Runner Beans

The success in growing a good row of runner beans is down to good ground preparation, as with anything else that you intend to grow in your garden.  

The best results are obtained by firstly taking out a trench where you intend to grow your runner beans.  This requires to be at least two feet deep by eighteen inches in width to take a double row of runner beans to what ever length that you require.  When the trench is dug, line the bottom with old newspapers, pieces of old carpeting, compost and manure.  

This ensures that the moisture is retained throughout the growing season, which is essential for a good crop of beans.  Back fill the trench and when completed, add to the soil on top of the trench garden lime at the rate of quarter of a pound per running yard.  Leave the trench to stand until planting time.  Start your runner bean plants off in either plastic or drinking cups, one to each cup, or sow in boxes.  Cups seem to be the best as there is less root disturbance at planting out time.  

Sow the beans mid May so that they are ready for planting out first week in June, when hopefully the frosts will have gone.  When the plants are showing the first pair of true leaves, pinch out the growing tip.  This will encourage two further shoots to develop.  When you can see the stronger of the two new shoots, remove the weakest one, allowing the stronger one to develop into the final plant.  By doing this you get a stronger plant and a good crop of beans.  As the time comes for planting out in the row that you have prepared, with eight foot canes in position at nine inch interval, securely fastened.  

Take out a hole at the base of each cane, add a sprinkling of Hoof and Horn fertilizer, then plant your bean plant and water in.  Keep the bean well watered throughout the season, starting with a high Nitrogen feed in the early growth, being careful not to overdo this, as too much Nitrogen encourages heavy foliage growth.

As the plants develop, if growing for show purposes, when the young beans appear, you can remove the weaker ones leaving just 2 or 3 to a truss.  This is also a good time to manipulate the young bean, if it is showing signs of being bent, to straighten it if need be.

Once the flowers have gone and the beans are starting to set, this is the time that you need to feed with a high Potash fertiliser at ten day intervals.  It is also important to continue to keep the trench well watered at all times.  Some people also like to mulch the trench during the growing season.

Come late August, early September, you should be harvesting specimen beans for both the tables and exhibition.

Runner beans are no doubt one of the most popular vegetables grown in gardens and allotments.  They are not hard to grow but given that little bit extra attention you will reap handsome dividends over a long period of growth.  They are perennials but are rarely treated as such, it being much easier to sow seed each year than store tubers in boxes – the one exception being if you want to keep a certain strain true to type you must save the tubers to have that guarantee.  Seeds taken from your own garden deteriorate in time due to cross-pollination caused by bees and other insects visiting all the other varieties and returning to ruin your particular strain.  A very early sowing is a big help in avoiding this problem.  Keep seed only from this sowing.  Another tip is always pick your beans before they show any seed formation as they are then useless for freezing and kitchen use.

Ground Preparation
A start is best made in November to get the soil in a good state of fertility.  There are no short cuts in the growing of high quality runner beans.  They require a nice cool root run, a trench no more than 61cm (2ft) deep by 46cm (18”) wide being the ideal place for them to produce a good root system.  You see trenches dug far too deep and narrow – if your soil is heavy clay this will act like a sump with hard sides, the roots can’t penetrate easily, giving them cold feet.  Don’t use fresh strawy manue to fill your trench; if it is used you will get a high percentage of crooked beans.  

Well rotted manure, leaf mould, decayed compost and mushroom compost is the ideal material to use.  Getting all four and mixing them together is unbeatable, but the emphasis is on using rotten material at all times.  Half fill your trench with the compost, and top up with soil, working in bone meal at 113g (4ozs) to the metre (yard) run of trench as you go.  Leave to settle until early spring and let the frosts do the work.  

In the spring give a dressing of lime 142g (5ozs) to the metre (yard) run, this is to be put down in March, if put on too early heavy rains will wash away, and beans are real lime lovers.  Also in early give a dressing of calcified seaweed, 85g (3ozs) to the metre (yard) run of trench, also 85g (3ozs) of BTD to the metre (yard), this containing trace elements.  No more feeding is required until the beans are cropping.  The ideal pH value is between 6.5 - 7.0.

Sowing Seed
Having decided on the varieties you want to grow, it is better to try more than one then decide on the ones you like best and stick with them.  A very keen group of allotment holders will perhaps have somebody who picks beans in mid-July, this as you well know, being when they are at the highest price in the shops.  Picking beans at this time means sowing the last week in March under glass in 13cm (5”) pots.  By using a larger pot they can spend a long time in them before getting pot bound and form a far better root system than when sown in plastic drinking cups and boxes.  In the cups they become starved of nutrients due to lack of space, in boxes the roots become tangled up and are broken off when planted out, this being a poor way to start a runner beans life.

