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Post new topic   Reply to topic    Irish Gardeners Forum Home -> Vegetable growing, fruit and allotments in Ireland

How to Grow Runner beans in Irelands Vegetable Gardens

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2007 7:29 pm    Post subject: How to Grow Runner beans in Irelands Vegetable Gardens Reply with quote

How to Grow Runner beans in Irelands Vegetable Gardens.

Runner beans are a popular vegetable for gardeners throughout Ireland, producing large crops, which are very encouraging to the seasoned and amateur gardener alike. Before producing the edible beans, which are a good source of vitamin C, folic acid and fibre, the vigorous plants can also be relied upon to display attractive flowers, brightening up our oft green vegetable gardens.

Of course, the runner bean will have its knockers; these are mainly the people who have only tasted the stringy, ages old, shop bought variety. Those people should try growing their own crop, picking the young succulent fleshed beans, then serving them up with roast beef, spuds and gravy, this should definitely be enough to change their minds.

The runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) hails originally from South America where it grows year after year as a perennial, we here in Ireland regard it as an annual vegetable, renewing and re-growing the plants from seed once they have been shook by our winter frosts. It is a vegetable well worth growing, so find an area in your garden, sunny and sheltered from wind, then lets have a look at how you can easily sow this prolific cropper.

Soil preparation.
Runner beans produce the best pods in a slightly limey or alkaline soil, so if unfortunately your gardens soil has an acid PH, it would be best to add approx 100g of carbonated lime per square metre to the planting area or else water with hydrated lime. The incorporation of well rotted compost to at least a spades depth is vital on all soils, approx a bucketful of this per square metre is required to aid the supply of food and retain water throughout deep rooted runner beans. Ideally, these soil amendments should be carried out at least two or three months before sowing to allow soil settlement.

The bean seeds can be sown where they are to grow from late May to the end of June, planting some every few weeks during this period will provide you with continual cropping. Seeds should be planted by trowel, 5 cm (2in) deep and 23cm (9in) apart, with a few extra backup seeds sown at the end of the row to replace any failed germinators. Sowing the seeds in double rows at 45cm (18in) apart, will allow you to grow the beans up decorative crossed supports.

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Most runner bean varieties will grow to about 2m (6ft) tall and unless supported will just sprawl across the ground, so therefore they require support to this height. A capital "A" shaped arch can be created by criss-crossing supports and lashing them together at the top, some eight-foot tall hazel/willow branches or bamboo canes are ideal for this purpose. Be aware that this structure must be very secure, as it may well, on a windy day have to support up to 5kg of beans per linear metre.

When we left our runner beans last week, I was outlining the traditional support of an arch created from hazel/willow branches or bamboo canes. If space is limited within your site, your beans can also be grown on an existing fence or wall, once some sheep wire is securely attached to it. Although your crop may be smaller growing in this way, your runner bean plants will definitely provide lush foliage and attractive scarlet/white flowers to the supporting wall or fence.

Whichever form of support you choose, there are things you can do to encourage your beans to begin their long climb to the top, for example, I suggest you offer them some horticultural twine to cling to. Twine or string tied about half way up the supports, winding its way down the poles, will give the beans tendrils more to grab hold of initially. You may also use some of this string, in the beginning, to tie the bean plants loosely to their supports.

Watering and weeds.
Runner beans require a plentiful supply of water right throughout their life, but especially when the flowers and bean pods form. As a rough rule of thumb, the plants will require one watering can (10 litres) of water per square metre, twice a week in dry weather. This water applied slowly, combined with the well-rotted compost you dug in during soil preparation, will be enough to soak the plants roots.

Weeds will rob vital moisture and nutrients from your growing runner bean plants, so you should remove them early, or better still, prevent them altogether. Applying a mulch of bark, grass clippings, newspaper or similar organic material around the plants will prevent weeds emerging, whilst also retaining lots of moisture within the soil.

