“ Manufacturer: Thompson & Morgan / Type: Vegetable „
Having just come in from the garden with another handful of home grown runner beans, I thought I'd do a review on this easy to grow and delicious vegetable.
There is nothing more satisfying than eating lightly boiled runner beans, which have been home grown and picked fresh from your own garden. This year I bought my vegetable seeds from Thompson & Morgan as I had a discount voucher and they were also offering free postage.
William Thompson had already established a reputation as a keen botanist and plantsman with a nursery in Ipswich when he published his first catalogue in 1855. He later went into partnership with John Morgan, who was a business man and a shrewd entrepreneur and the company went from strength to strength. Today, it is one of the foremost seed suppliers in the world.
Their catalogue is a colourful and entertaining read on the long winter nights whilst you're planning what to grow the following year but they also have an excellent website for internet users to browse. There are several varieties of runner bean offered in the catalogue but one of the varieties I chose was Scarlet Emperor.
Scarlet Emperor is a long established and reliable variety which produces a good crop of long beans with an excellent flavour. The flowers, as you can guess from the variety name, are scarlet and, even if you don't intend to eat what you grow, you will still have very attractive climbing plants for your garden. When ordering be careful to pick the correct variety as T&M have also introduced a new variety called Scarlet Empire, which has been bred from Scarlet Emperor and is more expensive.
Other suppliers also offer this variety of runner bean but, apart from Thompson & Morgan's offer of free postage and packing, which lasted for the entire summer, they are a well-known seed merchant who only buy from reputable seed suppliers and all their seed is tested for viability before being packaged and distributed. T&M's seed is sometimes a few pennies more than their competitors but because of the care they take, I feel it's money well spent and the plant yields frequently bear out this argument.
I know many will think this is the wrong time of year to be giving a review of seeds which need to be sown in the spring but T&M will soon be taking delivery of this year's seed from their suppliers and the sooner you buy, the better your chance of not being disappointed. Scarlet Emperor is one of the most popular varieties and frequently becomes scarce as the growing season progresses.
The price for a packet of 20 seeds is £1.99. Initially, this may seem a lot to pay for not very many seeds but you only need to pay that once. As these beans aren't F1 hybrids, if you're a canny gardener, you can take and save seed from the beans you grow to use for the next year's planting.
Thompson & Morgan normally charge £2.29 for postage and packing, so it makes sense to buy more than one packet of seed! As I took advantage in the early spring of the free postage & packing offer, I didn't stop at just the runner beans but bought several other packets of seed too. I was aiming for a productive summer and certainly as far as my Scarlet Emperors were concerned, it was!
Growing your beans:
The secret to any productive bean plant, apart from using strong and viable seeds, is the preparation of the soil. Runner beans have deep root systems and are known to be gross feeders. I decide in the autumn where I'm going to grow my beans and either dig a trench or a large hole if I'm growing them wigwam style. I line the trench with damp newspaper and put any peelings or discarded green matter into the bottom of the trench, covering with soil as I go. This then rots down over the winter and provides a tasty meal for the baby bean plants in late spring.
I would also add that, because these beans germinate and grow pretty quickly, they're a great way to introduce children to the joys of gardening. Both my children used to have their own little patch of garden where they grew such things as nasturtiums, sunflowers and a runner bean plant. Like most children, they sometimes needed to be persuaded to eat vegetables but I never had any problem getting them to eat something they'd grown themselves!
I have grown other varieties of runner bean besides Scarlet Emperor and, indeed, most years grow more than one variety (this year it was Painted Lady) but for reliability and trouble-free gardening, Scarlet Emperor is hard to beat. The beans produced are between 6" and 10" long or even longer and, provided you don't let them get too big, they tend to be stringless. The flavour is delicate and indescribably delicious.
I haven't been weighing my beans as I've picked them but from the twelve plants I grew this year, I've been constantly picking since mid July and there are still lots of flowers which promises a pound or two more to come before the frost kills them off. Of the beans I've already picked, there have been more than enough for meals plus plenty to blanche and freeze. They freeze very well, by the way.
I highly recommend this variety of runner bean and also recommend Thompson & Morgan. The 2011 catalogue hasn't yet been published but even seed bought now should be viable next year.
Go on, get gardening!