Runner beans are one of the easiest, if not the easiest vegetables for gardeners to grow. They are the perfect crop for gardeners who like to harvest the most for their efforts, (which of course is every gardener). Runner beans have a wonderful ability to provide a bumper crop. A successful harvest of these beans will make even the most novice of growers feel like a pro.
There are a multitude of methods to choose from when it comes to growing runner beans, all of which must start with good soil preparation…
Preparation & Soil
Runner beans have the potential to provide such a great harvest, therefore they require a healthy and nourishing soil environment for the most successful crop. Well-draining soil areas with a good rate of moisture retention are the most suitable. Runner beans appreciate a deep and richly fertile soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost or manure dug into it. This soil provides the best nutrients for these heavy feeding plants, whose roots grow much deeper than most vegetables. These plants are frost sensitive, therefore growing sites should ideally be in sunny areas although they are able to tolerate light shade.
Tips for Sowing Runner Beans
Runner beans can be sown indoor or undercover from April or May.
This applies if you live in a cold area or want an early harvest. Alternatively, they can be sown directly outdoors from June, when the soil has warmed up to an average of 12 degrees Celsius and there is no longer a risk of frost. Indoors, runner beans can be sown either in modules or individual pots and located in a warm dry place, with good exposure to natural sunlight. So, ideally a greenhouse.
How to Sow Runner Beans
Fill your modules or individual pots with compost and create a whole 5cm/2inches deep. Place one seed in each hole you make and cover it with remaining compost. Water the seeds immediately to kick start the germination process, which should take roughly a week to occur.
When the plants begin to outroot their pots and modules, they are ready for planting out. Broad beans seedlings will need to be hardened off and acclimatised to outdoor conditions before they are ready to plant into their cropping area. Although this should only be done when the danger of frost has passed, typically in late spring. Begin the hardening off process 7 to 10 days before you plan to transplant them outdoors.
Sowing Directly Outdoors
When sowing runner beans directly outdoors, choose a location with good sunshine exposure and well-draining soil. Because they are frost tender, runner beans are ideally positioned warmer areas of the garden for best growth. Sow them in rows of holes 5cm/2inches in depth, with 30cm/12inches distance between each seed. If sowing multiple rows, make sure each is roughly 45cm/18inches apart.
Caring for Runner Beans
Provided they are well-tended and looked after, runner beans have the potential to produce crops from the middle of July all through to September. It’s advisable to protect young seedlings from slug damage with an organic pest control. Feeding plants is crucial to help encourage flowering and crop production. Once flowering occurs, begin to water the plants regularly.
Runner beans are vigorous climbing crops as so will need strong supports such as a wigwam made from bamboo canes, to distribute and support their weight as they grow. Building support structures for runner beans comes a little trickier than actually growing the plants. However, any stable support that ranges between 1.8 to 2.4 inches in height should do the job. Although it’s not the easiest task, it is certainly important. If you do not support the runner beans, or the support falls down, a jungle will form on the ground around all the adjoining rows. This can quickly grow into a problem on your plot so take the time to ensure your support is properly secured.
Growers can expect to start harvesting these beans from July when they will be at the height of their season. It’s best to harvest runner beans while they’re young. Otherwise, as mature harvests, they become tough and string-like. Once your runner beans are between 15-20cm long, begin to harvest them. They should still be quite small, snap easily and be relatively pale. Pick runner beans every 2 to 3 days when plants are still flowering, to harvest a young crop while still encouraging further pods to grow.