Runner Beans for the Show Bench
15th Aug 2002
Runner beans have never been one of my strong vegetables on the show bench, indeed it's one that I have never exhibited at national level. The main reason for this is the space that is required to have a couple of good rows and as my garden is of a moderate size it had to be a choice of either the Runner beans or the Show peas to grow up the sticks. I have grown them in the past when I only had one polytunnel and there was room for them at the back of the garden, but always my other vegetables seemed to take precedent over them.
Giving it a go
This year however I decided to plant them right next to my onion polytunnel and facing the bed where the under 250 gram onions are growing. This has worked out quite well because the onions by the middle of July have more or less completed their growth just prior to the beans blocking off any light to the tunnel. The area of ground at that part of the vegetable plot is probably the best piece of the whole garden. Since I built the house over thirty years ago, the first thing I laid out in the garden was a four inch thick concrete path to divide the vegetable plot into two sections.
At that time the soil on both sides of the plot was just below the bottom level of the concrete path. Having incorporated over all those years organic matter such as the following; bales of straw, farm yard manure, waste Gro bags, my own compost heap as well as Autumn leaves, its no wonder that the level of the soil in this section has now risen to over 15 inches in height - and rising. It"s that sort of wonderful type soil you feel if you just throw a packet of seeds at it every one would grow. When you take a handful of it after it's been rotovated you would swear that it literally moves in the palm of you hand.
My main reason for planting the runner beans so close to the polytunnel was to give more room for the peas, which are next to them, to develop properly as primarily the beans were for seed production. The plants were started off in the greenhouse during early April and were planted out during mid May. There are fifty plants winding up eight foot canes and spaced as close as 6 inches apart, when you think that Charles Maisey plants his at 15 inches apart I am unlikely to get a national winning set. I hasten to add that my garden is south facing and a sun trap and even though the night temperatures during May and June were abysmal, the plants never stopped growing.
The fact that my garden is a sun trap was fully evident as I also have a double row of beans at my friend Jims garden which is only a few hundred yards away from mine. That garden is exposed and even though both lots of beans were planted at the same time, the ones at Jims suffered badly with the wind and took a long time to recover, but a liquid feed of 3:0:1, with it"s high nitrogen content, helped them to move on.
Those of you growing beans with the flower shows particularly in mind should already have removed all side shoots to divert the plants energies towards producing long high quality young beans. The occasional foliar feed of Maxicrop is always beneficial, particularly if the night temperatures are low. The control of aphids is also a must and a spray every two weeks or so of a suitable insecticide will keep off the aphids particularly the black fly.
When the trusses are setting, the best beans are formed from around a metre above ground and the best individual beans are those nearest to the main stem on the truss. Don't thin them down to one bean as it would be too coarse. Start thinning the trusses down to two or three beans when the bean nearest the main stem is around 3 inches long. At this point you are able to tell which beans to leave on, the best being those with short handles or stems, being straight and parallel and the same width right along it's length. Even though the weather this year never really settled down until mid July giving us cold evenings, I was amazed at the tremendous set that I had on the beans with hardly any of them aborting their flowers. When I was walking along the row one day I soon realised why, being in a sun trap there were plenty of bumble bees foraging around which really helps to set the beans.
It's important to walk through your beans regularly when in flower and any pods that haven't released themselves clear of the flower casing need to be released. This is paramount as those beans attached become curved or boat up, the term used by bean growers. These beans then become set on that shape and it's almost impossible to straighten them.
As I mentioned earlier, wind is a serious problem for exhibition bean growers blowing the beans about and bruising them and you may have to revert to using some cord to make sure that the trusses are well tied back to the poles. The beans must be well watered throughout the season and in this sense I gain by having them so near to the polytunnel as the rains will fall off the tunnel directly around the plants stems. Alternatively use a heavy mulch of straw to keep as much moisture as possible in the ground as well as creating humidity through the foliage.