GARDENING: Growing runner beans

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RUNNER beans are the quintessential summer crop, however, the reality is often a glut (and your family gets sick of them) or no pods at all.

I’m growing Moonlight again, a white-flowered variety, which copes with poor pollination and cool summers.

In the north east, we’re best to sow under glass in April and early May.

Fill deep pots (15cm/6in) with multipurpose compost and water well (I’ve used family yoghurt pots too).

Sow two seeds per pot, 5cm (2in) deep, thinning to the strongest one after germination.

Grow on over 12°C (54°F) in a greenhouse or sunny windowsill.

Harden off the young bean plants gradually and plant out when the risk of frost has passed in early June.

You can sow outdoors, but they will have a much shorter growing season.

When the soil has reached 12°C (54°F), seeds can be station sown in their permanent positions every two weeks until the end of July.

Plant two beans at every point, then thin to the strongest.

When shoots have reached the top of their supports, pinch them out.

Runner beans need lots of water – 5-9 litres per sqm (1-2 gallons per sq yd) every three to four days.

Beans are ready when the pods are about 15-20cm (6-8in) long, snap easily and the seeds are small and pale in colour.

Pick regularly to encourage further pod production; every two or three days.

Problems

Flowers not setting: Ensure soil is constantly moist and doesn’t dry out; mulch in June. Mist the foliage and flowers, especially during hot, dry weather. Pinch out the growing tips of the plants when they are 15cm (6in) high. The flowers formed on sideshoots usually set better. Try pink- or white-flowered cultivars, which usually set pods more easily.

Aphids: Their honeydew often attracts black sooty moulds to grow. In most cases the damage can be tolerated – squash colonies between thumb and forefinger.

Slugs and snails: Feed on the young seedlings. Use sheep’s wool pellets or copper rings around plants to prevent damage.

No/ very few beans: Usually caused by lack of moisture and/or poor pollination by insects/ cool weather conditions. Plant into soil with plenty of organic matter, in a sheltered site.

Preparing the ground

RUNNER beans thrive in a rich deep, fertile soil in full sun. A bean trench is a traditional way of preparing the soil and can be done well in advance.

Dig out a trench approx 90cm (3ft) wide and 60cm (2ft) deep. Scatter well-rotted manure, home-made compost, or even old newspapers/cardboard/kitchen peelings (not cooked) in the bottom.

Add pelleted poultry manure or similar at the recommended rate. Leave the soil to settle for at least two weeks before planting.

As fast-growing climbers, plants also need support. The usual way is to use a double row of inwardly sloping 2.4m (8ft) tall bamboo canes or hazel poles tied near the top to form an A-frame. These are secured to a horizontal cane across the top.

Using 10cm (4in) pea/bean netting secured to a wall makes a good alternative. Wigwams of three or more canes make good use of space in small gardens.

My more unorthodox supports are old flower stalks of Phormium, which are light, strong and approx 8ft tall – and free.