The scarlet runner
or runner bean belongs to a handful of vegetables
which can be seen everywhere in summer –
clambering up bamboo wigwams, climbing up plastic
netting or twining around strings or stout poles.
The long, flat pods are Britain’s favourite
home-grown beans – a wise choice when you
remember that a 10ft (3m) double row can produce
60lb (27kg) or more between August and the arrival
of the first heavy frosts of winter. Of course,
you will not achieve anything like this yield
if you treat runner beans as the ‘easy’
crop described in some catalogues. You will need
to prepare the ground thoroughly in winter and
weekly watering will be necessary in dry weather
once the pods have begun to form. Picking every
other day in late summer will be essential even
if you have to throw away the pods. Let a few
pods reach maturity and the flower-producing mechanism
switches off – annoying, but unavoidable.
Runner beans are prolific providers of fresh food,
but there is also a decorative aspect –
a row forms a dense, attractive screen and a bean-covered
wigwam in the border makes a brightly-coloured
focal point when in full flower.
Expected germination time: 7-14 days
Approximate number per ounce: 30
Amount required for a 10ft double row: 1oz (30g)
Expected yield from a 10ft double row: 60lb (27kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 2 years.
Approximate time between sowing and picking: 12-14
Ease of cultivation: Not really easy – support,
thorough soil preparation and constant picking
are all essential.
· Runner beans produce disappointing results
in hungry, badly-drained soil. Acid conditions
are also undesirable – lime, if necessary,
in late winter.
· Pick a sheltered spot where the dense
shade cast by the plants will not be a problem.
Dig in autumn and add an abundant supply of compost
or well-rotted manure. Rake in a general-purpose
fertilizer about 2 weeks before sowing or planting.
Sow seeds 9in (23cm) apart 2in (5cm) deep, with
rows 18in (45cm) apart. Put in 8ft supports (canes,
poles or netting) next to each seed, 12in (30cm)
· The standard method of growing runner
beans is to sow the seed outdoors when the danger
of frost is past – the end of May in the
south or early June in the north. Always sow a
few extra seeds at the end of rows – use
the seedlings as transplants to fill gaps.
· A second sowing in June in mild areas
will ensure an October crop.
· Runner beans are often raised by planting
out seedlings when the danger of frost is past.
These seedlings are either shop-bought (make sure
that they have been properly hardened-off) or
raised at home from seeds sown under glass in
late April. This planting-out method is strongly
recommended for the colder areas of the country.
Sowing time (outdoors): Mid May to the last week
Sowing time (indoors): Sow indoors under glass
the end of April to beginning of May, and transplant
at the end of May to beginning of June.
Picking time: August to mid October; can extend
from mid July to the end of October.
Looking after the crop
· Loosely tie the young plants to the supports,
after which they will climb naturally. Protect
· Hoe regularly – mulching will help
to conserve moisture. Water regularly in dry weather
once the first pods have formed. Don’t bother
misting to help pollination – it’s
an old wives’ tale. Liquid feed occasionally
during the cropping season.
· Remove the growing points once the plants
reach the tops of the supports. At the end of
the season dig in the roots and stem bases.
· Pick regularly once the pods have reached
a decent size (6-8in (15-20cm)) but before the
beans inside have started to swell. If you remove
pods as soon as they reach this stage then harvesting
should continue for at least 8 weeks. This calls
for picking every couple of days – allowing
even a small number to ripen will stop production.
· The problem is that you will probably
have a glut of beans at some stage.
Stick runner beans
Nearly all runner beans will grow 8-10ft (240-300cm)
high and bear pods which can reach 10-20in (25-50cm)
(for exhibition, not cooking). They are grown
on tall supports and the usual flower colour is
red. There is a bi-colour variety (Painted Lady)
and the white and pink varieties are self-pollinating
– a point to remember if you have been disappointed
by lack of pod formation in previous years.
Achievement: Long straight pods, making it a good
exhibition variety. Recommended for freezing.
Enorma: An improved form of Prizewinner –
produces the sort of pod which wins prizes at
the horticultural show. The flavour is better
Red Knight: A red-flowering variety which is stringless,
and that is unusual. Good flavour, suitable for
Mergoles: White flowers, white seeds and stringless
pods. An excellent choice for kitchen use –
sets well, freezes well and crops over a long
period. You seed catalogue may offer Desiree instead
– there isn’t a great deal of difference.
Streamline: An old favourite, dependable and still
popular. A heavy cropping variety but it will
be hard for the older types to hold off the appeal
of the new stringless runner beans.
Butler: Another of the new generation of stringless
runner beans. It has a good reputation for vigour
and the pods are very fleshy.
Scarlet Emperor: A popular all-round performer
– long, straight beans which are produced
earlier than the maincrop.
Kelvedon Marvel: An early cropper, producing its
rather short pods about 14 days before the standard
Sunset: You can’t miss it – the flowers
are pale pink and self-fertilizing. It produces
a very early crop and is recommended for freezing.
Fry: A white-flowering variety which sets well
and produces stringless pods. Surprisingly, it
appears in many textbooks but very few catalogues.
Painted Lady: Well named – the white-faced
flowers have bright red lips. The pods are relatively
short, but it is an attractive plant for using
as a screen.
Crusader: Often called the ‘exhibitor’s
runner bean’ because of the outstanding
length of its pods.
Ground runner beans
A few varieties (Kelvedon Marvel, Scarlet Emperor
and Sunset) which are naturally tall-growing are
sometimes sow 2ft (60cm) apart and grown as short
and bushy plants by pinching out the growing point
of the main stems when they are about 12in (30cm)
high. Side shoots are pinched out at weekly intervals
and the stems are supported by short twigs. The
pods appear earlier than on climbing plants and
you are spared the work of creating tall supports,
but there are disadvantages. The cropping period
is short and the yield is comparatively low, the
pods are often curled and their surface soiled.
Dwarf runner beans
Two true dwarfs are available – the plants
grow about 18in (45cm) high and the pods are 8in
(20cm) long. They should be grown about 6in (15cm)
apart in rows 2ft (60cm) wide. A good choice where
space is limited, but yields cannot be compared
with their climbing relatives.
Hammond’s Dwarf Scarlet: The poplar red-flowering
form which is early maturing and will continue
to crop for many weeks if picked regularly.
Hammond’s Dwarf White: The white-flowering
version of the popular ‘Scarlet’ –
you will find it mentioned occasionally in magazines
and books, but you won’t find it in the
Black bean aphid is the main danger to broad beans
and chocolate spot is the most serious disease.
The chief disorder of runner beans is the failure
of the flowers to set, but French beans are rarely
attacked by serious complaints if you plant them
at the right time. Peas have two big problems
– birds and pea moth maggots.
Bean Seed Fly
Black Bean Aphid
Foot Rot and Root Rot
Pea and Bean Weevil
Leaf and Pod Spot