Runner beans are a very productive summer crop, producing masses of tasty, versatile and healthy pods. Growing your own allows you to pick them young and at the peak of their flavour, and before they become tough and stringy. Far better than buying them from the shop.
They are susceptible to cold weather and frosts, and they need to grow fast to get the best results. From just a few plants, you can be picking lots of your own beans from around mid-July to October.
How to grow runner beans
Although runner beans prefer a warm, sunny position - preferably sheltered from strong winds - they can tolerate light shade.
For best results, ensure the soil is well dug over and has lots of bulky organic matter added, such as garden compost, which will hold plenty of moisture - essential for a good crop. Avoid manure as this may be too rich for them and contain too much nitrogen.
If you are really keen on runner beans, you could make a traditional runner bean trench. Take out a spade depth of soil in a trench approximately 90cm (3ft) wide and dig into the bottom of the hole all the organic matter you can get hold of, including well-rotted garden compost, kitchen waste, shredded newspaper and even torn-up cardboard.
Before sowing or planting out, give a light dressing of a general granular feed.
Runner bean varieties
There are plenty of excellent varieties to choose from, including the traditional Scarlet Emperor, Enorma and Prizewinner. For stringless pods, Lady Di and Polestar are great varieties to grow.
Some varieties have white or pink flowers, rather than the traditional red, making them ornamental alternatives and often give better crops. These include Painted Lady (red and white flowers), White Achievement, White Emergo and Celebration (pink).
Hestia is a dwarf variety that doesn’t need any support, making it perfect for small gardens or very windy positions and for growing in containers.
Sowing runner beans
Indoors For an early crop, sow seeds individually in 7.5-10cm (3-4in) pots of seed sowing compost in April and May. The young plants will be ready for planting out at the end of May or early June, after the last severe frost.
Outdoors Sow seeds 5cm (2in) deep at the end of May or early June with a gap of 20-23cm (8-9in) between each seed and cover with fine soil. To minimise any damage to new roots, erect the supports for climbing beans before sowing the seeds. Sow 1 seed at the base of each cane and water in well.
For the longest cropping period, sow indoors and outdoors to produce early and main season crops. It is also possible to sow seeds outside up until the end of July for a much later/autumn crop.
How to care for runner beans
Runner beans need supports to clamber up to a height of around 1.8m (6ft). As the stems and the resulting crop are heavy, the supports need to be sturdy and held together, so they are not blown down by the wind. A wigwam is an attractive shape and very stable if securely fasted where the canes meet at the apex. Similarly, a double row of inward-facing canes that cross at the top will be just as sturdy if a horizontal holding cane is placed just above the crossing point and secured to all the uprights.
Tie the new, emerging stems to each support, after which the plant will climb naturally following the sun each day.
Once the plants reach the top of their support, nip out the growing point.
Ensure the soil is kept constantly moist and even mulch the soil in June and July to conserve soil moisture.
Misting regularly in the early morning or evening - especially during hot, dry weather - will increase humidity around the flowers and help improve bean set.
A liquid feed applied over the foliage and around the roots every couple of weeks will ensure the plants are fed and watered at the same time and help improve cropping further.
Growing in containers
Runner beans are easy to grow in containers - providing the container is large and especially deep enough. Supporting plants with a wigwam of canes provides an attractive and colourful patio feature that will provide more than enough beans for delicious summer meals.
Pick the beans regularly and before the seeds start to show through the sides of the pods to enjoy the best flavour and ensure continuous cropping. If you fail to pick regularly the plants will stop producing further beans.
Runner beans may be susceptible to the following problems.
Poor pod set