Runner beans provide a succulent summer and autumn crop in cool to mild climates – they are at their best just as the earlier dwarf French bean season ends. Runners are larger, coarser and more hardy than French beans, and have more flavour. They were originally grown in Europe for their beautiful bright red flowers. Some varieties have white, pink or red-and-white flowers.
Planning the crop
Runner beans are a perennial crop that die down each year and can live up to seven years. They grow best in a sunny position, although with as much shelter as possible to encourage pollinating insects. Beans will grow in most garden soils but do best in rich, well-drained ground. A deep, well-manured bed allows maximum root development.
How many to grow – A 6 m double row of climbing runners should produce up to 36 kg of beans.
Painted Lady Old variety with red and white flowers; pretty enough to grow at the back of a border.
Scarlet Runner A very old variety that lives for seven years; bears brilliant scarlet flowers and flat pods.
Sunset Runner A climbing bean that lives for up to seven years; salmon pink flowers and very tasty flat beans.
Hestia A dwarf; excellent in window boxes and patio pots; similar to Painted Lady.
Runner beans need support – you can choose from poles, string or netting. Sow two seeds 5 cm deep at the foot of each pole or string, or at 30 cm spacings along the netting. Remove the weaker of the pair if both seeds germinate.
Supporting the plants – To grow plants up poles or canes, push these supports into in two rows about 45 cm apart. Set them in facing pairs with about 30 cm between each other, and insert them at an angle so that each pair crosses. Tie additional poles horizon tally at the crossing point to brace the structure. Or use plastic, string or wire netting.
Watering – During dry spells water the beans frequently to keep them growing. Do not let the soil dry out completely once the flowers appear. While the plants are flowering, spray them daily with water in dry weather – preferably in the evening. A thick mulch of compost, applied on wet ground, also helps to retain soil moisture. When the growing tips reach the top of the poles or netting, to encourage sideshoot growth and to prevent the plant head becoming a tangled mass.
Pests and diseases
Runner beans may be affected by slugs, snails, aphids and chocolate spot.
Harvesting and storing
Pick while young and tender, before the seeds swell. The more you pick, the more the plants produce.