Growing Runner beans in your garden

Runner beans are a favourite home-grown vegetable, and no wonder – a 6m (20ft) double row can produce as much as 36kg (801b) of beans.

Runner beans are often called scarlet runners because many varieties have attractive scarlet, sweet pealike flowers, but there are climbing and dwarf varieties with white, pink or red and white flowers.

Runner beans come into season just as most French beans are coming ro an end. The pods are larger, coarser in texture and more flavoursome, and they crop over a much longer period than French beans. The edible seedpods are generally 20~30cm (8-12in) long -usually no more than 20cm (Sin) for dwarf varieties – and up to 2.5cm (lin) wide.

Tall-growing runner beans nor-mally reach a height of 2.4-3m (8-1 0ft), although they can be grown as ground runner beans without support if the growing points are pinched out when they are about 30cm (12in) high. Naturally dwarf runner bean varieties grow to about 45cm (18 in) high.

Site and soil preparation

Runner beans grow best in a sunny, sheltered position. They should not be grown in the same spot year after year as a build-up of soil pests and diseases may occur.

Most garden soils are suitable, although a deep rich soil is best. A month or two before sowing, dig a trench 45-60cm (18-24in) wide -if you are growing the beans in a circle, dig the trench to the right size. Remove the top spit of soil (one spade’s depth), then work a bucketful per sq m (sq yd) of garden compost or well-rotted manure into the second spit of soil. Replace topsoil and finish off the trench with a slight depression to help retain water and prevent roots from drying out in summer.

A couple of weeks before sowing rake in a general fertilizer at the rate of 30g per sq m (loz per sq yd).

Staking and supporting

Tall varieties need supports 2.4-3m (8-10ft) high. The poles should be set deep enough to en-sure they are stable and form a rigid, wind-resistant structure. Insert the poles before sowing the seeds. Hazel and ash poles are best but bamboo canes are an alternative. There are several options: Crossed poles Push the poles into the ground in two rows about 60cm (24in) apart. Set adjacent supports 15cm (6in) apart. Cross opposite pairs just above the half-way mark so that pods on the upper parts of the plants hang outwards.

To strengthen the structure, lay a pole horizontally along the V-shaped intersections of the pairs of upright poles. If planting more than one double row, allow 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) between each set. Wigwams Firmly position four to eight 2.4m (8ft) long bamboo canes around a 60cm (24in) square or a circle 1.5m (5ft) in diameter. Tie the canes together at the top. Or attach strings from the top of a 2.4m (8ft) central stake to pegs placed in the ground at 60cm (24in) intervals around the edge of the circle. Netting Set up a row of 2.4m (8ft) poles 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) apart along your runner bean trench. Fix horizontal wires to the poles and attach plastic, string or wire netting to the wires.

You can also support beans up netting fixed to a permanent wall or fence.

Sowing and planting

Runner beans are tender and should not be put outside until all danger of frost has passed. Get them off to an early start by ra18 ing them under cover. It is also possible to buy a box of young plants from your garden centre. Sowing indoors To produce the earliest crop, sow seeds in late spring 2.5cm (lin) deep in com-post-filled pots or in a 12cm (5in) deep seed box.

After germination in gentle heat, transfer the small plants in their containers to a cold frame. Harden the plants off by gradually increasing ventilation, lifting off the cover on warm days. When the plants are sturdy and the danger of frost has passed, plant them out. Position one plant at the base of each pole or string or, if you are using netting, at 15cm (6in) intervals. Set each one close to the sup- port – about 8cm (3in) away – to allow the plant to develop. With poles, set the plant on the inner side of the supports.

A sheet of clear plastic 60-90cm (2-3ft) high fixed to the outside of the supports will protect the young plants from the wind. Sowing outdoors The first outdoor sowing can be made in mid spring under cloches that have been in place for as long as possible to warm up the soil. Make a couple of drills 5cm (2in) deep and 30cm (12in) apart. Sow the seeds at intervals of about 15cm (6in) with a few extra at each end to fill in any gaps left by those that don’t germinate. Leave the cloches on until the danger of frost has passed then push in the supports.

Runner beans can be sown in the open ground in late spring. Sow two seeds 5cm (2in) deep under each support, or at 15cm (6in) intervals if you are using netting. After germination, cut off the weaker of each pair.

Water the seeds or young plants well immediately after planting and then scatter slug pellets.

Looking after the crop

As plants mature, apply a 2.5cm (lin) deep mulch such as leaf-mould or garden compost around the plants. This helps prevent the soil from becoming too dry and also smothers weeds. Runner beans need regular watering, so don’t let the soil around them dry out.

Twine the runners (climbing shoots) anticlockwise around the supports – the natural way that the plants climb – and tie them gently with string if necessary. When the plants have reached the top of their stakes, begin to pinch out the growing tips.

You may choose to grow some of the normally tall-growing varieties as short and bushy plants which will crop earlier. This can be done by pinching out the growing tips when the plants are about 30cm (12in) high and then growing without supports. Grow plants 60cm (24in) apart. They will crop earlier but give lower yields.

Harvesting

Runner beans are ready to pick from mid summer onwards, when the pods are 15-20cm (6-8in) long. Pick them every few days so that they don’t mature fully – even a small number allowed to mature will stop flower production.

The more you pick the beans, the more the plants will produce.

When the last beans have been picked, cut the stems off at ground level and chop and compost the stems. Leave the roots in the soil as a useful source of nitrogen.

What can go wrong

The major problem with runner beans is the failure of the flowers to set. Dryness at the roots, a lack of pollinating insects or birds pecking off buds are possible causes.

The main runner bean pest is black bean aphid, which can multiply rapidly on the underside of leaves or round stems. They can be destroyed by hand, but once established, a recommended spray treatment must be applied. Watch out for slugs, especially on young plants. There are some leaf and root diseases, but these are rarely a problem in well-grown plants.

DILL leaves) to 15cm (6in) apart. The leaves are ready for picking about eight weeks after sowing. Dill is usually trouble free.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a hardy annual herb which grows to lm (3ft) high.

Cultivation

Dill likes any well-drained soil in an open, sunny position.

Sow seeds 6mm deep in drills 23cm (9in) apart. Sow at plants have started monthly intervals from early fowering. Spring to mid summer for a constant supply throughout the summer and autumn.

Thin the first sowing (grown to provide seeds) to 30cm (12in) apart. Pick the seedheads when brown, then spread them out on a tray in a warm place to dry.

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