How To Grow Legumes–Beans and Peas


Once in Maine I saw a little rectangular garden filled with nothing but beans of all kinds. They climbed strings, poles, tripods and trellises. They made flower-decked boundaries around the plot. They were stretched in neat rows across it. A bean row is an essential in a kitchen garden.

Blue coco is a purple-podded French climbing bean. The pods change to green during cooking. Flageolets and haricots are dwarf or climbing beans grown for the seeds, which may be used when unripe or allowed to mature and dry for winter use. ‘Comtesse de Chambord’, ‘Brown Dutch’, Flageolet Rouge’ and ‘Mexican Black’ are some varieties. The pea bean is more generally grown for its half-ripe seeds which may be considered as flageolets but the complete pods may be used in the manner of runner beans. The soy bean, Soja max, is cultivated as a dwarf bean. A very warm summer is needed for a good yield. The fresh and dried seeds are cooked as haricots. They may also be used to obtain bean sprouts. Seeds of the mung bean, Phaseolus aureus, are also obtain-able for sprouting.

All beans provide in their low-grade protein a very rich source of food. They are of very ancient cultivation. Below they are listed in their various categories.

Broad beans (Vicia label)

These were certainly known to the Ancient Egyptians and are probably natives of northern and western Asia. They are among the hardiest of our bean crop.

Cultivation growing runner beans

A good rich loam suits these beans, though they are not difficult to grow on any soil. This crop may well follow cabbages and potatoes, or manure may be dug in sparingly. A certain amount of chemical fertiliser may be added as fol-lows: 3 oz per square yard of super-phosphate and 1 oz per square yard of sulphate of potash. These beans prefer a neutral or alkaline soil to one which is acid. On acid soil lime or chalk should be applied.

In January or February seed may be sown in boxes or individual pots and started under glass. In April the young plants are set out and the crop becomes mature in June. Another method is to plant outdoors in April for the main sum-mer crop or a May sowing becomes ready in September. At one time autumn sowing was popular, but a number of bad winters in succession has made this method unpopular.

In sowing, the seeds are placed at 6 inch intervals in rows 2 feet apart. The beans may be put inches deep or, on clay soil, be placed on the surface and soil ridged up to cover them. When the first bean pods are showing the tip of the main shoot should be broken off and removed.

Named kinds include: ‘Green Windsor’, ‘Saville Longpod’, ‘Early Longpod’, ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Green Longpod’, ‘Bun-yard’s Exhibition’ and ‘Harlington White’.

Haricot beans and French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

The difference between the french bean and the haricot bean is merely that in the former the pod containing immature seeds is eaten, while the haricots are the ripe seeds without the pods. The details of cultivation are the same for both french and haricot forms of the bean.

Though in North America the runner bean is more often grown than the French, in Europe the reverse is true. It is not always known that a climbing form of the french bean is available though the dwarf kind is certainly more popular and has some advantages.


Soil should be rich and light and well dug, with a dusting of super-phosphate of lime at 3 oz per square yard and manure at the rate of 1 cwt to each 8 square yards. For early crops seeds may be sown in boxes during April and started under glass to be hardened off and planted out in May. Outdoors it is unwise to sow before the end of April.

The secret of a good crop of succulent beans is speedy raising without check. Water freely and mulch if dry weather occurs. It is essential with this bean to begin picking while the beans are still tender and not more than 4 inches long. It seems a British trait to produce the heaviest crop of the largest vegetables, and this is why the best qualities of flavour and texture are sometimes lacking from our vegetables.

  • The outdoor beans should be spaced 6 inches apart in drills 1 inch deep, 18 inches apart.
  • At the end of the season the plants may well be allowed to ripen their remaining seeds as these when shelled and dried are really the haricots of commerce. They may be used as seed for next year’s crop, but as long as they are kept dry they may be kept for over a year for use in cookery.
  • French beans may be forced under glass to have them at a time when they are unobtainable in the shops. From a
  • January sowing under glass with a maintained temperature of 60°F (16°C) beans may be had by May. Early March sowing give beans in June. Soil should be as for tomato culture and an even temperature and state of moisture must be maintained throughout .

Named kinds include: ‘Brown Dutch’, ‘Canadian Wonder’, ‘Cherokee’, ‘Fin de Bagnols’, ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Black Prince’.

Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus)

This plant is a native of tropical America, and when first introduced into Britain it was grown for the beauty of its bright scarlet blossoms. It is actually a tender peren-nial, but is commonly grown as an an-nual; though it is possible to take a plant and overwinter it, nothing is gained.

Those who use the railways running into London will, in late summer, have noted in almost all the suburban back-yards abutting upon the line thriving plants of the beloved scarlet runner, and it is notable that this is often the only vegetable grown. All of which speaks eloquently of the merits of this most popular amateur’s plant.

how to support runner beans


It would be most unwise to plant runner beans before May as they will not take the least frost. Should an early crop be required the same method may be used as advised for the french bean and sow the seed in boxes under glass. It is not necessary to sow these seeds before late May or the beginning of June.

The method of planting for those plants which will be staked is that of two double rows 10 inches apart separated by a space of at least 5 feet. It is in this central area that the strong supports must be placed. The individual seeds must be placed at 8 inch intervals.

The poles or stakes should be quite 8 feet long and should be connected by a strong horizontal structure firmly lashed to the uprights. The rest of the frame-work is merely a net or an arrangement of strings. The weight of a row of runner beans in full growth is considerable and they present a large surface to be shaken by the wind. To avoid all this scaffolding it is quite possible to convert the plants into shrubby masses by a routine of pinching out the growing shoots. How-ever, when this plan is adopted the individual seeds must be spaced at 2 foot intervals, with a distance of 3 feet between the rows. Naturally a given number of plants will occupy considerably more ground space under these conditions.

When runner beans are in full production pick them frequently. As with french beans, they should be picked when they are young and tender.

Named kinds include: ‘Best of All’, ‘Giraffe’, ‘Kentucky Wonder’, ‘Painted Lady’, ‘Prizewinner’, ‘Streamline’ and Princeps’.

Peasgrowing peas

Whenever I dig my fork into a plate of delicious home grown mint-scented peas I tell myself for the thousandth time that all the work I did on them was well worth-while. I think that few foods are as rewarding to grow, and there are more kinds than are generally known.

Asparagus pea, Lotus tetragonolobus, is sometimes referred to as the winged pea. Half-hardy annual. Sow seed under glass in late April and plant out at 1 foot apart or late May or sow in situ then. The short, bushy plants need twiggy brushwood supports. Gather the light green pods when an inch or so long. They toughen if allowed to grow longer. Carlins is an old Pisum sativum cultivar grown for its dried seeds and once very popular in the north country. Sow and cultivate as garden peas and provide 6foot supports. Mangetout or sugar pea, P. sativum macrocarpum, and petit pois are also cultivated as garden peas. Mangetouts are harvested when the pods are flat and the seeds undeveloped. Petit pois are small-seeded French culti-ars. Chick pea, Cicer arietinum, sometimes referred to as the Egyptian pea, is a tender annual which needs glass protection in most parts of Britain. Sow seeds 1 foot apart. In October pull up the low bushes and hang them out to dry. The dry pods may be shelled and the peas stored. Known some centuries ago as `ramciches’, they are the garbanzos of Spanish dishes.

There are white seeded and white flowered varieties of beans which can be used to a dual purpose, to produce fresh young beans or to dry. The seeds can be used as ‘butter’ beans. For this purpose it is best to reserve a few plants which can be allowed to ripen completely. Sometimes, in some seasons it becomes necessary to pull up the plants and let them finish drying indoors in a shed or some similar place. Begin the season by gathering the first of the white beans while these are young, and then as they are produced more rapidly leave some plants to ripen.

It is also possible to buy dwarf runner beans, ideal for those who do not wish to be bothered with bean poles, supports and canes. These plants produce the same type of bean as the climbing runners.

Earlier I mentioned the delectable climbing French bean Blue Coco. There is also a dwarf form with purple pods. These cook beautifully green and they are of a different, slightly more buttery texture than the other French beans.

Like the other types of pea Sugar Peas can be grown in succession. If you deep freeze vegetables and have plenty of garden space you may find that it is not so important to grow a succession of crops. You might find it more convenient to sow several rows at one time. Treat Sugar Peas as First Earlies.

The only drawback to sowing one crop at one time, which many gardeners tell me they now do, is that you will have to deal with the matured crop all at the same time. Personally I find it easiest to tackle freezing vegetables little by little, but that is because my domestic hours are few.

Petit Pois are extremely hardy. The seeds are extremely small and have a distinct sweet flavour.

