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Runner Beans

UK Garden Centre - Information about Runner Beans

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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.

Seed facts
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 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not really easy – support, thorough soil preparation and constant picking are all essential.

Soil facts
· 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.

Seed sowing
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) deep.

Calendar
· 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 in June.
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 from slugs.
· 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.

Harvesting
· 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.

Varieties
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 than average.
Red Knight: A red-flowering variety which is stringless, and that is unusual. Good flavour, suitable for freezing.
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 varieties.
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 popular catalogues.

Troubles
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.
Seed Beetle
Bean Seed Fly
Black Bean Aphid
Pea Aphid
Mice
Downy Mildew
Powdery Mildew
Foot Rot and Root Rot
Pea and Bean Weevil
Pea Thrips
No Flowers
Halo Blight
Chocolate Spot
No Pods
Grey Mould
Marsh Spot
Birds
Fusarium Wilt
Pea Moth
Anthracnose
Leaf and Pod Spot


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