How To Grow Runner Beans (plus bean frame designs!)

Since 2010 we have been growing our own runner beans using a new and improved growing method. We originally saw this on the Allotment Garden forum and ever since we have been using this growing method as the results speak for themselves.

In this article you will learn how to grow runner beans as well as how to construct your own runner bean frame…

The New & Improved Runner Bean Growing Method

 

 

 

 

Images copyright (c) L Williams.

Preparing your growing area starts very early in the season, usually in January we dig a trench about 1 foot deep and 2 feet wide. This trench is then filled with manure, compost and kitchen waste which is then covered with an inch of soil.

This trench is then left untouched until mid-May or June when sowing begins.

Building Your Runner Bean Growing Frame

This frame (design to left) is designed to make it very easy to pick your beans. It also provides all the support needed for the huge number of leaves and beans that one plant can produce.

My frame was built using 2 inch square timber, although you can use any strong wood or metal posts. The idea is to make the frame point upwards, with the back posts being about 3ft tall and the front being 6ft tall. The individual beans supports can then be made with bamboo canes or strong string, 6 inches apart.#

Images copyright (c) L Williams.

The smallest side of the frame should point north as the beans will always grow south towards the sun.

You can learn more about this growing method along with a huge discussion here.

Other More Traditional Growing Methods:

  • Plant them in a tub, using a central pole with string radiating out for support
  • Make a wigwam of six or seven poles planted in a circle and tied at the top
  • Train the plants up netting, supported between strong posts
  • Use a row of poles, connected by strong wire and supported at either end by stout stakes

3 Recommended Runner Bean Varieties

Runner Bean Enorma – Enorma is a very good performer even if it isn’t given the best conditions, it will still give a pretty good crop if the soil isn’t the best or if the weather is bad. This is a gardeners favourite and is popular because it is extremely reliable. Often grown for the local show.

Runner Bean Scarlet Emperor – Scarlet Empire is earlier than a lot of varieties, often growing to 11 feet tall this variety is huge and grows incredibly fast. Expect huge, tasty crops from July onwards. Even when large the beans are stringless.

Runner Bean Wisley Magic– Beans from this plant can reach fourteen inches long, the beans are best picked while smaller though and taste very tender. This is a variety that has been grown for a long time and has a RHS award of garden merit. Grows up to 10 feet tall.

Planting Runner Beans & Important Aftercare

It’s important to wait until the danger of frost has passed before sowing. When planting it’s wise to sow a few extra seeds to fill in any gaps that occur as it’s quite common to lose a few plants from frost or the slugs. Aim for five or six plants per person, or double this amount if you’re hoping to freeze some too.

You can also start your plants off in pots (we would recommend roottrainers) indoors as this will give them the very best start with no danger of frost. Be careful not to disturb the roots when you transplant them outside.

Plant out 6 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart.

Remember to weed around the young plants over the next few weeks, making sure that you don’t damage them. As the plants start to wind up their support, tie them loosely but securely to their own poles, canes or string. If you don’t do this, they can sometimes get very tangled up and difficult to control! When they reach the top of the canes, pinch out the tops. This encourages lateral growth and helps to increase the amount of beans you’ll get.

Be careful not to give your plants too much water when they’re still growing, as you’ll encourage leaf growth at the expense of flower and bean growth. If possible, add a mulch (a layer of grass clippings or bark fibre) to well-watered soil around the base of the plants. This slows the rate at which the water evaporates from the soil and helps smother weeds, too.

Make sure you give your plants enough moisture when in flower, though, otherwise the flowers will drop off and the pods won’t develop. Too little water is actually harmful as it encourages the roots to come to the surface where they will dry out quickly. You can also feed every 7-10 days at this period if your plants are beginning to look tired.

Harvesting Your First Runner Beans

If you don’t want stringy beans (and who does?) pick you beans when they’re still small: that is, before the beans themselves make the pods look knobbly.

The golden rule is to keep picking them, making sure you harvest your crop every couple of days, if you leave them for longer you will find that some of the pods grow to full size. Once a pod has reached “maturity” the bean plants will stop producing more beans.

Although crop rotation is recommended, many very successful gardeners admit to growing beans in the same soil for 20+ years by simply adding manure and compost at the start of each season, this might be worth considering if you are building a bean frame. Otherwise don’t forget to take down, clean and store your frame, poles and nets, ready for next season.

Follow these instructions and you should have a great crop of beans until the first frosts start in Autumn.

GROWING TIP: At the end of the season dig in the roots of your runner beans, they are a valuable source of nitrogen which will improve the soil for next year!

Image source: “Munty’s Runner Bean Frame” forum post at Allotment.org.uk