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How to Grow Runner Beans

Updated on June 4, 2016
Gloriousconfusion profile image

I love gardening, garden design, learning gardening techniques and photographing plants. I was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

It's very easy to Grow Runner Beans, also called French Beans, String Beans or Pole Beans

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Runner Beans, French Beans, String Beans or Pole Beans - call them what you like - are one of the easiest vegetables to grow

Not only are Runner Beans easy to grow, but they are interesting plants to grow in the garden because they have attractive scarlet flowers which bloom for several months during the harvesting season - July to October - and the plants grow spectacularly quickly - nearly an inch (2 cm.) a day when the conditions are right. Because of this, I like to start them off growing in containers on my windowsill, so that I can come out each morning and marvel at the amount they have grown since I went to bed.

I will tell you below the secret of how to grow beans, where you should plant them, how to stake them, and how to care for them, harvest them and store them, with some useful tips along the way.

Follow the Trend - Grow Your Own Vegetables

Get out in the fresh air and dig!

The exercise will do you good

And the flavour of

freshly picked produce

will make you wish

you'd done this years ago

Runner Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow

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And when you grow your own food, you are taking steps towards saving the planet, which will make you feel good

Because of their vigorous growing habit, they are good as starter plants for children, who are always impatient to see results.

Beans need to be supported on canes. Many types will grow to over 6ft. (2 metres) tall, so you need canes which are at least 8 ft tall.

Runner Beans originate from South America, where they are perennials, but in colder limates they are half-hardy annuals and need protection from frost. Therefore they should not be planted outside until late April or May, and should be covered if frost is forecast.

Position:

Beans prefer full sun, but will tolerate part shade. They should be protected from strong winds, so growing them near a wall or fence makes sense.

Before you start your bean patch, you need to dig the soil well, preferably down to the depth of your spade, and then add well rotted organic matter or mulch, which helps to retain moisture as well as feeding the beans. They like well-drained soil, but are quite thirsty plants and need to be watered twice a week in dry weather, especially when the flowers and beans are forming.

As beans grow so tall, you need to make sure that you grow them in a place which does not cause too much shade to other plants which need sun.

Beans Need to be Supported by Stakes

runner beans growing up a fence
runner beans growing up a fence | Source

Beans are commonly supported by a wigwam of stakes

To make a wigwam, use four or five bamboo poles or canes 8 - 10 feet high, and place them approximately in a square, about 18 inches (45 cm) apart. Poke the bottom thick ends in the ground, and tie the four upper ends together with string or garden wire, so that they stand firm and able to support the plants without falling over. If you have several wigwams in a row, you can run a cane along the tops of the wigwams and tie it in to give extra strength to the supports.

Sometimes I just use a single cane and place it about 1 ft (30cm) away from a fence, and then just lean the cane towards the fence and tie it to the fence so that it doesn't fall down, which might snap the delicate bean stems. (see photograph above).

Tips:

- If you wrap some garden twine around the stakes, this will help the bean tendrils to grip as they grow upwards. You could also grow beans up against mesh or netting which is attached to a tall fence.

- In order to avoid damaging the plants, it is a good idea to have the stakes in place before you plant the beans - I have myself lost good bean plants by doing it the other way round!

Learn how to care for your plants

Runner bean sapling
Runner bean sapling | Source

How to Cultivate Your Green Beans

Plant the large seeds about ½ inch below the surface and cover them, in 3-inch plant pots indoors in April, in potting compost, or outdoors from late April to May.

As beans (and peas) need a long root run, any plant pots need to be fairly tall, or you can even use the bio-degradable cardboard inserts from toilet rolls, so that when you replant them, they suffer as little disturbance to their roots as possible. Some people like to plant two seeds close together in case one fails to germinate, and then if they both come up, they can be thinned out by removing one. Or, allow them both to grow, and they can become intertwined and look like one very bushy plant.

Keep the plant pots well watered and they should germinate within about a week or ten days. I have often seen beans germinate in two days and grow to be about 6 inches tall within ten days - you can see how the story of Jack and the Beanstalk originated!

Continue to keep the bean plants well watered, and give them a feed from time to time with plant food or organic matter. A tip I have picked up but not actually tried is to make a little dent next to the plant, and pour the water into the hole instead of directly on the plant. This will ensure that the water reaches the roots rather than just the surface earth.

