How to grow runner beans
Runner beans are easy to grow, even if you're short on space. These long legumes are great as a first crop for new plant parents.
Even the smallest garden has space for some runner beans. These confident climbers are easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. Runner beans are high in protein and pack a nutritional punch. Here are the main things to remember when growing runner beans:
- Sow indoor seeds in April and outdoor seeds in May or early June
- Provide a sheltered but sunny spot in rich soil
- Use canes to help your beans climb
- Water regularly to maintain moist soil
- Harvest from July through to October
When to plant runner beans
Runner beans can be sown indoors or outdoors. But like all runners, they'll grumble when it's cold outside. Avoid putting them into the ground until the final frost passes.
Start seeds indoors in April. Pop each seed into three-inch pots (7 to 8 cm) at a depth of about 2 inches (5 cm). Water the seedlings regularly and keep them cosy at about 12ºC. Plant your bean-y babies outside in May.
Sow outdoor seeds from May and into early June when the soil is warmer. By sowing several batches at different times, you can get an even better harvest later on.
How to plant runner beans
Runner beans are climbers, which means they need a climbing frame. Arrange three or four 1.8 m (6 ft) bamboo canes in a teepee shape and tie them together. Fasten young shoots to the canes to help your beans reach for the stars.
You can use your own seedlings or buy established plants. Pair each plant with its own cane to give your beans enough personal space.
Runner beans need moist, nutritious soil and a sunny but sheltered location. Mix some compost into the soil to provide extra nutrients.
These brilliant beans are ideal for containers, especially if you don't have much space. You'll need a fairly large container that's around 30-inches (75 cm) wide and 18-inches (45 cm) deep.
How to care for runner beans
Water your runner beans regularly to keep the soil moist. Dry soil can really hamper your harvest. To stop your beans from drying out, scatter some mulch onto the soil in hotter months.
Once your beans reach the top of their canes, pluck the uppermost shoots off the plant. This is known as “pinching”, which halts vertical growth while also encouraging the plant to produce even more pods.
When to repot runner beans
In the UK, runner beans are annuals. This means that they'll be completely spent after one year's growth, so you won't need to repot them every year.
Dealing with pests and problems
Like any coveted crop, runner beans can be vulnerable to various pests and problems such as:
A mass of black or green bugs on your beans means aphids. These sap-suckers can really restrict growth. Spray them with a blast of cold water or a mixture of washing-up liquid and warm water.
Slugs and snails
These marauding molluscs love munching through young beans. Protect seedlings by cutting off both ends of a plastic bottle and placing the cylinder around the plant.
Without adequate moisture, your runner beans will start to flag before the finish line. If you aren't seeing many beans develop, the soil is probably too dry. Water often to keep the soil moist.
How to harvest runner beans
Runner beans can be harvested from July through to October. Once a bean reaches between 6 and 8 inches long (15 to 20 cm), it's ready to be plucked.
The trick is to pick your beans before they reach full size. By harvesting tender young beans, you'll force the plant to keep pumping out new pods. Once a bean gets big enough, the plant will stop producing any more.
How to use runner beans
Freshly-picked runner beans are fantastic for freezing. Remove the ends and chop them into small lengths before quickly blanching them. They can then be stored in the freezer.
Steamed runner beans smothered with butter are the perfect addition to a heavenly Sunday roast.
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