Runner beans are great, if you look after them, you will be able to harvest an abundance of beans throughout the summer. Planting your own runner beans is a great project for a beginner gardener too. With a little care, your runner bean plants will reward you magnificently.
Runner beans are a good plant for beginner vegetable gardeners. Providing you harvest them often throughout the growing season, they are very prolific in their growth and the beans can be used as a side dish to many mains, such as roast chicken or a nut roast.
If you have little space you can also plant runner beans in pots. They make the perfect patio or balcony vegetable plant and don’t take up lots of room, since they grow vertically.
The flowers on a runner bean plant offer up a visual reward too, they come in varying colours, most often red, mixed in amongst the bright green leaves of the plant.
How to Grow Runner Beans
The two main requirements of runner bean plants is a lot of moisture and a strong support system. If you have a moisture retentive soil such as clay, they will thrive. If your soil is a well draining variety, be sure to water your plants often and dig in plenty of well rotted compost to start with. The plants will also need a good support, often built from bamboo canes in a wigwam shape, which I shall talk about more below.
There are many types of runner beans, which suit different planting conditions. Some are more compact and are specific to growing in pots. Be sure to choose the right variety of plant to suit your planting area.
Planting the Seed
Runners beans are a delicate plant that does not do well with frost. Before planting runner beans, the risk of frost must have passed, which depends on where you live, but is usually around the end of April.
For the most successful start, I would recommend to start your seeds off in a greenhouse, or a sunny windowsill in late April. Germinating your seeds before planting them out, ensures you use up your space outside effectively and prevents your seeds from being eaten by slugs or mice. If there does happen to be an unexpected late frost, you can be sure that your delicate little plants won’t be killed off by it.
When it comes to planting your seeds, choose a deep pot, to allow the root system to develop. You can even plant them in the cardboard insert of empty toilet rolls. You can then plant the whole thing into the ground.
You will notice that the large seeds of runner beans have a little white eye or scar on the side, this is where the root will emerge from. It doesn’t necessarily matter which way up you plant the seed as it will self orientate anyway. It is, however best to plant them sideways, with the little scar on the side. This helps to prevent the seed from rotting in the soil. Plant the seeds about 3-4cm deep in their pots and plant two in each one, in case one fails to germinate. You can always divide and repot them if you’re lucky enough that both are successful.
Cover the seeds with soil and gently tap the pot to settle the soil. Water your seeds with a rose head attached to the watering can, to stop your soil from washing away. From this point runner bean seeds will germinate in about a week. Be careful with your watering during the germination phase, the soil should be damp but not too wet, otherwise the seed will rot in the soil.
About a week before planting out, your little plants will need to be hardened off. Hardening a plant, means that you are getting it used to life outside. You do this gradually, so the little plant you have nurtured won’t get too much of a nasty shock when the weather feels colder. This can be done with the use of a cold frame. Remember, runner beans are sensitive little plants so be sure to only plant them out after the last frost of the year is expected.
Planting Out and Building a Support for your Runner Beans
Prepare your plant bed by digging it over and removing any weeds or large clumps of soil, dig in a well rotted manure when you begin to harden your plants off, giving it time to settle.
If you’re planting in pots, use a good quality, moisture retentive compost and have something for a mulch on top. Pots dry out much quicker than the ground, so bear this in mind and ensure the growing environment will not dry out too quickly.
Runner beans are climbing plants, and for this reason, you need to provide them with something to climb upon. This is true, whether you choose to grow them in the ground or in a pot.
Creating a wigwam shape from bamboo canes is the most common method used for runner bean support. but you can also grow them in lines, over pergolas, up a trellis or over balcony railings. You can also buy specialised plant supports, if you’d prefer. Whichever method of support you choose, be sure to consider how you will harvest them and make sure your plants will be accessible for this.
When your plants are ready to be planted out make sure you water them about an hour before. This helps to support them during the shock of the transfer to a new growing area.
Plant your bean plants with one at the base of each cane making sure that the plants root ball is level with the soil and gently firm the soil around it. Give the plant some more water.
Don’t worry about tying the plant to the cane as it will find it’s way, you can always give it a little encouragement as it grows by helping the plant twist around the cane.
Water your plants regularly throughout the season and feed with liquid fertiliser. The same feed used to feed tomato plants can also be used for runner beans.
As your plant grows up it support frame, there will come a time that you want to pinch the plants out. Nip off the tops from the plants when they have reached the top of their support. Doing this will help prevent a mass of foliage at the top, which becomes dense and tangled and doesn’t produce as many beans. You also allow the plant to begin concentrating all of its growing effort into producing the beans rather than growing more foliage.
The bean plant will bloom with some beautiful little flowers, each of these flowers will become a runner bean. It’s important to make sure you harvest your beans regularly, so that the plant continues to work hard throughout the summer producing more beans. Runner beans have a tendency to become tough and stringy if left too long, they are best when young and tender.
You can blanch and freeze your produce if you find that you have too much.
You can plant your seeds indoors in the spring usually around late April. The plants can be planted out after the risk of frost has passed.
Yes, runner beans can grow in pots, provided they have a support system to climb up.
As often as possible, this helps to encourage the plant to produce more beans. Smaller beans are less stringy and more tender to eat.
Plant the seed on its side (not flat) to help prevent the seed from rotting. Each seed has a little scar or mark on one side, which you face down (this is where the root grows from) However, the plant will correct itself even if you forget this and the root will still find the correct way to face.