Thanks for taking the time to read our article on how to grow French beans for beginners in the UK. The French bean actually has its origins in South America, however, it is an extremely popular vegetable throughout Europe. That said, it is now starting to become more available in UK supermarkets, and they are becoming a popular choice for many.
French beans are easy to grow in the UK. It is classed as a half hardy annual and likes warm conditions. Frost will kill them off really quickly so just be aware of that. They also don't like heavy clay soil. So if you have half decent soil, and can avoid the frost early on, then you can quickly get a nice crop of French beans with very little effort.
French Bean Varieties
There are quite a few variations of the French bean and we have included the main varieties below:
- Standard variety - bushy plants with 4-6" green pods (Usually flower with pink, red or white flowers)
- Purple podded types - These usually come as dwarf French beans such as the Purple Queen. some varieties will need to be staked despite the dwarf name. A good choice for beginners as these germinate really quickly. When cooked they do loose their blue colour. Other varieties are Royal Burgundy and a few climbers.
- Yellow podded types- The Yellow French bean are mainly sold as dwarf just like the purple above. These do germinate quickly and ideally can be planted out once the frost has passed. They thrive particularly well in a greenhouse. Varieties include Mont D'or and Kinghorn Wax.
- Climbing varieties - There are a number of varieties, and these grow well in beds and borders. These are very easy to grow, so a really good choice for beginners. You can get steady crops from these from around May to June.
- Dwarf varieties - French beans generally speaking grow quite tall and need to be staked. That is why dwarf varieties are so popular. However if your garden is exposed to wind, we have found that many dwarf varieties also need to be staked.
Our advice when starting out, is to pick a nice standard dwarf variety, which are easier to grow and control. They also produce a really good crop and that is always encouraging for anyone new to gardening.
French Bean Sowing Facts
The French bean is grown from seed. Never plant any seeds in cold or wet soil as they simply will not grow.
Germination time of seeds
7 - 14 days
Life expectancy of seed
Seed needed to grow a 10 feet row
You need around 30 seeds (1/2 ounce)
Expected yield from a 10 feet row
8 lbs from standard and 12 lbs from dwarf varieties
Ease of Growing
- Seed Sowing Time - Anytime between the beginning of May and through to early July
- Picking Time - Beans planted in May can be harvested in June and subsequent sowing time through to early October
Quick French Bean Seed Comparison
Best Dwarf Yellow French Bean
Best Dwarf Purple French Bean
Best Dwarf French Bean
Best Soil & Planting Tips for French Beans
French beans will work in most soil types which is great news for beginner gardeners. They don't like really heavy or clay soils. You want to try and find a spot in your garden that gets a reasonable amount of sun, but is sheltered from the wind. Don't plant any bean in the same soil two years running.
It is good practise to dig the soil where you plan to grow your beans in the Autumn. Add a compost or well rotted manure. About 2 weeks before sowing is the perfect time to prepare the bed and when doing this use a general purpose fertlizer such as Growmore.
Maintaining the French Bean Plant
Plant your seeds about 4" apart in rows that are 18" apart. Sow to a depth of about 2"
Once you have planted your seeds, they do germinate quickly. You will need to offer some protection from the dreaded slugs. We also recommend using a hoe, to keep the weeds down at this early stage.
It is always a good idea to support French beans, even the dwarf varieties, with either pea sticks or just some twigs, as that will help them set properly. Plastic netting is ideal for the climbing varieties of French beans.
In the early days, until they look stable, keep the soil moist. Then, to help increase your yield, water regularly, especially during any long periods where there is no rain.
Around the middle to the end of June, you can mulch around the plants. When you have enjoyed your first harvest, then the good news is, that if you feed the beans again with some type of liquid fertilizer, then you can get a smaller second crop.
French Bean Pests and Problems
There are always a few garden pests to be aware of. Generally speaking you will never be affected by all of these. It is just good to know, that if you see any damage to your plants that you can identify what those are and deal with them quickly.
Black Bean Aphid
This is the main one to look out for when growing French beans. Blackfly will go after broad beans in the Spring. We use Bayer Garden Provado Ultimate Fruit and Vegetable Bug Killer to control that as it is very effective.
Capsid bugs grow to 6mm long and have green bodies, long legs and long antennae. You can spot when you have a problem if you see rows of small ragged holes in the foliage. This mainly happens on newer plants. They also feed on weeds so keep your growing area as free from weeds as you can. You can blow them off seedlings. If that doesn't work then Pyrethrum is the only organic pesticide that can be used to kill capsid bugs
If you have a vegetable garden then most likely there will be cutworms. They are laid by moths, mainly the turnip moth and the larvae they lay hides in the soil during the day and feeds at night. Wilted plants that look like they have been cut off at the soil line are the sure evidence of cutworms.
You can place cutworm collars around each plant if you know there is a problem. Metal cans or plastic cups work really well for collars and are cheap. The best way is to hoe the soil regularly and the birds will make very short work of them when they are exposed.
Slugs & Snails
A slug is basically a snail without a shell. They can devour seedlings in a very short space of time. The best way of controlling these is to just pick them out of the bed and get rid of them. If you don't like the idea of that then slug pellets works really well.
Mice love beans and we have seen them clear a row of beans overnight. You can put down spiny branches along the rows as that will deter them. You can also use some type of mouse poison.
You may notice U shaped notches right at the edges of younger leaves. This can kill off seedlings but in older plants, they almost always recover. Spray with Fenitrothion and it can also be prevented by hoeing around the plants in April and May.
Video on How to Grow French Beans in the UK
Harvesting & Use
You can begin to pick beans when the pods are about 4" long. A pod is ready to be picked if it snaps easily when bent. There comes a time when the bean starts to bulge so don't let it get to that stage as it is over mature. You can see the stress of the bean pushing the pod open.
They will continue to crop for about 5-7 weeks, so keep picking them before they get over mature. We cut the pods off using scissors as that helps keep the main stem from loosening in the soil.
Some people prefer to let these mature until they turn a straw colour. These are then known as haricots. When they change colour you can pick these and then hang them indoors to dry. They will become brittle and start to split. You can then shell the beans and dry them out fully on a sheet of paper. They are then good to store in an airtight jar.
Video on How to Cook French Beans
We have included a video below on how to cook French beans. Ideally pick young pods and if you can cook them within one hour of picking to get the really fresh taste of these wonderful beans. If the pods have moved to a slightly more mature state, we recommend shelling them and cooking them like peas. (Known as flageolets)
Hopefully we have given you enough information to be able to grow French beans in the UK. As a beginner we would recommend trying these as they are very easy and fast to grow. They also give you a very good crop for several weeks which helps make your efforts worthwhile.
Yes you can freeze French beans. The best method is to wash and trim young pods and then blanch them for 3 minutes. You can then freeze them in polythene bags or containers and they should then be used within 12 months. If you decide to cut the beans into chunks, then just blanch those for 2 minutes and freeze.
You can store French beans in a polythene bag in your fridge and they will stay nice and fresh for about a week. If just left in the kitchen they will stay fresh for about 3 days.
There really is no "best way" to cook French beans and it will always come down to your personal preference. Some people like them cooked whole and others prefer to chop or slice the beans. They work well as a cooked vegetable or in salads with an oil and vinegar dressing.