Traditionalists will shake their heads in absolute horror at even the thought of sowing beans in April and May let alone from June right through to the end of November, yet this is exactly what I am advocating this week.
Here in Pakistan, beans are largely viewed — in coastal and plains regions — as autumn sown winter veggies which may, if you are lucky, continue to crop into spring. But this, rest assured, is far from being the case on a kitchen garden basis where the grower has more control than a commercial farmer working on an open field scale.
When I lived in Karachi, I grew beans on an all-the-year-round basis with excellent results. All that changed from month to month was the variety of bean sown, the location in respect of hours of direct sunshine received, distance between individual plants and rows, and the amount of water required to sustain them.
Contrary to general belief, beans can be sown throughout the year
Let me expand on this: Autumn-sown beans, for example ‘Scarlet runner beans’, are sown where they benefit from as much winter sunshine as possible and they are sown two inches deep, approximately four to six inches apart, in rows 30 to 36 inches apart and irrigated as the weather dictates which, once cool weather arrives, can be no more than two to three times per week. The exact same variety of beans sown now and on until summer ends should be planted where they receive direct sunshine in the morning only, be sown the same two inches deep but at six to 10 inches apart, in rows 42 to 48 inches apart and watered every evening.
Increasing sowing distances in hot weather allows for good air circulation thus reducing chances of fungal infections that can plaque plants during hot, humid weather. As a further sensible measure, irrigation water should only be directed at the soil and not, no matter how dusty they may look, on the plants themselves.
Increased sowing and row spacing throughout hot weather and ‘normal’ spacing in cool weather, along with less/more hours of direct sunshine is the simple key to having fresh, home-grown beans, all around the year.
Beans, without exception, need rich, well-drained, growing conditions. Climbing/pole beans will also need the strong support of trellis work, wig-whams contrived out of poles/branches and twine, canes/posts with strong twine interwoven between them or some other strong framework they can climb up/over without any danger of the structure, when heavily loaded, coming crashing down. Bush varieties of beans, however, generally need no support. All bean varieties are just as happy growing in suitably-sized pots/containers as they are growing directly in properly prepared garden ground.
Not all ‘green beans’ are actually green as there are beans with bright golden pods, lemon-hued pods, deep purple pods and even some with salmon pink pods which — the latter being a bush variety — make an unusual addition to the flower garden and are certainly a talking point when grown in pots on the patio.
Beans are the most commonly cultivated garden vegetable on the planet and there are many reasons for this:
They are easy to grow.
Yields can be huge.
A large harvest from a small area is normal.
They are nutritious and versatile.
They can be eaten fresh or dried for later use.
*An ideal soil mix for beans is approximately 40 percent sweet earth, 25 percent organic compost, 25 percent old, well-rotted, preferably organic, manure and 10 percent pure river sand not sea sand which is far too saline.
Climbing beans/Pole beans/Runner beans include the following: Scarlet runner, Blue lake, Cosse violette, Lady Di, Painted lady, Polestar and Moonlight.
Bush/dwarf beans include Amethyst (deep purple), Borlotto di vigevano nano (salmon pink), Purple tepee (purple), Venice (green).
In addition to the varieties of beans mentioned above, there are a couple more that deserve a very special mention but which cannot be grown all year round. These are ‘Asparagus beans’ and ‘Broad beans’.
‘Asparagus beans’ are sometimes called ‘Snake beans’ or ‘Yard-long beans’. These are hot-weather beans only and will be a complete failure if autumn-sown in our climate. The twining vines climb 10 feet high and more, and bear pretty pairs of pale yellow, purple-streaked flowers, often in bunches which are followed by the most incredible bean pods you have ever seen. The round, fleshy pods grow at the speed of light and before you know it they transform from baby pencil-like objects, to knitting needles which fatten and twist as they stretch to as much as three feet in length. It doesn’t take many beans to make a meal but, admittedly, they are best harvested when no more than 12 inches in length as, after this, they can get a little tough. By the way: the hotter the weather, the longer the bean — or so it is claimed.
‘Broad beans’ or ‘Fava beans’ are late- autumn-sown for a late-winter to early- spring crop. These are cold weather beans only and do not tolerate hot weather.
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Published in Dawn, EOS, April 22nd, 2018