Expert Tips – How to Grow Runner Beans Successfully
How to Grow Runner Beans
Runner beans have been with us some three hundred years, but their behaviour over recent years has left a good deal to be desired with regard to fruit setting. It is probable that they still have not become fully accustomed to our weather.
Runner beans rely a great deal on insects for pollinating their flowers and, if the summer is wet and windy, insects are not likely to linger on exposed flower trusses. It used to be thought that syringing with water assisted flowers to set but the benefits of this are doubtful. I find hosing the plants with a fairly powerful divided jet to be more effective.
Master the art for arrangement training and you will get to know how to grow runner beans successfully. The arrangement for training, I feel, has also some bearing not only on the setting but on the shape and straightness of the pods. Commercial growers, must of necessity grow in straight rows to facilitate cultivation and picking but the home gardener is not usually bound by these considerations and can modify methods of cultivation and training to suit his own conditions. Because the runner bean is one of my favourite vegetables, I have experimented and tried out several methods of cultivation and training, both outdoors and under glass.
Training Runner Beans
When growing green beans and where a fairly large quantity is required I prefer to plant two rows some 3 feet apart and incline the strings or canes to a central wire making a tent-shaped structure. The individual strings are placed 9 inches apart and attached to a low wire as one might grow tomatoes. The alternative to this is to use a specially designed plastic net with a wide mesh. The advantage of the inclined support method, especially in exposed gardens, is that the trusses form on the outside and are exposed to light so when the beans form they hang down inwards. Hanging at an angle keeps them straight, prevents them from chafing and, as they are not exposed to weather, the skins are much more tender and generally more presentable.
A variation on this method for the small garden is the tripod with the corners some 18 to 20 inches apart. Rather similar is the quadrupod which consists of four canes inclined and tied together at the top.
Another variation is an adaptation of the method I use for sweet peas for the back of the herbaceous border, in fact bi-coloured varieties of runner beans are often used for this purpose too. The device or pillar consists of a central pole, either of wood or metal, about 7 feet high, to which is attached at the top and the bottom a square or circular hoop of wood or metal about 3 feet across depending on the materials available.
The lower hoop is secured some 6 inches from the ground and the top suspended by two wires across the hoop and stapled to the top of the post. Strings are then stretched l2 ichesn apart between the two hoops or frames and the sweet peas or scarlet runners trained up the strings.
They look most attractive when grown in this way and are, in my opinion, far better than beans grown in single rows across exposed gardens.
Growing Green Beans – Conditions
Crops vary in their individual needs. In some cases, where the flowers are required to be fertilised by insects, it is not so much the plants that need protection but the insects themselves, as they cannot be expected to work easily and comfortably in a howling gale or strong draught created by buildings. I feel fairly certain that the improvement in the pod length of runner beans has in some way affected the setting qualities. For instance, if a short-podded variety produced eight beans to the cluster the taller varieties may only produce two or three but the weight gathered is roughly the same. This suggests that the vine can only carry a certain amount.
Weather too seems to affect varieties differently. In some years one variety will do extremely well but in wet windy conditions may fail badly. For consistent cropping I find that the shorter-podded varieties seem to set better and such old varieties as Princeps can always be grown as a standby. The varieties Crusader and Kelvedon Marvel are consistently good too. With Crusader grown for exhibition, Kelvedon Marvel a reliable cropper and the old Painted Lady as a decorative variety, the grower can be reasonably assured of a crop, no matter what the weather.
Manure of some sort is, I think, a must for producing good runner beans. When planning the vegetable garden and growing green beans, I try to arrange the rotation so these trenches or any other heavily-manured ground can be used the following year for runner beans. All that is then required is to add bonemeal or superphosphate to the site.
Incidentally, if the bean rows are spaced about 3 1/2 feet apart, a superb row of parsley can be grown underneath, benefiting from the shade and possibly from the nitrogen-storing nodules. Seven feet is a good height at which to stop the beans. This stopping helps to encourage laterals to develop and anything higher than this is awkward to gather, although I have noticed lately that very few beans are produced above 5 feet.
The average summer is seldom dry enough to worry beans in well-manured soil but they do appreciate phosphates and an occasional watering with liquid fertiliser. Loose soil or too much nitrogen induces too much foliage to the detriment of the formation of flower trusses.
Runner beans are true perennials. However, although I persevered for many years in saving the fleshy rootstocks, the resultant crops were not worthwhile. From a single seed one gets a single vine but from overwintered rootstocks, five, six or even more shoots form and these have to be reduced to not more than two to get any worthwhile growths out of them. In warm sunny districts with a fair amount of irrigation, these extra growths may produce worthwhile crops, but I have never been able to manage any to my satisfaction.
Runner Beans – Pests
Blackfly is about the worst pest I have met and a constant watch must be kept during the early part of the year, especially if broad beans are grown in the vicinity. I try to make sure, when I’m growing green beans, that the beans are free from pests before they start to bloom as later spraying may harm pollinating insects. To combat this pest I like to use either derris or pyrethrum as I always remember that I have got to eat the beans eventually.
Czar, a white-seeded variety, which does better than any other kind in dry years. The pods are broad and tasty and can be left on the plants for the beans to be thrashed out for winter use as dried butter beans.
Cookham Dean Improved, good. Strain, bearing a heavy crop of long slender beans of fine quality.
Giraffe, a typical, tall-growing variety producing fine pods of exceptional length and quality.
Hammond’s Dwarf Scarlet, a new- runner bean that never climbs. It remains 2 ft. high.
Kelvedon Marvel, an early, prolific, semi-dwarf type which is useful to grow by the cutting-back method.
Painted Lady, the beautiful crimson-and-white-flowered kind. A moderately heavy cropper, with prettily marked seeds.
Princeps, very similar to Kelvedon Wonder but slightly smaller. The easiest scarlet runner to grow.
Prizewinner, often grown for exhibition because it produces immensely long fleshy pods of good flavour.
Streamline, one of the most widely grown varieties. It produces long pods of excellent quality, usually borne in clusters of five or six.
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