By PAUL McKAY
FRESH BEANS, picked from the vine and cooked within a few hours, taste crisp, succulent and full of flavour. They can be served as a hot vegetable to accompany meat, cooked then chilled to accompany salads, or cooked then liquidised within vegetable soups, adding a fresh distinctive flavour.
Beans can be sown as early as late March, right up to and including mid-September. This means there is the possibility of harvesting fresh beans from early June until December, well over half the year. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also the possibility of drying many varieties while still on the vine, enabling them to be stored for many years and used in stews and casseroles – a truly versatile crop.
There are many varieties of bean; the one to avoid in the Algarve is the good old faithful British runner bean. It thrives in Britain’s moist cool summer, but suffers in the Algarve. Almost any other type of bean I have grown has been successful. There are rounded pod varieties, flat podded, climbers and dwarf. All grow well and it simply comes down to a matter of personal choice.
Beans thrive in rich, fertile soil and like plenty of water. If you can dig in well rotted manure a month or so before planting, this will guarantee a good crop. One winter I dug a deep trench, and spent the colder months tipping household compost into it – egg shells, leftover vegetable leaves and so on. I stopped some six weeks ahead of sowing and filled the trench with soil. The beans were then planted above this rotting heap, thrived, and gave kilo after kilo of beans for six weeks or more.
Plant low growing beans in blocks, spacing the beans around eight centimetres apart from each other. Plant to a depth of around four centimetres.
Plant climbers under strong supports spaced about 20 centimetres apart. Put four beans around each support, plant to a depth of around four centimetres.
Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged and only plant when the soil is warm.
The beans should emerge from the soil within eight days.
Climbers should be guided onto their supports – never let the plants dry out.
After six weeks or so flowers appear – keep them well watered at this time.
The flowers are quickly followed by beans.
Pick the beans when they are still tender, don’t be tempted to allow them to grow huge.
Regular picking ensures more flowers follow and a long fruiting season.
When the plants begin dying back, dig them into the soil – they provide high levels of nitrogen, ready for the next crop to be planted in that soil.
Nothing could be easier than drying beans. When production slows down, stop picking the beans, allowing those that remain to mature on the vine. Before the pods begin popping on their own, pick them and pod the beans, laying them out on a clean cloth in the sun. After a few days the beans should be completely dry and will store a year or more. To eat them, simply soak and boil as you would any dried beans.
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