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.
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.