Every year, one of my ‘banker’ vegetables, the ones that reliably produce a crop year in, year out, will mysteriously fail. Last year it was the courgettes: the plants refused to grow, the leaves were spindly, the fruits – those that didn’t rot at 3inches or so – were skinny and tasteless. While everyone else bemoaned their glut, I thought how nice even one-tenth of a glut would be.
This year, it’s the beans. And worryingly, I mean all the beans: the runners, the Asturians, the borlottis and the Frenchies. The runner and borlotti beans almost certainly have bean common mosaic virus. I say ‘almost’ because while they’re definitely got something, I’ve been scouring Google images and the only BCMV picture that definitely looks like my sickly plants is one illustrating the effects of BCMV in western Africa. The mottling in my leaves is more like dark green bubble wrap than yellowing and curling.
The Asturian beans, which might normally be the prime suspect for introducing a virus, since I buy culinary Fabes de la Granja from the supermarkets of Asturias and sow these instead of ordering certified virus free seeds, look relatively healthy.
The French beans stubbornly refused to germinate at the first sowing ... and again at the second ... and so finally I consulted the small print on the back of the packet and discovered that, yes, they were three years past their sell-by date. Then the Blue Lake and Trionfo Violetto did germinate at the third time of asking and produced a few straggly plants that are still struggling to climb their canes. But at least they look healthy.
I’m going to miss the beans this year. There are usually enough French beans to give to friends and neighbours and the Asturians and borlottis keep us in dried beans throughout the winter. My Internet research – and also Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Garden Plants, by Stefan Buczacki, Keith Harris and Brian Hargreaves – suggests that even if I get off lightly, yields will be much reduced.