Guide to Growing Runner Beans
Guide to Growing Runner Beans
Runner Beans – Phaseolus multiflorus
These are more tender thanand even in the south of England it is seldom safe to sow outdoors before the end of April. Mid-May is more generally a suitable time, and for a late crop another sowing can be made during the last fortnight in June. Early crops can be had by sowing under cloches or in pots or boxes in a greenhouse or frame, the being hardened off for in late May or early June.
Although usually treated as an annual, the runner bean is a perennial, forming tuberous roots which can be lifted in the autumn and stored for replanting the following spring. Excepting during times of seed shortages there is no advantage in doing this, for seeds sown in early spring give an abundant cropping the same year. Most varieties produce scarlet flowers, which fact originally led to the common name of Scarlet Runner, although some varieties have white, or red and white flowers.
Runner beans like a fairly rich with plenty of moisture in summer. In February or March a trench should be dug out at least 18in. wide and 1 ft. deep and some well-rotted manure or worked into the bottom. The soil is then returned, adding a little more manure or compost and a sprinkling of a general fertiliser. The seeds are sown singly in a double row with 12in. between the two rows of seeds and 9 to 12in. between the seeds in each row. They are then covered with 2in. of soil. If more than one double row is required the successive pairs should be at least 6ft. apart. They must be supported with long bean poles, one to each plant, lashed to a cross bar near the top for additional stability, as a row of runner beans offers considerable resistance to the wind.
The plants should be watered freely in dry weather and the beans sprayed with clear water when in flower to assist setting. The top of each plant is pinched out when it reaches the top of the bean pole. The beans should be picked regularly as soon as they become of usable size; letting them age on the plants checks cropping.
The varieties Hammond’s Dwarf Scarlet and Hammond’s Dwarf White grow only 18in. high and need no staking. The plants are spaced 1ft. apart in rows 2ft. apart. It is also possible to grow ordinary runner beans without stakes by frequently pinching out the tops of all young shoots or ‘runners’. For this kind of cultivation the plants should be spaced 3ft. apart each way.
Varieties. These include KelvedonWonder (very early variety), Streamline, (this has perhaps the longest pods of all), Twenty-one (also long podded and good for deep freezing), Hammond’s Dwarf Scarlet and Hammond’s Dwarf White.
Runner beans can be used effectively as attractiveas well as producing a heavy crop over a long period. They do best where they have a deep, cool root run. If possible, the ground should be double dug with decayed manure, compost, or other bulky material worked in. Apply a surface dressing of lime just before the seed is sown.
It is not advisable to sow outdoors until danger of frosts has passed. To make sure of an early crop, where a frame or a greenhouse is available, seed can be sown early in boxes 13cm deep, the seedlings being planted out after the frosts. Cloches can be used for standing over ground where the rows are to be made.
Good cultivation brings its reward, although for kitchen use, it is not the length of the beans that matters so much as straight brittle pods. For exhibition purposes it is a different matter and there is keen competition to secure really long clean pods.
Deep rich soil is best and on light, sandy soils it is helpful to take out trenches up to 20cm deep and to place in them a really thick layer of compost, peat and other moisture retentive material with the addition of fish meal. Finish off the trench so there is a depression, for this will help to prevent the roots drying out during summer. On heavy land it is best not to make a trench but to dig the entire plot, otherwise the trench may become a sump for draining water.
Double staggered rows 23 to 30cm apart in the trenches makes it easy for staking and where a quantity of beans are being sown, the double rows should be 1.50 to 1.80m apart. If possible, supports should be in position before the seed is sown.
Bean poles are very suitable and they can be placed upright or at an angle so the tops cross. Other poles placed through the tops of the crossed poles and fastened together, form a a strong structure. Alternatively, string or bushy hazel sticks can be used or a group of poles or strings can be placed in a circle and connected to one central pole to form a tent-like structure.
As they begin to climb, the seedlings need some directing so they do not grow into each other. It is possible to grow runner beans without any support and for this purpose the growing points are pinched out when the plants are 27 to 30cm high. The resultant shoots are also stopped and this leads to bushy growth, but heavier, more shapely and a cleaner crop is produced undamaged by slugs when supports are provided.
