French Bean Phaseolus vulgaris
The ancestor of the modern French Bean originated in South and Central America. The beans have been cultivated in that part of the world since ancient times and were brought over to Europe after the Spanish conquest.
Because they come from a tropical climate, French Beans need a warm soil in which to germinate and grow: beans planted too early in the year either fail to germinate or else produce very weak plants.
Late June or July is therefore the best time to plant the beans in the British Isles.
The plants need good soil, free of weeds and plenty of water. They then grow very rapidly and produce a large crop of delicious beans in august. It is a good idea to mulch round the young plants with grass cuttings (providing the lawn has never been sprayed with chemicals): this keeps down the weeds and stops the soil from drying out.
There are many different kinds of French Beans but the easiest to grow are the bush varieties (as opposed to ones that need sticks to climb up). Most people grow varieties that have green pods, but you can also get ones with yellow pods, purple pods and variegated pods. It is best to grow stringless varieties so that the whole pod to be picked and eaten when young.
The smaller the beans when picked, the better the taste: the pods start to dry out as soon as they are picked and become limp and bendy within a few hours. This means that unless you grow French beans for yourself, you never get a chance to taste them the way that they really are.
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