When the beans have reached the top of the stakes, remove the top growing tip, so that the plant uses its strength to grow bushy and make flowers and beans, rather than continuing to grow upwards.

I Grow Beans as Much for the Attractive Red Flowers as the Food

Beans, Tomatoes and Lantana in my Garden
Beans, Tomatoes and Lantana in my Garden | Source

So You Get Red FlowersFollowed by Green Beans Growing Underneath the Leaves

Keep an eye on the brilliant red flowers which will come out in late June or early July, and soon, when you look carefully through the lush green leaves, you will see pendant beans peeping below them. Sometimes they are not immediately noticeable, and if you are growing beans for the first time, you need to keep a lookout, because beans are better picked when they are young and tender.

If you can see the beans bulging in their pods, this means they are likely to be past their best, so you need to go by the texture, rather than the size of the beans.

Keep the Red Flowers Flowing!

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Keep picking the beans and more flowers will develop

As long as you keep picking them, more flowers will develop, but if you allow the bean pods to develop into longer and longer, bigger and fatter beans, in the hopes of growing monsters, you'll be disappointed, because they will become hard and stringy and no one will want to eat them.

Not only that, but if you allow the beans to develop big seeds, the plant will think that no more flower production is required, because it's done the bizzo by producing ripe seeds for a future generation, and so it will be a lot less prolific than a plant whose beans are regularly harvested.

Just remember, harvesting encourages heavier cropping

Never mind if you are eating green beans with your breakfast egg, packing beans for your children's lunch boxes, and drinking bean tea with your runner bean Chinese stir-fry - you can always freeze them, give them away, or swop them with a friendly gardener for something more exotic.

Grow More Bean Plants Than You Need - In case you lose some of your plants to Garden Pests

Three Slugs Devouring a Bean Plant
Three Slugs Devouring a Bean Plant | Source

Slugs Love Them

Plant more seeds than the number you actually need, because runner bean plants are prone to mishaps, like getting snapped off, or getting eaten by predators.

Slugs love them, and even birds or squirrels can cause damage to your precious seedlings.


Store Beans for Eating, also for Sowing

Beans to eat this year and bean plants to sow next year

Beans will keep for up to a week in your fridge.

If you freeze beans, it's best to do so immediately after picking them.

And don't forget to allow one or two bean pods to mature on the bean plant, so that you can grow some more beans next year. Leave them on the plant until you can see the beans bulging inside the pods - that means they are mature.

Make sure you allow the beans which you have harvested for seeds to dry out before storing them, or they will go mildewy.

I discovered at the beginning of April that my own beans were damp and had mildew on them, but planted them anyway. They all failed to germinate. Lesson learnt.

Vegetable Plot

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Is Crop Rotation Necessary?

Short answer: for beans - no

Traditional gardeners use crop rotation, i.e. not planting the same type of plant in the same place every year, to prevent the build up of disease and using up the nutrients in the soil. However, Peas, French Beans and Runner Beans (legumes) do not need to be rotated and can be grown in the same plot for several years without problem.

On the other hand, some people like to rotate their bean plants because legumes store nitrogen in their roots and these nutrients are beneficial to other plants

My Cat Pussums Sitting on the Compost Bin

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Take This Poll About Composting - See How You Measure Up Against Other Pollsters

Just a bit of fun!

Some people insist on making their own compost, but lots of otherwise right-thinking people don't bother, for one reason or another -

Which category are you?

Do you make your own compost?

See results

Runner Beans by Night

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    • TheresaMarkham profile image

      TheresaMarkham 6 years ago

      Beautiful lens work! My runner beans grew like wildfire last year & were VERY productive! (couldn't keep up w/them) Love 'em! Looking forward to another good year - planting @ late May in my NW NJ Zone (waiting, waiting, waiting, 6 more weeks ... yep, still waiting) :)

    • bjslapidary profile image

      bjslapidary 6 years ago

      Enjoy your lens. You do such a good job.

    • lizziehumphreys1 profile image

      lizziehumphreys1 6 years ago

      i really enjoyed reading this lens! :) definitely in my top 10 favourite most interesting lenses that I've read so far!

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 4 years ago

      This is a huge amount of tips and info. Angel Blessings!

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