabolism.

To use your freshly picked French beans wash thoroughly in water. Top and tail them, leave whole or cut into desired lengths. Beans can be cooked whole, cut crosswise or diagonally. If you want sweet tasting, crisp fresh beans, cut them as little as possible but cut older more mature beans.

The beans can be enjoyed raw in salads, boiled or steamed. Stir-frying preserves the best qualities of the fresh bean. Whatever cooking method you choose, remember to cook beans as little as possible using the smallest amount of water as possible.

Make a delicious salad, which can be enjoyed hot or cold, after steaming allow the French beans to cool and add chopped spring onions, tomatoes, red pepper and mix in olive oil, wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Grow your own for a better taste and it's so much safer.

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