Growing Peassowing peas

The garden or green pea (Asumsativum) is a highly nutritious legume widely grown as a farm crop and a popular vegetable among gardeners. Varieties are subdivided into First Early, Second Early, Maincrop and Late. Pea seeds may be round and smooth (round-seeded) or wrinkled (marrowfats). Round-seeded peas are hardier than marrowfats, but marrowfats are considered of better flavour and to have a higher sugar content. Light soils suit the production of First Early peas; for later maturing crops a loamy soil which does not dry out quickly is ideal providing that soil drainage is good. A heavy clay soil is unsuitable for peas unless drainage has been remedied. Al-though peas grow readily in alkaline soils, the growth of plants in an acidic soil is invariably poor. A desirable soil pH value for garden peas lies between pH 6.0 and pH 7.5. No highly nitrogenous manure or fertiliser should be applied when the ground is being prepared for this crop. Like other legumes, the pea plant develops nitrogen-fixing nodules on its roots. When pea bine is removed after harvesting the roots should be allowed to decompose in the soil and enrich it by releasing nitrogen into it.

In a three-year rotation of crops peas follow brassicas for which the soil will have been generously dressed with manure or garden compost in the previous season. The plot reserved for pea growing is dug with the spade or garden fork during the late autumn or winter and this may be followed by a light forking to a depth of 4 inches to 6 inches just before a sowing of peas is contemplated. During the diggings, all weeds and their roots should be removed as should any wireworms, leather-jackets or slugs.

There are dwarf and taller pea varieties. Although plants of the short, dwarf varieties may be grown without supports it is the custom to provide all garden peas with supports of some sort. Twiggy brush-wood of the height the plants will attain is much liked by gardeners. Bamboo canes linked together with strong thread or garden twine often replace the traditional brushwood. Garden netting for pea growing is offered at garden shops and by horticultural retailers. The tall supports needed by tall growers should be aug-mented by several strong, tall stakes to prevent strong winds in summer from blowing down the plants when bearing their heavy crops.

Seed is sown in a 2-inch deep furrow, which is 6 to 8 inches wide, made with the draw hoe. The seeds are sprinkled thinly into the furrow so that each seed is between 2 ½ to 3 inches from the next. Should the soil be dry, the furrow should be flooded with water and sowing undertaken when this has drained away. After sowing, the seeds are covered with soil raked over them. During the raking any large stones should be removed. The distances between rows of peas vary. It is generally accepted that the distances between the rows should be the same as the height of the variety being grown, but with very dwarf peas 30 inches between rows is the rule. Supports, if to hand, should be set in position immediately after the seed has been sown. The tendrils of the pea plant cannot grasp thick supports and where these are in use young pea plants are encouraged to climb by the insertion of short pieces of twiggy wood on either side of the row. The twigs also afford some protection to the young plants by breaking the force of cold winds.

Pea seeds and pea seedlings are attractive to birds and black cotton or small mesh chicken wire are useful protectors. The wire mesh should be removed when the seedlings are a few inches tall. The old fashioned scarecrow is a useful bird deterrent as are large polythene bags fixed to tall stakes. Where mice are known to take freshly sown seeds, traps should be set or a proprietary poison used with care

Peas varieties and heights in feet

First Early – Sow November/February For Use May – June

  • Early Bird 2
  • Feltham First 1+
  • Foremost 3
  • Forward 2
  • Gradus 3
  • Kelvedon Triumph 1+
  • Kelvedon Viscount 2+
  • Kelvedon Wonder 1+
  • Little Marvel 1+
  • Meteor 1+
  • Pilot Improved 3
  • Progress (Laxton) 1
  • Sleaford Phoenix 1+
  • Topcrop 2

Second Early – Sow April For Use In July

  • Achievement 5
  • Early Onward 2+
  • Giant Stride 2
  • Kelvedon Climax 24
  • Kelvedon Monarch 2+
  • Kelvedon Spitfire 2
  • Shasta 2 ½
  • Sutton’s Chieftain 2+
  • Sutton’s Phenomenon 2
  • Sutton’s Show Perfection 5

Maincrop – Sow April – May For Use In August

  • Alderman 5
  • Histon Kingsize 3+
  • Histon Maincrop 2 ½
  • Lincoln 2
  • Onward 2

Late – Sow May For use August—September

  • Autocrat 4
  • Gladstone 4
  • Lord Chancellor 31

The height of plants varies by several inches due to soil and seasonal climatic conditions

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