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In the garden: 'French beans are, I think, one of the most underrated of vegetables'

Of all the legume family, they are my favourite to eat, writes Michael Kelly.

IT’S BEEN A great year so far for the legume family (peas and beans), though it has of course required more outside watering than would be normal.

We had an absolute abundance of broad beans in May and June from an over-winter sowing of acquadulce Claudia though the dry weather finished them off earlier than normal.

They were followed by the climbing French beans from the tunnel in early July and the peas around the same time. French beans are, I think, one of the most underrated of vegetables.  Of all the legume family, they are my favourite to eat.

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.

Growing French beans

French beans can be grown two ways – either as dwarf crops or the climbing variety.  Dwarf beans grow just 45cm tall and are surprisingly prolific for a small plant. Climbing french beans grow up to 6-8ft tall and produce a lot more beans in the same footprint.

The seeds can be sown direct in the soil or in module trays ready for transplanting. The beans from both types (dwarf and climbing) are pretty much the same.

Similar to runner beans, a bamboo wigwam or double row of canes is the best support structure. Put three or four beans at the base of each bamboo leaving 30cm between the canes.

Plant dwarf varieties in blocks so that they provide each other with shelter and support – leave about 15cm between plants. Hoe around the plants regularly to suppress weeds. Water regularly in dry weather particularly when the flowers start to form. Mulch around the plants if it’s very dry.

Keep picking

I find the climbing French beans in the tunnel to be an amazing crop – though some people wouldn’t waste the polytunnel space on them (since they grow well outside) I just think they are far more prolific when grown undercover (away from winds which they hate).

By mid July the plants were well over 8 foot tall and I had so many beans I was sending occasional bags to JB in GROW HQ just to use them up.  I sowed a second crop in mid July to produce a late autumn crop.

The key of course with all the legumes (and this can be a challenge) is to keep picking them.  The more you pick the more they produce, whereas if you leave them on the plant to mature it reduces yields considerably.

So it makes sense to get out there and pick every day if you can, regardless of whether you intend to eat them that day.  All beans (broad, runner and French) and peas freeze incredibly way as long as you blanch them first. They will be very welcome in the freezer during the long winter and early spring months next year when there’s very little or no fresh produce left in the veg patch.

The Basics – Sow Turnips 

Turnips are very easy to grow and because they produce a crop so quickly, they are an ideal candidate for late summer sowing.

Note that we are talking about turnips here (with the white flesh) as opposed to swedes (yellow flesh) which take longer to mature (it’s too late now to sow swedes this year).

Sow turnips thinly in shallow drills around 2cm deep. Thin as soon as possible to prevent roots from getting tangled in each other. Allow 15cm between plants and 25cm between rows. Baby turnips can be harvested when the roots are 5cm wide.

It’s a good idea to do a sowing of turnips in late summer, perhaps in a bed freed up from another crop (eg onions or garlic). The turnips will be ready to eat (and much appreciated) in early October, before the weather turns bad.

The green leaves that grow on top of the turnip can also be eaten.  Water well in dry spells to prevent cracking.

Recipe of the Week – Kohlrabi Carpaccio 

I reckon I’ve come across the secret to cooking with kohlrabi – don’t cook it!  Raw dishes make the most of its wonderful crunchiness and flavour. This healthy lunch or supper can be put together in minutes and serves four people.


  • 1 medium (or 2 small) kohlrabi
  • 4-6 anchovy fillets cut into thin strips
  • 50g hard goat’s cheese
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the kohlrabi, slice it into thin slivers with a vegetable peeler and divide these between four plates (or even one larger platter). Scatter the strips of anchovy fillet on top of the kohlrabi, then shave the goat’s cheese over, again using a vegetable peeler.

Sprinkle on the thyme leaves, squeeze over a spritz of lemon juice and trickle on a little rapeseed oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve at once.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.




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