Runner Beans: How To Grow, Harvest & Cook Them

You’ll be hard-pushed not to spot their recognisable pods creeping up trellises and poles in any allotment complex and that’s because they are one of the most generous veggies in terms of crop production. It’s little surprise then that gardeners are inundated every year with huge quantities of beans, hardly a bad thing when you consider the copious health benefits that come with incorporating them into your diet.

There are over 130 varieties of beans known to man, but for simplicity’s sake we’re just going to be looking at the one type today: runner. Runner beans are rich sources of vitamins A, C and K, in addition to being loaded with folic acid and fibre. They’re fantastic as a snack, side or even main component and can neatly slotted into all kinds of cuisine. In short, if you’re considering about growing your own vegetables the humble runner should certainly be on your shopping list.

Sowing

Despite runner beans being incredibly productive plants, like any other plant they still need to be nurtured and looked after in the early stages of their lives. When growing from seed you should aim to sow from mid-April onwards, if you’re gardening in the North of UK this is particularly pertinent as you’ll want to make the most of your Summer whilst it lasts. Keep your seedlings protected in a green house or inside (a temperature of 12°C is required for them to germinate at first) before taking them outside in mid-May when temperatures have warmed up a little bit more.

Your seeds should be individually potted in moist multi-purpose compost at a depth of 5cm. Once your seedlings have flourished it’s time to transport them to their new home. You’ll need to construct a bean trench for your plants with an attached support for them to latch on to once they start ‘running’, this might sound like a hassle, but once it’s done you’ll be able to re-use it for years.

In order for your beans to grow good and strong you’ll need to dig your trench 3ft wide and 2ft deep, make sure the soil at the base is nice and loose by giving it a thorough forking. Scatter manure or home-made compost into your trench and the mix in with the soil before returning to the trench. Throw some poultry pellets into the trench and then leave to settle for at least two weeks before planting.

In this time you can build your supports, which can be as simple as bamboo canes tied together into A-Frames. Pea netting can also be used for a bit of extra support. For each seedling that you plant you’ll need a cane in the ground for it climb up, so before you get to this stage (around late May-early June) you’ll need to make sure that you have the necessary amount of supports for them to crawl up.

Care & Harvesting

Once your beans get going they can grow very quickly, so you’ll need to keep a close eye one them and make sure to pinch them out when they’ve reached the top of their supports to prevent them from becoming too top-heavy. Your plants will also need a lot of water throughout the summer, around 5-9 litres per square metre every 3-4 days.

Regularly harvesting your runner beans is crucial to continuing healthy yields, as if you allow beans to go to seed they will soon stop producing. Pick your beans when pods are just shorter than full length (6-8 inches) and still pale in colour, this should happen every 2-3 days. Problems that you may encounter could include pods not setting, fungal diseases and common pests such as the black bean aphid and red spider mite.

There are loads of ways to eat runner beans. You can crunch into them raw, toss them in an Asian salad, fry them up, or serve them as a side to a traditional roast dinner. Take a look at few more inventive runner bean recipes right here.

Gardening in Raised Beds

If you’re short on space in your garden, or are having particular troubles maintaining a large vegetable patch then building a raised bed could be the answer to your problems. By using a raised bed you can grow more plants in a smaller space, save your back a bit of work and economise your gardening processes.

You’ll have a greater amount of control over the soil that you grow in, so you’ll be able to fine-tune your pH level and quality of compost without interference from the earth you already have. As your vegetables will be at a raised level, isolated from the earth, you’ll also spend less time worrying about knotweed control and pests, saving you time and expenses on prevention and treatment.

Building your own raised bed is a simpler job than you might think, however you’ll need a day to gather the necessary materials and get it built. The RHS recommend building beds that are wider than 1.5m so that you’ll be able to reach into the bed from each side without crushing your produce. If you’re building multiple beds then they also recommend leaving a width of between 30-45cm between each bed. Longer vegetable raised beds should also run from north to south to grant even sunlight levels to all of your plants.

What materials you choose to build your raised bed with will depend on your budget, manpower and space. Stone is an expensive material that also requires skilled labour to use, but it’s attractive and very long lasting. Brick is similarly strong but will also require a skilled hand employ. Timber is by far the most commonly used material, it’s relatively cheap also very versatile.

Unfortunately, unless you purchase high-quality wood, you may find that your bed is compromised within a few years. Railway sleepers and paving slabs can also be used to build your bed, these will certainly stand the test of time but are also very heavy. If you’re unsure as to whether a raised bed is the right choice for you then you can purchase a DIY raised bed kit from many good garden manufacturer – you can pick one up for around £30 and many have a structural guarantee of around 3 years.

Once you have constructed the frame of your raised bed you will need to decide how you are planning on filling it. If you are happy with the quality of the soil in your garden, in terms of drainage and pH level then you can simply load your raised bed with the compost/soil mix of your choice. If you’ve been saddled with heavy clay or are worried that the pH level of your garden will interfere with your raised bed then you’ll need to line your bed.

If you struggle with drainage issues then you should pour an 8cm layer of drainage material (such as coarse gravel or stones) into your bed first, followed by a layer of geotextile membrane that should provide your bed with enough drainage. If your bed is deeper than 50cm then the RHS recommends removing the topsoil and replacing it with rubble or subsoil. The topsoil can then be mixed with compost or manure in layers in order to provide a natural setting for your vegetables. Once you’ve filled your raised bed you should allow the soil to settle for at least 2 weeks before planting.

When your bed is ready for plants the fun can begin! You’ll get the most out of your new raised bed by efficiently planning before you set about planting anything. Some things to consider are:

  • Using a cold frame or tunnel system in order to prolong your growing season.
  • Intercropping’ plants close to make the most of space and conserve moisture.
  • Intercrop plants that work well together such as heavy feeders (cabbage) with light feeders (carrots).
  • Growing vertically to maximise your bed’s potential, plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and even melons can flourish this way but may need extra care.

Of course, there are a few drawbacks to growing vegetables in a raised garden bed. Moisture is likely to drain a lot quicker (the bed is essentially one large pot which doesn’t have access to the earth’s moisture) and will require you to water it much more frequently. Finally, although the chance of infestation from pests, weeds and diseases is lower when planting in a raised bed, if your bed does get infected you might find that your entire crop is effected – something worth considering before initiating this plan.