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They do run run run they do run run
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Very easy to grow, heavy cropping
Disadvantages: Shouldnt be eaten raw
If you're curious about growing your own food, but don't consider your garden to be of Eden sized proportions, runner beans are one of the plants that can easily be grown in pots / containers and they don't need acres of space to get a decent harvest from. I grow about twelve runner bean plants a year in 3 wide, low pots and consistently get a satisfying to look at and productive to pick jungle of tall plants that look amazing when wrapped around bean poles and have their bright red flowers on show.
Runner beans are part of the same family as peas, the Leguminosae family. You can spot this by looking at the flowers; which resemble pea, sweet pea and broad bean flowers. They are thought to originate from hilly areas of central America, but are now grown all over the world and can cope with the UK climate so long as they are not planted out too early as they don't tolerate frost.
GROWING YOUR OWN
As I mentioned above, they don't like frost or cold temperatures so only plant the seeds out from late May onwards, or you can start seeds off indoors from mid April. Pop each seed under about a centimetre of compost and keep moist - within a fortnight you will have a surprisingly quick growing plant a couple of inches high with a couple of sets of leaves on. When planting these out, they can be fairly crammed in - about 6 inches distance between each plant is all you need. If you're careful, you might be able to squeeze three plants round one pole. When it comes to support, I've already mentioned the poles - I use 8ft high bamboo canes. They really do grow that tall! Train the plant to wrap around the cane and once it has, it will tightly spiral up around the pole - it looks great, especially when the flowers start to appear as it looks like some sort of tropical creeper.
All through their growing season, keep the soil moist and water well in hot dry periods - not that we've seen many of those this summer. Also, they respond well to rich compost in a well dug soil - you can get the area ready in the winter by digging up your intended patch and mixing in a load of compost then leaving it to allow the frost to break it all up for you. If you're growing in pots, this means that there is less back breaking work as all you have to do is add the compost and perhaps give a top dressing every 4 to 6 weeks to replace lost nutrients - compost doesn't retain its goodness forever.
When the flowers start fading, the pods soon follow. Pick them while they are still fairly small for the most tender of pods. The more you pick, the more will grow back so get picking! If you leave the pods on for ages, they may become quite tough and stringy and will also form massive beans inside them. The beans can be taken out and dried then either added to soups and stews or kept as the following year's seeds for planting.
The plants, if kept watered and fed, should last into October when the first frosts come.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Slugs will chomp through your seedlings quicker than you can say "where have all my seedlings gone?", so pre-emptively treat for slugs using the methods you prefer - chemical pellets, beer traps etc. Also, if you've used bad seeds (either from a dodgy supplier, incorrectly stored home-saved seeds from the year before or old seeds past their best) there is a good chance of getting what is known as Halo Blight, called this because of the yellow halo that surrounds brown spots on the foliage. There isn't any cure for this and it will eventually kill your plants. The only thing to do is to dig up any affected plants and burn them before it spreads to other plants.
USING RUNNER BEANS
Runner beans freeze really well. To do this, blanche a load for a minute in boiling water before adding to a freezer bag / container. They shouldn't be eaten raw as they contain traces of a natural toxin, Phytohaemagglutinin, which is easily destroyed by cooking in boiling water.
For the best bean pods, pick them before the skins get too rough and stringy, and also before the seeds start to form inside. At home, we top and tail ours (slice off the end few millimetres from each end of the pod) as the pointed tips can sometimes be a little on the hard side.
Expect to pay a couple for pounds for a packet of seeds from most seed suppliers - if you shop around you will find the odd special offer in places like Aldi, Lidl and Wilkinsons from time to time. The seeds themselves look fantastic - bean shaped hard shells with deep purple and pink speckles, they look like a miniature wild bird egg.
Some of the commonly grown varieties include Scarlet Emperor, St George and Enorma.
If you're new to gardening but want to try growing something that will give a good payback, then runner beans are a good place to start. Seeds can still be planted outside now (early to mid July) and it's amazing how fast they grow. The main requirements are moist, fertile soil, support to climb up and no frost - meet these requirements and they will grow enormous and give you plenty of tasty pods to pick. The full five stars from me, thanks for reading.
Summary: Huge tall plants that give you plenty of pickable pods
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