Runner Beans, Peas and Judging Potatoes
26th Apr 2001
I intend to sow my runner beans this week in order to have some ready from mid August onwards. It is of course far too early to sow these directly outdoors as the moment the pop their heads through the soil they could be killed with the frosts. They will therefore be started off indoors where the electric fan heater is still switched on with the thermostat set at 55°F, enough to maintain growth whilst at the same time prevent any frost damage should we have a late cold snap. The beans will be planted in 3 inch pots, 1 bean per pot using Levington M2 compost.
If you look careful at runner bean seed you notice that the scar, where the bean was attached to the pod when developing, has a small dimple developed at one end of the scar. Many years ago I was given a tip by the maestro of Runner bean growing, Brython Stenner, always plant your seed with the scar vertical and the dimple at the bottom of the scar. This way you will ensure that all the seed will germinate the same way and emerge from the compost at the same time.
Water the pot well and leave them from direct sunlight until they have germinated, this way they shouldn't need to be watered again until germination has taken place thus reducing the risk of the bean rotting away prior to germinating. This year the beans will be planted at Jim"s garden in a double row and stout poles will be fixed at both ends from which a strong wire will run at about five feet above soil level. Harden off the plants prior to planting and even leave them in their pots sitting on the soil for a day or two to acclimatise to their final growing position.
The soil at Jim's garden is rich in humus and ideal for growing runner beans after having incorporated tens of straw bales over the years as well as several bags of peat compost. The row will be given 4 ounces to the yard run of Chempak BTD which will be thoroughly rotaovated in creating at the same time such a beautiful tilth that I can easily plant the beans without the need for a trowel. After planting the beans, a tip that I was given by Ron Macfarlane was to scatter 2 ounces or so of dried blood in a circle around each plant. This will given them a quick boost of nitrogen which is essential to get a good start and keeps the plants supple as well as producing large foliage.
I am anticipating a top quality class of peas at the National this year which is being held at Margam Park and sponsored by Port Talbot Borough Council and Sutton Seeds on the August bank holiday Sunday and Monday 26th and 27th. We haven"t had the National staged for a few years now during August and without a doubt it's the month that the regularly winning pea, Show Perfection, is at it's peak. Depending on where you live, Show Perfection will require anything between 90 days and 110. Ron Macfarlane down in Pembroke will allow 90 days for his whilst I will allow 100. The reason for saying this now is that a lot of growers sow their peas too early and then find it very difficult to stage a good set.
Working back from the Saturday prior to the show, then 90 days is on the 28th of May although this sounds quite late in the season, it's certainly correct if you live in the Southern part of the country. In my case a hundred days falls on the Friday that I leave for Chelsea so I shall be sowing them a few days prior to that. Of course you still have further control over your peas by way of watching when the first flowers are showing. The pea usually takes anything between 21 to 25 days from full flower to both the pods and peas being at their optimum. If therefore you have a row of peas in flower prior to this date, you can remove them when you are happy that the next batch to flower will develop in the allotted time
I had a letter the other week from a Judge who has a problem every year at his local show when judging potatoes. The schedule has two classes for potatoes, one dish of 6 white and a dish of 6 coloured. To quote from the judges letter he goes on to say ' the problem has a risen over the definition of white and coloured. Some exhibitors think that white is white and all else is coloured, others think that purple or red eyes are allowable in the white class whilst others think that white should mean where 'white is the predominant colour' Last year we even had some of the yellow skinned varieties shown in both classes'
This problem is a perennial one and raises it's head every so often although part of the answer can be found in the RHS Horticultural Show Handbook under the Suggestions to Schedule Makers where it states the following - ‘If an exhibitor has specimens of a normally "coloured" cultivar of potato which show no colour, he or she is able to show them in the "white class" Conversely of course should a white potato have a tint of colour, often found around the eyes, then that potato should be entered in the coloured class. The yellow or creamed potatoes are accepted as white and not coloured as for instance the Variety Mona Lisa, although cream in colour is always exhibited in the "white" class.
To put it simply, if the potato is white or cream of the same colour throughout it has to be entered in the "white" class. If the potato is all coloured such as Maxine (red all over) or part coloured such as Kestrel or even just a splash of colour around the eye, then they must be staged in the "coloured" class.