Frequent summer hoeings will keep downand a mulch of leaf mould or strawy manure in early summer will act as a weed smotherer and prevent the surface soil from drying out. Harvest the pods regularly, otherwise the crop will be reduced. If the beans cannot be used fairly quickly, the stem ends can be placed in shallow water where they will remain fresh for several days if kept cool.
Frequent overhead sprayings of water during summer will keep the foliage in good condition and encourage a good set. The dropping of buds and flowers before the pods develop, is often due to a dry atmosphere and the absence of pollenating insects. Overhead sprayings help to distribute the pollen.
Many varieties are available, including: Achievement, Best of All, Crusader, Prizewinner, Scarlet Emperor, Streamline, White Achievement and metre Stick, the hitter being a particularly good variety for exhibitors.
The Kentucky Wonder bean is most popular in the United States where it is known as a ‘pole bean’. It is a heavy cropper with the distinction of the pods remaining stringless, brittle and tender even when they become old.
Hammond’s Scarlet and its white form are dwarf non-trailing ‘runner’ beans growing about 40cm Extra early and excellent for growing under cloches, they do not need staking and produce 20 to 25cm pods continuously over a period of ten weeks or more if gathered regularly.
Climbing French Beans. Very similar to the dwarf varieties but specially useful for greenhouse culture during winter and spring. For the earliest crops sow during the first few days at August.
A deep well drained soil containing a fair supply ofis needed. Avoid the over use of nitrogen or the plants will become leafy at the expense of beans. Put one bean in each position where a plant is wanted, with a few extra seeds at the end of each row to fill possible gaps.
Climbing French beans can be grown in greenhouses which are wired overhead for tomatoes and the rows can be the same distance apart as the tomato plants. That is, a double row 45cm apart, then a space of 67cm and then another double row 45cm apart. The distance between the plants in the rows is 45 to 60cm For the supports, a stout peg to which is attached a T piece, is driven in at the end of the rows, to carry a wire 10cm from ground level exactly over the rows.
A single strand of tomato fillis is tied to this wire and to the top tomato wire, and the plants are trained up the fillis. A night temperature of l5°C. Is required at all times, with a little higher during the day.
Good ventilation is necessary with frequent overhead sprayings of water to keep down red spider and encourage even growth. When the plants are climbing well and beginning to flower, less overhead spraying is needed.
The cultivation of a spring crop of climbing beans can be secured by sowing seed in the middle of February. If the light is very poor bean plants will not climb. Use pots into which three seeds are sown and ensure that the compost is nicely moist, so that watering is not needed until after germination has taken place. Cover the pots with paper and when the first pair of leaves have developed move the plants to their final positions. Outdoors they need a really warm sheltered site.
Tender and true, also known as the Guernsey or Jersey runner, is a splendid variety. It is early with clusters of long sickle-shaped fleshy pods of good flavour. Kentucky Wonder has clusters of round fleshy pods, while Amateur’s Pride is the climbing form of The Prince.
There are several interesting and good, but much less commonly grown varieties of climbing beans well worth growing. All can be sown in spring.
The Blue Coco Bean flourishes under the same conditions as the ordinary Scarlet Runner. It is a most handsome plant since the flowers and stems are rich purple, while the foliage is stained the same colour. The beans are produced in thick clusters and the purple shaded pods change to green when cooked. There is rarely any trouble from bud drop and the well flavoured beans can be stored for winter use.
The Pea Bean is not a cross between a pea and a bean but a definite form of climbing bean. The true variety has seed which is half white and half maroon and is of most delicious flavour. A light soil and unexposed positions should be selected.
The Robin Bean usually grows 2.10 to 2.40m high but will on occasion grow much taller. It is a variety for well drained soil and a sheltered position. This is a most ornamental variety, for the pods, fawn at first, turn to carmine or are splashed with carmine and have been likened to goldfish dangling on the canes. The seeds are also attractive, being prettily speckled, like a bird’s egg.
Lima Beans are often listed as Butter beans and come under the class usually referred to as, all needing the same culture. There are some tall or climbing lima beans too.