Runner beans are best grown from seed during the month of May. This is the most cost-saving way of producing plenty of plants, providing you have a way of protecting them from the risk of frost. The only time you will ever catch me buying runner bean plants from a garden centre is when I have missed the opportunity to grow them from seed.
You can avoid germination issues by ‘chitting’ your beans. Evenly space each bean on a damp cloth or paper. Seal them in an air-tight container and place in a warm, dry and dark spot. An airing cupboard is a perfect place to germinate your beans. They will need checking daily! As soon as they start to germinate, place each bean individually into pots of good potting compost. This can also be done when the roots are about 1 inch long. Place them in a warm, sunny position to grow on. Sprouting runner beans will find their own way up. If you are planting directly into the ground or you are growing runner beans in pots, then plant each bean into a 2 inch deep hole and cover with compost/soil.
Hardening off is essential. Whether you have grown your plants from seed or bought them from a garden centre, you will need to harden off your runner beans before planting them out. Do this after the risk of frost has past. If you plant too soon, the sudden change in temperature could weaken or even kill them.
Start off by placing your plants outside in the middle of the day for a couple of hours. Gradually increase the amount of time each day. After a minimum of two weeks, your plants should be strong enough to be planted out.
Your plants will benefit from good soil – plenty of organic matter and a general organic fertiliser.
Runner beans like the ground to be slightly moist. Dig a 10-inch trench under the site where you intend to plant. Line the bottom of the trench with sheets of newspaper to retain as much moisture as possible. After this, pour a couple of buckets of water in the trench before back-filling it.
Most people prefer the traditional method of building an 8 ft high ridge frame for supporting runner bean plants. This involves placing stick or bamboo canes in vertical rows a few foot apart. The tops are then tied together and fasten with horizontal supports. I use this method myself, but there is no harm in being creative.
You could try supporting your beans over wigwams, trellises or even have them climbing up and over a shed or garage. As long as the bean plants have something to coil around and are planted in a rich and deep soil, they should be happy.
Now that the growing site is ready, ensure that the soil is nice and loose using a garden trowel. Before planting, I like to gently loosen the roots by ‘tickling’ them. This will encourage your runner beans to leave the confines of the pot-shaped compost ball and branch out into the surrounding soil. Plant your runner beans, one every foot or so along the line of your supports. Water well until fully established.
Ensure that your plants are twining around the supports. Loosely tie them into place. This will be helpful to encourage each plant to find its way up the canes.
How tall should i let my runner beans grow? As soon as your runner bean plants reach the top of your supports, cut or ‘pinch-out’ the top shoots to encourage growth lower down. This will make for a much heavier crop. The cut end of the plants will continue to push upward for a while.
Pick your young beans on a regular basis to encourage more growth. If you leave them too long, you will find that the beans will become stringy and too tough to eat. Picking encourages the production of more flowers, giving you more beans over a longer period. I would suggest you harvest your beans on a daily basis if possible.
How long do runner beans take to grow? If you sow your runner beans during May, you should expect a crop two months later in July.
Growing runner beans from last year’s beans: Firstly, I should point out that you will not be able to grow beans on from an F1 hybrid. You need open-pollinated seeds. Leave each bean out to dry in a bright, cool position. Don’t use any heat! Then, label and bag them up. They will keep for a couple of years.
Aphids are a common nuisance when growing runner beans. Blackfly and greenfly can stunt the leading tips and introduce other diseases. As soon as they appear, spray the aphids with the following organic solution:
WARNING! Rhubarb leaves contain high doses of Oxalic Acid which is very harmful to humans (and aphids) if consumed.
A simple alternative to this recipe: a weak mixture of washing up liquid and water in a mist sprayer.
Slugs and snails can rapidly devour your young runner bean plants as well as damage maturing beans. Here are a couple of methods for controlling slug and snail damage.
This can be the result of a lack of pollinators (bees). Grow plenty of bee-friendly flowers to encourage more in your garden. Flower drop can also be the result of your runner bean plants drying out. During dry weather, ensure on a daily basis that your plants have enough water.
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