Easy peasy seed saving - French beans

In this series, we discuss how to save your own organic seeds. Once you dip into the seed saving world, you realise how satisfying and easy it can be. Tomatoes, peas and French beans, for instance, are a great place to start. Not only are you keeping yourself in organic produce, year on year - you're also saving money!

We also look at some of the wonderful heritage varieties available. If taste and individuality are your aims, then why not support our Heritage Seed Library? We conserve many varieties that are no longer widely available. Often they are rejected as 'uncommercial'. Many are local, such as the Stafford broad bean, Stoke lettuce and English Winter Leamington cauliflower.

Year on year, HSL staff continue the growing cycle of seed to plant, harvest to seed, ensuring that these old heritage varieties don't disappear.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Heritage Seed Library, it costs just an additional £1.50 a month, on top of your Garden Organic membership. In doing so, you will be supporting our vital work of maintaining rare heritage plants - and you can choose up to 6 packets of seed free each year!

But first, a few words on seed saving .....

Why save your own seed?

Some do it to preserve a link with the past, growing a variety their parents grew. Or one that is no longer available. Some want to share and swap their seeds. Others recognise that as seed catalogues offer new, improved varieties every year, the reality is that the choice of vegetables continues to narrow.

How easy is it?

With some vegetables, such as tomatoes and peas, it is very simple and you save seeds from ripened fruit each year.

With others, such as runner beans and pumpkins, you need to be a bit careful to prevent any cross-pollination from other plants to keep your own variety pure. If, for instance, your runner bean flower is pollinated by a bee from your neighbour’s plants (which are a different type of runner bean) you cannot predict what sort of bean you will grow next year. It could be a mix of the two. To help you, read more in our Seed Saving Guidelines.

So, let’s start with the easy peasy seed savers:

French Bean Phaseolus vulgaris

A healthy bean plant will provide many, many pods which you can keep picking. Eaten in the green pod, or dried, beans provide a variety of dishes and a good source of protein. French beans can either be dwarf or climbing varieties, and come in many different colours - from green, white and yellow to deep purple. The beans (seeds) inside are often beautiful - from rosy pink to deepest black, and a rich mix of markings. Unlike runner beans, they rarely run the risk of cross pollination.

Harvesting

Ideally, the pods should be dried on the vines but if bad weather threatens, uproot the plants and hang them upside down somewhere warm until the pods are completely dry.

Next steps ….

  1. It is best to pod beans by hand; reject any with atypical markings to keep your variety pure.
  2. Then set the beans out to dry further, somewhere warm and dry, but don’t allow them to get too hot.
  3. If you notice little holes in the beans, these are caused by a small weevil. It is best to destroy these beans, as the weevil may have eaten the germinating part of the seed.
  4. French bean seeds should last in cool, dry storage for at least 3 years

See here for a simple guide on how to grow French beans.

Heritage Varieties

These beauties are available exclusively to HSL members. If you are interested in becoming a member of the Heritage Seed Library, it costs just an additional £1.50 a month, on top of your Garden Organic membership.

Black Valentine - dwarf variety

black

One of our oldest varieties, possibly known since the 1850s. Pretty lilac flowers turn into straight, slender, stringless pencil pods. The jet-black seeds are very good for drying. It is attractive, very prolific, yet neat and tidy.

Uplands - dwarf variety

uplands

These beans are named after the Uplands Allotments in Handsworth, Birmingham, where they have been grown for many years, although they originate from Italy. Sturdy and compact plants (30-40cm) produce pale pink flowers and short straight pods. Growers have described them as extremely tough, surviving hot and dry as well as cool and wet. They also seem unattractive to slugs.” The plump beans are ideal for drying.

Major Cook’s Bean - climbing variety

major cook

This bean produces pretty purple-violet flowers followed by a huge crop of tender, stringless beans with a very fine flavour. It probably originally developed in Southampton in about 1900, by experimental horticulturist Alderman Vokes (the eponymous Major Cook's grandfather.) It was passed to our donor's grandfather, by Major Cook in 1960s as they both worked with The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in France. Major Cook was always a keen gardener, growing prize-winning vegetables with his grandfather and was trained at Kew before serving in the Middle East during WWII.

Mrs Fortune’s - climbing variety

fortune

Doris Fortune acquired these beans from the retired Head Gardener at Windsor. Prolific and tall (2-2.5m) with pale blue flowers, this bean has smooth green and blue mottled pods, which darken when mature. Stringless and tender, they can be eaten whole, or used dried. It is claimed to be one of the most reliable cropping and tasty beans in the HSL Collection.

Did you know …..

  • A serving (125gms) of boiled green beans contains 2.4gms of protein and 20% of the recommended daily vitamin C allowance.
  • Eating beans 'in the green' is a relatively new phenomenon. Up until the end of the 19th century it was more usual to store and eat dried beans.
  • Tinned baked beans are predominantly haricot beans - a type of French bean.
  • Beans can cause an increase in flatulence. This is due to the fermentation of the polysaccharides in the large intestines. Cooking the beans for longer will prevent the flatulence, but reduces the bean's protein content.