Monday, March 28, 2011

Growing French & Italian Heirloom Beans

A French Shell/Dry Pole Bean

French and Italian heirloom beans are cool season crops. They're best planted in Kihei from mid-November through January. They'll perish in the heat and are usually difficult to germinate and grow when planted in the late spring or summer months. Flower and pod production for these types of beans are affected by the hot sun and high day and night time temps.

Of all of the beans I grow each year,
the French and Italian beans are my favorite.

Nickel Haricots Verts
A French Filet Bush Bean

Roc d'Or
An Italian Filet Bush Bean

Filet beans are the fresh pods that are known as snap beans or string beans. Filet beans are normally harvested when they're still small and slender, before the bean seeds develop. Roc d'Or was the most productive and heat tolerant of the yellow filet beans I've grown.

A French Flageolet Bush Bean

Soissons Vert
A French Flageolet Pole Bean

I grow an assortment of pole and bush beans in my garden each winter. I don't really have a preference, I'm just trying to find the most heat tolerant, productive, tender and delicious beans to grow. Pole beans require less space but they also require some type of vertical support to grow on.

Shell beans are the mature beans inside of the pods before they're dry. I've not seen shell beans at the markets or even the farmers markets on Maui. They're a gourmet item and they don't require soaking or long cooking times like dry beans. You can always dry the shell beans for storage, but once you try shell beans you may not want to dry them as they are so ono.

So far, I haven't been successful with runner beans or favas. They require cool day and night time temps. I'll continue to plant my favorite runner bean each December just in case we have a cooler than normal winter.

A Bean Tepee

I grow beans in an assortment of containers and the most productive method I've used for pole beans is the bean tepee. It might be that the tepee configuration provides some protection for the flowers from the direct sun.

There are several ways to make a tepee, I use a round container with a 20 inch diameter and several slender 6 ft long bamboo poles tied at the top. Then I plant 4 bean seeds in a square, spaced at least 6 inches apart.

Love Apple Farms uses multiple containers in their bean tepee method.
They plant their beans more densely than I do with good results.

More bean tepees can be seen here:

I also grow beans on trellises - my trellises are far from sturdy but they were inexpensive and simple to put together. Surprisingly, they've held up during periods of strong wind.

Julie, the author of the Dirty Fingernails 808 blog, has a great post on how to build a very sturdy but portable bean trellis.
There are numerous posts on her blog about the beans she grows in her garden on Maui.

I plant beans in an organic and natural potting soil amended with azomite, green sand and an organic all purpose fertilizer. I use an OMRI bean inoculate and plant the seeds directly in the soil. I've found bean seedlings to be somewhat temperamental to transplant.

After the bean seeds are planted, I recommend covering them with netting, tulle, screen or pint size cups with the base removed until they begin to grow. I've had a lot of problems with slugs and snails biting off the first emerging bean leaves, destroying the plant.

Beans are bothered by several insects and pests. In the winter months the aphids and white flies attack the bean leaves. The rose beetles do the most damage to the leaves. but they don't bother the plants much in the winter months. I haven't had any problems with insects boring into the pods but the mice will take bites from low hanging beans. They don't munch on the filet beans very often - they go for the developing shell beans.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seeds From Italy and The Natural Gardening Company have large selections of French and Italian heirloom beans.

Shell beans are normally simmered in water or broth until they're tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. I simmer them in water with a little sea salt, a bruised garlic clove and a branch or 2 of fresh thyme. Onion and other herbs can also be used with tasty results.

Following is a is a link to an informative article about French shell beans:


  1. Aack, my comment disappeared!

    First, thanks for the shout out ; )

    Next, let me say that i always learn something from your posts. Where the heck were you five or six years ago??

    Have you tried growing Rattlesnake beans Jane? I hear they do well in the heat. Tarbais beans look great, were they tasty? Did they grow well for you? Always curious about a new bean ; )

  2. Hi Holly! Mahalo for the compliment!

    Hi Julie! It's great that we mutually benefit from each others research and experiences! Mahalo for the tip on the rattlesnake beans - I didn't realize they were more heat tolerant - I'll have to trial them this year.

    The tarbais were similar to the soissons - vigorous and productive. I opened a pod this weekend and they still need another week. They were planted on 1/22. They're a white kidney shaped bean just a bit larger than the soissons - I'll let you know if they're as ono.

  3. Aloha Jane,
    Lovely beans!! I have tried beans in the past--not very successful. Probably because I planted them during the summer. I thought they were warm weather veggies. :( Thanks for the tip about growing during the winter. Corliss

  4. I love Italian and French beans, I grow some every year. I like the idea of growing beans in containers, I have to try them on runner beans later for the hummingbirds, I hope they return this year.

  5. Hi Corliss! Chinese long beans grow really well through the spring. I'm trialing some southwest beans this spring and if they grow I'll write a post about them.

    Hi Mac! The beans seem to grow well in containers and I've grown a runner bean in a container too. Your hummingbirds were so cool!

  6. Hi, Jane, I'm getting really excited to be moving to Pukalani in just a few months - the few green beans I grew were OK, but the bush types weren't as productive as the pole types. Ii's going to be so much fun once the windhouse gets off the paper it is drawn on.
    Thanks for such helpful posts.

  7. Hi Pomaika'i! That's great news that you'll be coming home soon!! Pole beans are very productive and you should have a longer growing season for fresh beans in Pukalani.

  8. Aloha Jane. I've been searching for Roc d'Or. Would love to try them out. Where did you order? Can't find on Seeds of Italy or Bakers Creek. Any leads? Thanks again for sharing such valuable information on heirlooms for our climate! Kirk

  9. Hi Kirk! I order Roc d'or from The Natural Gardening Company. They're a beautiful bean and more heat tolerant than Beurre de Rocquencourt.
    Here is the link to their bush bean page -

    Mahalo for your appreciation!