Runner Beans - Pretty and tasty but not an easy crop
7th May 2005
There's no doubt in my mind that the Runner bean has a far better flavour and texture than any of the French Beans, but to have a really good crop of Runners, that will be productive right through the season, you need to prepare a good trench for them. If a trench is well prepared and the beans are watered regularly, then it is possible to harvest over 60 lbs of beans from a row as short as ten foot. They are probably the most popular of all the vegetable varieties and during the summer months their red or white flowers can be seen scrambling up bamboo wigwams, plastic mesh or even canes placed in a straight row. Don"t however think that they are an easy crop, they may well grow and produce flowers, but if the preparation has been less than thorough then the beans will be less than satisfactory as well.
The runners will certainly reward the grower who lavishes attention on thorough ground preparation. Ideally, the ground should have been well manured last Winter but you can still prepare it now by digging in plenty of organic matter such as farm yard manure which has partly de-composed or your own well rotted compost. Even if you don't manure your ground, don't give up on having some fine beans. Fork the strip of soil well incorporating some balanced base fertiliser at the same time. If you are growing organically, scatter four ounces of Fish Blood and bone to a yard run, or alternatively, the same amount of Vitax Q4. When you are planting out from your pots, when there is no risk of frost, work into the soil with a hand fork about 2 ounces of NutriMate to each station.
NutriMate is a dried powder that is totally organic and millions of years old. It is a source of Fulvic and Humic acid which is brilliant to develop a strong root system. What these two elements do is to make readily available to the plants whatever benefiting nutrients there already is in your soil as well as preventing those nutrients from leaching out. If you add NutriMate to your soil, even if it's lacking in organic matter, you will maximise your crop output.
Both the Runners and French beans are frost tender so it's wise to start them off at this time of year in 3 inch pots in a cold greenhouse for planting out from mid June onwards. Alternatively you can sow the beans directly into the soil from late May onwards, positioning one bean about two inches deep against whatever support its to climb up. If you are planting them in pots, use a good quality Multi Purpose compost and position each seed in the centre of the pot vertically. Have a good look at your runner bean seed, you will notice a scar on the straight vertical side of the bean, where it was originally attached to the pod. At one end of the scar there is a little dimple plant each seed withthis dimple facing downwards. I was given this tip many years ago by, probably the best Runner bean grower of his day, Brython Stenner from South Wales. The reason for him planting the seed in this way was to make sure that the radicle or shoot emerged from each seed in exactly the same way to give a really uniform germination.
The French beans are easier to grow in the sense that they are quicker from sowing to your first harvest as well as giving you no problem with flowers setting. The difference is that Runner beans need to be pollinated and the French beans are self pollinating. In simple terms, if the pollen doesn't set on the flower it won't form a bean and will simply drop to the ground where as with French beans, each and every flower will always have a bean at the end of it. There are plenty of French beans to select from both climbing and dwarf as well as purple, yellow and speckled pods. They grow amazingly well in pots as well, I have grown some superb examples for my Chelsea vegetable display.
Runner Beans certainly grow better when we have cool wet summers which explains why some of the Welsh valley growers have always produced superb beans for exhibition. If you consider that the Runner Bean, in it's natural habitat, grows on the mountain slopes of Central America where the night temperatures drop to below 15°C, then that really is the sort of night temperature they prefer. Watering with a hose pipe over the flowers in the evening is often considered to be good practice, an attempt to get the flowers to set. The truth however is that the water has no effect whatsoever on the flowers setting, it merely lowers the temperature around the flowers which in turn allows them to set. Conversely doing this could have the opposite effect of discouraging the bees from setting the pollen on the flowers.
I thought I would never say this, but lets hope for a cool moist Summer, well, at least for a little while, so that we can harvest trug loads and beans for weeks on end.