Whether you know them as French, waxpod, string, snap, haricot, flageolet or green beans, a summer vegetable garden is seldom complete without them
They are simple to grow, tasty and highly nutritious - so what better reasons could there be for you to make room for a few on your veg patch?
You'll find the taste of home-grown beans far superior to those you can buy in shops and you can grow a wide range of different varieties not suitable for commercial production.
There are two main forms of French bean - dwarf and climbing.
The former grow into small, bushy plants, while the latter, like runner beans, will wind themselves around the nearest support and can reach up to 2.5m (8ft) in height.
Dwarf beans are a safer bet for beginners, as they are easier to care for, but climbers have the potential to produce a much higher yield.
The trick to getting a successful crop lies in good soil preparation, as well as regular feeding and watering during the long summer months.
These fast-growing plants prefer a sunny, sheltered position with protection from cold winds.
Choose a new site for planting each year, as beans are prone to rotting diseases that can build up in the soil over time.
Both climbers and bushes like a rich soil which has had plenty of organic material dug into it.
Digging should be to a spade and a half's depth, incorporating well-rotted compost or manure during the process.
This should preferably be a month or so in advance of sowing or planting so that the matter has time to fully break down.
French beans are very tender, so unless you've got a greenhouse it's best to wait until the last frost has passed before sowing.
Once you have prepared your ground, use pegs and string to mark out a straight row and make a 5cm (2in) deep furrow along it, using a trowel.
Leave 1m (3ft) between every second row so you'll have enough space to get to your crops once they're fully grown.
Sow one seed every 15cm (6in), watering the bed well afterwards.
After about three weeks, remove weaker seedlings to leave stronger specimens 30cm (1ft) apart.
If you've got a greenhouse, French beans can be sown under cover in pots in mid-April and planted out once all danger of frost has passed (usually mid to late May).
Sow a single seed per pot in seed and cutting compost at a depth of 4cm (1½in).
Water well until the compost is thoroughly damp and make sure it stays moist (the seeds may not germinate if it dries out).
Sowing seeds indoors can give the plants a faster and more reliable start but it's important that they are properly acclimatised to the cooler outdoor conditions before planting them out.
Start off by putting them outside for an hour or two on a sunny day, then gradually increase the length of time on successive days to get them used to being outside.
When you eventually plant the young plants out in your beds, set them about 30cm (1ft) apart and provide the appropriate support.
The traditional (and, many argue, best-looking) approach for climbing beans is a wigwam made from four or five equal-length straight canes, inserted into the ground and tied together at the top.
Twist some gardening twine round them too, as this will give the growing plants more to grab hold of.
Alternatively the canes can be set out in rows. They will need to be a minimum of 1.8m (6ft) in length.
Most gardening text books will tell you bush types don't require support, but the weight of the pods can cause them to drag on the ground, where they're more easily attacked by slugs and other pests.
They are best planted among a supporting layer of twiggy sticks.
If your soil has been properly prepared, the only regular attention your crop will need is regular watering in very dry conditions (especially once the flower buds start to develop).
A fortnightly dose of a fertiliser formulated for tomatoes will help encourage good growth.
Pinch out the growing tips of the plants once they reach the top of their supports to keep them at a manageable height, and weed between them every few days.
French beans are ready for harvesting from mid-July onwards, with their cropping season lasting until October depending on when they were sown.
Pick them when they are young and tender (using scissors to cut the stalks close to the tip of the bean), as they turn stringy if they're left on the plant for too long.
Their length is not a reliable indication of their readiness; instead, focus on their texture.
They are past their best once the skin is coarsely textured and the beans inside begin to show through like small marbles.
Harvest regularly to encourage further cropping.
French beans are available in many forms and colours that include both climbing varieties and dwarf types.
A reliable climber that will reach around 1.5 to 1.8m (5 to 6ft) in height. Produces broad, fleshy, bright yellow pods.
A high-yielding climbing variety that provides a heavy crop of delicious, long, flat pods for several months.
Popular dwarf variety that grows to around 60cm (2ft). Produces extremely tasty slim pods that are good for freezing.
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