Harvesting and seeds.
Once the tips of your runner beans reach the top of their supports, you must pinch off the plants top growing points to divert the upward growing energy into pod production. Harvesting of your runner beans usually begins around 12 weeks after sowing, or to be more precise once some of the pods reach 15cm (6 inches) long. Continually picking the bean pods (daily) at this size will mean you avoid stringy and leathery beans whilst encouraging further cropping for at least eight weeks.

This close up picture of dry runner bean seeds courtesy of
Jeannette Greaves' photo stream at

If you stop picking, the plant will stop producing, so pick away, freezing for later whatever you can't consume at the time. At the end of the growing season leave some pods to dry out on the healthiest of the plants, this will be your seed for next year. Extract the beans from the dried pods and leave them in a warm place to dry out, once dried, place them in a cool airtight container until sowing time next May.

If you are sowing runner beans for the first time, some good seed varieties to track down include... Painted Lady, Butler, Mergoles, Desiree and Galaxy.

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Last edited by James Kilkelly on Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:27 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 25, 2007 11:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

are runner beans meant to be sticky? i picked one off the last day and it was sticky to touch,also it wasnt very fat but it was nearly 7ins.
I grow veg but I dont eat them!!! or fruit....
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Loncey wrote:
are runner beans meant to be sticky? i picked one off the last day and it was sticky to touch,also it wasnt very fat but it was nearly 7ins.

Probably the sugars from the bean being exuded through the pod. I know my fingers are often sticky after slicing them before cooking.
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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 12:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Can runner beans be grown in large containers?
If so - what size container would be adequate?

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 1:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ps. I grew dwarf runner beans in pots before, can't remember what size they were but the back of the packet should tell you. Also my dad got a really wide pot and put poles at the edges to make a kind of teepee. He has the plants running up the canes. It looks very pretty.

The slugs got my cannellini beans which were so lovingly grown from seed. They're only half eaten so I'm hoping they might still grow. Or should I just dig them up and use the precious space for something else....?
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PostPosted: Sun May 30, 2010 7:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Where I come from in the UK the growing of runner beans was something of an art form but, with suitable preparation, no-one need fail with this bountiful crop.

I grow mine in a row with 30 sticks in pairs along it but a metre square can be used just as effectively on a smaller scale. If you've got the space, it will pay dividends to start next year's site NOW. Let's talk in terms of the metre square option.

Dig out the soil down to about 45cm (18ins). Put 5cm (2ins) of wetted newspaper all over the bottom and up the sides. This will act as a water reservoir and will prevent nearby vegetation from encroaching on the goodies you'll be putting in. Old phone books are ideal.

You'll then need a central pole of some sort. I once came across a tall concrete fence post that proved ideal but a strong length of plastic pipe or a wooden post will be just as good. Length needs to be 240cm (8ft) and will need to be supported while the rest of the hole is being filled in.

If you can source some manure, a sack or two of that will be useful, trampled down firmly on top of the paper. A foot or so of lawn mowings can be got rid of on top of that and weighed down with a pallet or something.

Once they've settled down, heap a few armfuls of stinging nettles on top and mound the soil up over the lot. The nettles will provide the iron the beans thrive on and, by next year will have decomposed into a slimy, black mess that they love.

About April time, get yourself an old bike wheel and 12 8ft sticks - in the absence of hazel or chestnut locally I've resorted to 2x1 roofing laths/battens. Push one right down to the bottom of the site at each corner. Place the bike wheel horizontally on top of the central pole and secure. Tie the four corner sticks to the rim of the wheel. Next place two more sticks evenly between each pair of corner sticks and tie them to the rim, too.

From now on throw any vegetable household waste around the pole to maintain moisture and rot down.

Also in early April plant enough seed for two plants per stick plus a few spares - say 30 for the 12 stick square. Once the seedlings are about 15cm (6ins) high, plant them out, one each side of each stick and water them in.

From now on there's nothing to do except to continue throwing potato peelings, cabbage leaves etc around the post (with their water) but, even without this, there'll be enough moisture below to keep the water hungry beans satisfied.

By moving the beans round the garden each year you finish up with areas of very pristine soil that will be ideal for subsequent crops.

A novice gardener on newly cultivated, stoney ground.
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