Somehow, without a runner bean frame or trellis a vegetable garden does not look quite right.
Amazingly, the first runner bean plants that were grown in this country would never have been found in any kitchen garden, and were more likely to be found providing a backdrop in the flower bed. It wasn't until the mid-17th century that anyone thought to let the stunning flower display turn to seed and eat them.
How To Grow Runner Beans:
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Although legumes are thought of as a green manure, obtaining the nitrates they need from the atmosphere, they do need a rich humus and water retaining soil.
To achieve the perfect bed for runner beans we always plant into a traditional bean trench, it provides the best growing environment for beans.
To make a bean trench collect kitchen waste and newspapers during the Autumn, and once you have enough waste to fill a 30cm deep, 40-60cm wide trench, at your desired length, mark out the position of your bean frame.
Then dig the trench one spade deep and two spades wide, line it with newspaper, fill it with the kitchen waste and cover it with soil. When it is time to plant out your runner beans the trench will have settled leaving a depression in the soil, which is ideal for collecting extra water.
It is also a good idea to give the soil a dressing of wood ash before planting out.
Runner beans are easy to grow, and as long as you provide them with the right soil conditions, avoid the frost, water when dry and feed once a month, then runner beans will reward you with a bumper crop.
Sow in early May either indoors or in the greenhouse in a 8cm pot with general purpose compost. Sow one seed per pot, 5cm deep, and keep the seedling well-watered.
While the seedling is growing prepare a frame for the beans to climb up by inserting a double row of 8 foot bamboo poles, spacing the poles at 20cm spacings with 40cm between the rows. The frames should be arranged over the bean trench so that young plants can grow in the trench itself. Then cross the poles at the top and run a pole along the top and tie in place.
Plant out one seedling per cane as soon as the risk of frost has past, usually in the beginnings of June. And as the plant grows it will wrap around the cane until it reaches the top, although it is worth keeping an eye on the binding as sometimes they do like to jump poles, to correct them just gently unwind them and wind back round the right pole.
As soon as the bean reaches the top of the frame, pinch them off so that the plant bushes out. If you are not keen on having a row of beans why not build a wigwam frame or even a maypole.
There is very little else to do with runner beans, other than watering in dry spells, and feeding once a month once the flowers start to appear.
Runner beans rarely have problems although halo blight and rust have been reported and in some years aphids could attack them.
Halo blight and rust both need moisture so avoid sprinkler watering, and take off and destroy infected leaves. Neither disease should have any effect on your yield, but if you have an infection destroy the plant once the infection has gone too far, or as soon as the plant has finished production.
Aphids are easy to control; check out the pest control page.
Runner bean plants are very rewarding, providing a lot of fresh vegetables for the space they take up. Harvest beans to be used as beans in pods quite young. It is difficult to say how big a young bean is, but less than 20cm long and a centre meter wide would be normal, after a while you will get to know how big your favourite bean is. And keep picking to encourage production.
As we tend to eat whole beans we choose a stringless variety, which means the whole pod can be sliced and cooked without removing the tough stringy edge of the bean, our favourite variety is Polestar as it freezes very well. Runner beans are best eaten fresh but as you get such a glut it’s well worth choosing a good freezer bean.
You can also let the pods swell and harvest the kidney beans, they are great for stews or chilli con carni, and later in the season some whole pods be left to swell and then dried for your next years seeds.
Runner beans are fantastic fresh vegetable, and just a 5 minute simmer of finely sliced beans with butter and black pepper is delicious. They make a great addition to most dishes, or for a light snack, just lightly cooked beans with a soft poached egg is great.
Excess beans can be frozen, just give them a 30 second blanch and plunge into ice cold water, before drying, putting them on cookie sheets in a single layer, and freezing. You could also make runner bean pickles and chutneys.
Got too many runner beans, take a look at this page from the Two Thirsty Gardeners