Germination rate is very high when sown in pots under glass in a good peat based compost.  You have things completely under control regarding the weather, on warm days move outside, on cold or windy days leave inside, wind in particular checking growth badly.  Sowing in the larger pots puts you under less pressure to plant out, the beginning of May is ideal providing you give them protection in the first few weeks – old window frames, also plastic covers are ideal.

Various Ways of Support
If you only have a small garden, even a flower garden they can be trained up a fence along with the other climbers due to the colourful effect they give, in tubs, grow bags, in fact anywhere providing it is a sheltered spot.  Support with plastic netting, bamboo canes, nylon cord.  In the average sized garden use good stout sticks of ash, hazel or whatever you can get, they give the beans better support than anything, far better than bamboos.  The slip off the shiny surface, also wind whips them off easily and they need tying in.  Erect a good post at each end of the row and run a strong strand of wire along and secure firmly.  The sticks 274cm (9ft) long are pushed 61cm (2ft) into the ground, leaving 213cm (7ft) climbing space, and 30cm (1ft) apart.  Extra strength is given against autumn gales the more they are pushed into the ground.  Secure firmly to cross wire.  The weight on the supports of a fully mature row of beans is tremendous, so be warned.  

Regular Cultivation Methods
The ideal time to move them out into the beds is about15 – 20cm (6” to 8”) tall.  At that size they fill the pots up with a nice strong root formation giving them a flying start to life.  On no account must you leave them to dry out over long periods.  A sure way of avoiding this is by first clearing off all weeds and mulching after a good downpour of rain.  No rain means giving a good soaking yourself and never mulch a dry vegetable plot.  Materials can vary considerably but without doubt the best is straw, it stops weed growth and is clean to walk on.  It creates humidity by spraying with water in hot dry spells, conditions so desired for good cultivation of this plant that came many years ago from South America.  The feed required is a good soaking of liquid Chempak No.8 As they reach the tops of the supports pinch out the tops to stimulate crop production.

There is an abundance of choice in all the seed catalogues, some of the most popular older varieties being Enorma, Streamline, Achievement and the more modern varieties Red Knight, Polestar and the white flowered Desiree.

For Exhibition
The same procedure as for kitchen use as for all legumes.

Sowing of Seed
It is advisable to sow seed in 13cm (5”) pots, 5cm (2”) deep, in a good peat based compost under glass.  This way germination rates can be very high sometimes 100%.  On no account soak beans overnight in water as this is the main reason for failure to germinate, due to rotting in the compost.

Planting Out and Supports
The same procedure is used as for kitchen use in the planting out, the difference being in the spacing of the sticks in the row.  They must be at least 38cm (15”) apart with 122cm (4ft) at least between the rows.  This lets in plenty of light and air around the plants, giving you nice dark green beans, a must for the show bench.

Routine Attention to Detail
On no account must plants be neglected and left to themselves.  You must take complete control from the start.  The most important aspect is the watering. They must never stay dry over long periods, weekly applications of liquid manure must be maintained over the cropping period, also mulching as explained for kitchen use.  Take out as many side shoots as you can, also pinch out the tops on reaching the top of support. This means all nutrients are channelled into producing high quality beans.  As you get near to show time take off all badly shaped beans leaving only the best two or three to grow on to the desired length.  Sometimes you may have to give support to the stem holding the beans otherwise they snap, cutting off the sap supply.

This is where all the hard work done throughout the year is of no use if your preparation and staging let you down.

On no account put that extra long bean in your exhibit, aim for a nice uniform exhibit of tender dark green beans.  Lay on a black cloth – this shows off the colour, all the tails facing the same way.  Finish off by naming your variety, all things being equal the best presented exhibit wins the red card.  Runner Beans have a maximum of 18 points.

Pests and Diseases
Black fly is by far the most troublesome pest and left unchecked can do a lot of damage.  At first sight spray with any recommendations insecticide.  Mix a small amount of soft soap in the mixture, this helps in stick to the leaves.  Also keep in check other pests like capsid bugs and weevils.  Slugs can be dealt with by using liquid slugit or pellets.

Beans are very free from disease, but on occasions are attacked by Halo Blight, a spotting of the leaves turning them yellow.  Only one cure – pull up all diseased plants and burn, never compost them.  Spray all remaining plants with a copper based fungicide.  Recommended exhibition variety; stenner strain.

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