As I love trying out new varieties there are few vegetables that I grow time and again, yet bean Blauhilde is one of the rare exceptions. It is a climbing heirloom French bean with German origins that has become quite popular within the gardening community due to its versatility and excellent cropping. The flowers are exquisitely rose purple coloured which makes them perfectly suitable to the decorative potager vegetable garden that's both pretty and productive by nature, and the bean pods retain a deep purple colour as they grow. French beans are lovely when they are tender and small, and they are best picked when they are so fresh the pods snap in two when bent.
French beans are sensitive to frost and the leaves tend to wilt irrecoverably if hit by a late severe cold spell, so do keep an eye out on the temperature before sowing. The earth needs to be at least 16 °C for the beans to germinate, but preferably 18 °C. I usually calculate ten days between sowing and germination, and sow them in situ once the risk of frost has passed in June. In warmer climates you can start them off indoors in late april and plant them out by mid may. A good tip is to soak the seeds for a few hours before putting them in the earth as this helps with the germination, and then sow them at a depth of 5 cm so they anchor well into the soil.
Beans grow best in consistently moist, organically-rich, well-drained and fertile loams in full sun, but to be honest they are the best beginners plants ever because they will survive in almost any soil with adequate watering. Blauhilde grows very tall, and therefore it needs strong canes or poles to support it. Leave 10-15 cm between plants, and at least 50 cm between rows to allow air to circulate in between. Although Blauhilde is generally disease resistant, it can be struck by downy mildew in warm and moist temperatures if the plants are too close to each other. Also, as it is a vigorous climber, it is much easier to pick the beans if you leave enough room between the plants to move around in.
There is only one note of caution with this bean and that is that due to its vigorous growth it is easy to plant too many seeds too close, without adequate support. In fact I'm always amazed at how few seeds I actually need for a good crop, and that I only learned through trial and error. One year I was greedy and just chucked them all in, which lead to a jungle! After a heavy rain at the end of the season the whole bean plantation - with the supporting bamboo sticks and all - collapsed into an unruly heap that took ages to untangle!
It takes between 55 - 67 days from germination to cropping, but as the beans keep on coming the more they are harvested all throughout the season I recommend to start picking the pods as soon as they are about 10 - 12 cm long and before you can see the bean seed shape inside. Left to their own devices they will grow twice the size, and although they are stringless as young they do become a bit stringy later on. Blauhilde turns green after cooking, and it is an excellent bean to freeze and use later. (They are best not eaten raw as they contain mild toxins when uncooked that will upset the stomach.) If the beans grow quite large, I freeze them for use as bean puree in winter. At the end of the season I always let them grow wild and long because I dry them and use the flageolet beans in stews during winter as well as saving some for planting in next years garden.
Happy gardening to you all!