Beans, beans, and more beans

Tackling the weeds

Today was a hard one. One of the two beds designated for legumes in this rotation was previously home to overwintered leeks. The remaining few had thrown up a flower spike and the rest of the bed had become overgrown with weeds. Fortunately, most of the weeds were shallow rooted and readily pulled out – helped by the loose soil that comes from these lightly cultivated beds. They seem barely compacted by the winter and spring rains, and need little more than a light raking to prepare for sowing.

Assembled supports for climbing beans

A couple of hours of weeding and the bed was looking in pretty good shape. Then came the fiddly nuisance of fixing up some bamboo canes to support the climbing beans. I fit 8 x 10ft canes across the 4 foot bed, joining two rows with a short cane along the ridge. Two sets were made for climbing beans, whilst a third structure was made with half a dozen canes plus one for the ridge and some pea and bean netting. This was provided to support tall growing pea Alderman. This is a new variety for me, but like most selections that I grow, it is an old well established variety, introduced in 1891, and still reported to produce heavy crops of fine flavoured and sweet peas. Whilst preparing the netting, I made the discovery that, if one is careful, the netting can be stapled to bamboo canes. I would have thought bamboo was too hard for that to work, but it does, more or less. After preparing the structures, three rows of climbing beans were planted, leaving one row of supports for a later sowing, although I am not sure what that might be as yet – perhaps a row of French bean Blue Lake, although I have a few of these already growing in the polytunnel, alongside the very tasty and wonderfully textured yellow flat bean Meraviglia de Venezia (‘Miracle of Venice’), and an outdoor sowing of yellow dwarf wax bean Beurre de Rocquencourt.

Heritage runner bean ‘Painted Lady’

So, to the plantings: one row of Spagna Bianco – specifically grown for shelling, resulting in large white ‘butter beans’ – more on that later; one row of Borlotto bean Lingua di Fuoco (‘Tongue of Fire’) mostly for shelling but I imagine we will take a few young ones to see how they taste as a colourful alternative to the more usual green beans; and one row of the ancient runner bean variety Painted Lady, commonly grown since the 1800s and quite possibly very much earlier, it is still described as one the best tasting varieties – time will tell. Three seeds were planted per station – two on the outside of the cane and one on the inside. Additionally, a few spares were planted between the rows to fill in where any fail to germinate or fall prey to pests. I may well thin these later, but I have found that climbing beans can be planted quite densely and then give a huge crop. The alderman peas were scattered in a broad row dragged out by draw hoe either side of the netting, then raked over. These plantings took up three quarters of the bed. To fill in the remaining space, three broad rows were dragged out by draw hoe and planted with dwarf cannellini beans for shelling. These should get away without needing much support.

Pea netting in place to support tall variety ‘Alderman’

It is always very satisfying to see one of the beds planted up, and needing very little work until the harvest is complete. These should give great harvests over quite a long period, with the fresh beans following on after the polytunnel crops and the shelling beans providing winter goods for the store cupboard.

Returning to that ‘butter bean’, as Spagna Bianca is often described. It certainly looks the part – large, white, flattish beans. My box of beans claims they are a type of runner bean, whilst butter beans are, as far as I can tell, a lima bean. To confuse matters further, I have seen other sites refer to Spagna Bianca as a lima bean. The taxonomy of beans is somewhat confused, but from what I can gather, Spagna Bianca is indeed a runner bean, and therefore not actually a butter bean. For me, this was both good and bad news: bad news because I originally bought these to grow butter beans, having some nostalgic remembrances of my Grandmother’s butter bean soup and watching her pop the soaked beans out of their thin and translucent but slightly tough outer skins; and good news because lima beans are not so well suited to our climate, whereas I can be reasonably hopeful of securing a worthwhile crop from these Italian ‘butter beans’. I imagine they will be a fair substitute, but will have to wait some months to find out.

Finally, a quick check of the glasshouses revealed that one of the bait blocks had disappeared. Not a trace left. Hopefully the furry fiend that has ruined my cucumbers and melons is now dealt with. The two traps baited with peanut butter have so far failed to attract anything. Peas and beans are particularly attractive to furry fiends, so I am hoping there are no more around at the moment to harass today’s sowings. I often sow peas in lengths of guttering – particularly for overwintering or spring sowings when hungry mice are around – and the first sowings of beans are usually made in pots, but have so far had no trouble with late spring / summer sowings direct in the soil. At this time of year germination should be quick and growth strong, and there do not seem to be so many starving mice around to dig them up.