Growing beans and making compost were the two subjects up for discussion this week, with both topics generating a lot of interest.
Beans are generally easy to grow vegetables – give them good soil and plenty of sun, and you should do well. Although slugs and mice can make things difficult early on (more on this later…)
Favourite varieties were –
Climbing French beans:
‘Sultana’ – a pencil podded variety, good flavour and stringless
‘Cobra’ – good tasting, regular, straight beans and prolific
‘Blue lake’ – prolific and long cropping
‘Hunter’ – waxy, flat variety with good flavour
‘Neckargold’ – yellow beans
‘Cupidon’ – long cropping and good flavour, available from Real Seeds
Runner beans:‘Enorma’ – early cropping, with good flavour
‘Red rum’ – reliable and heavy cropping (tastes good too)
‘Scarlet emperor’ – a heritage variety that’s still very popular, so it must be good
‘Polestar’ – stringless and tasty
‘Lamon’ – the best for flavour, can be used fresh or dried
If there’s time, you can dig bean trenches in winter and fill with compostable waste (uncooked kitchen waste only, to make it less of an attraction for rats), before covering with soil and planting into them. If you missed out on the winter trench digging, adding lots of well rotted compost to the soil before planting is good.
For support the traditional canes are bamboo or hazel. But whatever you can get hold of will work, as long as it is tall enough.
Mulch the bean plants with grass clippings to keep moisture in – recommended by allotment growers.
Mice can be a problem, eating the bean seeds before or as they germinate. Try sowing into modules and putting them somewhere out of reach of mice. Soaking the seeds in paraffin is the old way to make them unpalatable to mice, but seaweed solution was also recommended for soaking the beans before sowing. Sowing in modules or pots also means you can get the bean plants to a decent size before planting out so that they stand some chance against slug damage.
Real Seeds were recommended as a supplier of bean seeds – they have a small range, but the seeds are reliable.
Perfect, crumbly compost is what every gardener is aiming for, and to get the best you need a good mix of carbon and nitrogen. Nitrogen comes from things like grass clippings and other green garden waste, carbon from straw, cardboard and wood shavings.
It’s best not to add anything that’s cooked or meat based if you are worried about attracting rats. On the other hand, you can add nettles, bracken, yarrow and comfrey – most weeds really, just avoid those with roots that will continue to grow and don’t add weed seeds. Cardboard, egg boxes (the cardboard type) and loo roll tubes can all be put on the compost heap to add carbon.
Nettles and comfrey are good for adding extra nitrogen if needed. In fact, the general consensus was that every garden should have a comfrey patch. As well as being good for adding to compost, the bees love the flowers, the leaves can be cut finely and use as a mulch or steeped in water to make comfrey tea for a liquid feed. Unless you have unlimited space or are looking for a garden entirely filled with comfrey, it’s best to plant the variety ‘Bocking 14’ which doesn’t set seed.
Alternatives to a compost heap
Worm bins are good way to compost small amounts of kitchen waste. They’re easy to maintain, and you get compost and liquid feed from them.
A Bokashi bin is a Japanese system of composting. Good for getting rid of meat or cooked waste that can’t be added directly to the compost heap, and for those with limited space for composting. The resulting mixture can be fed to worms, added to the heap or put straight on the soil. The bins do need some management – inoculated bran is sprinkled over the waste as it is added.
Tumbler bins are great for rapid compost production. Add 1/3 brown to 2/3 green material, and you can get compost in just 4 weeks during the summer.
And finally, if you’re looking for a good, compost-related read – Clare Foster’s book ‘Compost’ was recommended.
It’s been great to see the number of people joining in with #BritishVeg hour growing over the weeks. And if you’ve missed it so far, it’s not too late to come along… just follow #BritishVeg on Twitter, Tuesday evenings 8-9pm.