How to grow and care for runner beans
Varieties of runner beans
Phaseolus coccineus 'Teenie Beanie' Runner Bean: This variety will provide standard sized runner beans around 6 inches in length (15cm). The plant's ultimate height will be around 8ft (2.5m).
Phaseolus coccineus ‘White Lady’ PBR Runner Bean: This variety will provide a plentiful and delicious crop from July to October. It can grow to an ultimate height of 13ft (4m), so it is best grown in large gardens or allotments.
Phaseolus coccineus ‘Hestia’ Dwarf Runner Bean: This mini variety will only reach an ultimate height of 1.5ft (0.5m), so it is perfect for growing in small spaces or containers.
Where to grow runner beans
Runner beans need warm conditions to germinate. They can therefore be sown indoors during April or May for an early crop or sown directly outdoors in June and July.
Sowing your seeds indoors: To germinate your beans indoors, sow them in individual pots filled with multi-purpose compost. Water well and place the pots on a sunny windowsill or in a heated greenhouse/propagator. After 2-3 weeks, you should be able to gradually harden off your seedlings in preparation for transferring them to the vegetable garden or allotment. Seedlings should be moved into a cold greenhouse for 2 weeks and then moved out to a cold frame. If you do not have a greenhouse, move straight to a cold frame but make sure the lid is closed at night-time. To harden off your plants, open the lid slightly more each day. After approximately 3 weeks of hardening off, your seedlings should be ready for planting.
Preparing your plot and required equipment
Create a composting trench: Prior to planting your beans in the autumn, dig a composting trench. This will create a fantastic, nutrient-rich bed for your vegetables:
- First dig narrow trenches around 2ft (60cm) deep in the area you want to plant your vegetables.
- Fill the trenches by layering your organic kitchen waste (vegetable peelings, tea bags etc.) with layers of soil, finishing with a top layer of soil.
- Leave your compost to rot down, ready for planting your vegetables the following spring/summer.
Dig in compost: If it is too late for you to create a composting trench, dig in some compost and well-rotted manure in early spring and leave it to settle.
Warm the ground: Before planting out or sowing your runner beans you will need to prepare your soil by warming it with cloches or fleece. Start to do this for about a month before you intend to transfer your plants or sow your seeds.
Create a support: Wigwams make great bean supports and often provide the best use of space. Building a wigwam is simple; all you need is some garden twine and bamboo canes. You will need one cane per plant, so decide on how many plants you would like to grow before constructing it. The plants will need adequate space to grow, so around 8 or 9 bamboo canes is recommended. Your canes should be around 8ft tall (2.5m) to allow the plants to reach their maximum height. You can also grow dwarf runner beans or pinch out the tops of tall beans for a shorter plant.
To construct your wigwam, simply place the canes in a circle around 3ft in diameter. To make your canes secure, push them at least 8 inches into the ground. Then one by one, bend each of the canes and tie the tops together with garden twine. You might like to make notches in the canes to secure the twine.
To encourage growth and provide your beans with something to grip onto, wrap some extra twine around the wigwam, securing it to each cane with a knot.
Beans can also be grown up frames made from wood or bamboo canes; this however restricts the number of plants you can grow for the space.
Sowing your seeds outdoors: If you are sowing seeds directly outdoors, sow them 2 inches (5cm) deep around your wigwam. Sow 1 or 2 seeds per bamboo cane depending on how much space your wigwam or frame allows.
Care and growing tips
- Depending on the variety, runner beans can grow up to 4m tall so make sure that you do not plant them too near to your sun-loving plants.
- Cover young outdoor plantlets with cloches or fleece at night to protect them from late frosts.
- If your plants do not naturally start to twine around their supports, tie them in. The sooner they gain height, the sooner they will flower and produce beans.
- Runner beans require lots of water so make sure that they are watered daily when it is dry.
- Slugs are a real threat to runner beans, so protect your plants accordingly. Planting lemon balm and parsley around your beans is a great option as these plants thrive in shade and may help to deter slugs.
- To help your bean plant to branch out and conserve energy, pinch out the top shoots when your plant reaches the top of its wigwam.
When to harvest runner beans
Unlike supermarket varieties, home-grown runner beans are best harvested when young (once they reach around 1.5cm in width). If left to grow large, their pods will become stringy and you will only be able to eat the beans from the inside. Once your beans are ready to eat, you will need to harvest them every few days to prevent them from growing too large. If you do find any large beans hidden amongst the leaves, remove the pods and use these like you would haricot beans. The older your beans get, the more toxins they will produce. Make sure that you boil large, older beans (that have been removed from their pods) for at least 10 minutes.
How to store runner beans
Fridge: Fresh runner beans should keep for around 1 week in your fridge. Store them in a brown paper bag to absorb moisture.
Freezer: Runner beans freeze well and can be stored in a freezer for around 6 months. Before eating, defrost your beans by placing them in the fridge overnight.
Dried: Beans should be dried within their pods to prevent them from getting mouldy. Spread them out on a tray and place on a windowsill or radiator. When you are ready to use your beans in cooking, soak them overnight and then make sure that you boil them for 10 minutes to remove the toxins.
Beans can also be dried and saved for planting next year. To do this, leave your runner beans on the plant until they start to dry out. Once they have started to dry, remove them and place them somewhere that is dark, dry and warm.
Chutneys and piccalilli: An alternative way to store runner beans is to make chutneys and piccalilli. These should be stored for a month before eating, and can be kept unopened for anything up to a year depending on the recipe.
When to sow runner bean seeds
Runner bean seeds
Available online and in centre.