Gardening: Now is the time to sow the quintessential runner bean

Runner beans are the quintessential summer crop, reminiscent of cottage gardens and golden, hazy days – and now’s the time to sow them.

Friday, 26th April 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Friday, 26th April 2019, 5:10 pm
A large pile of pickings of runner beans.

Choose white-flowered varieties such as Moonlight, as they withstand some of our poor North East summers well.

Sow under cover indoors in April and early May in deep pots (15cm/6in) with multipurpose compost and water well (I’ve used family yoghurt pots with success).

Moonlight's pretty white flowers.

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Sow two seeds per pot, 5cm (2in) deep, thinning to the strongest one after germination.

Grow on in temperatures over 12°C (54°F) in a greenhouse or sunny windowsill.

Harden off the young plants gradually and plant out when the risk of frost has passed in June.

When the soil has reached 12°C (54°F), seeds can be station sown in their permanent positions every two weeks until the end of July.

Young pods forming on Moonlight.

Plant two beans at every point, then thin to the strongest. If your soil is heavy, pre-warm it by covering it with cloches for a month before sowing.

Runner beans thrive in a rich deep, fertile soil in full sun. A bean trench is a traditional way of preparing the soil and can be done well in advance.

Dig out a trench approximately 90cm (3ft) wide and 60cm (2ft) deep. Scatter well-rotted manure, home-made compost, or even old newspapers/cardboard/kitchen peelings (not cooked) in the bottom. Leave soil to settle for two weeks before planting.

When shoots have reached the top of their supports, pinch them out.

Runner beans need lots of water – five to nine litres per sq m (one to two gallons per sq yd) every three to four days.

Beans are ready when the pods are about 15 to 20cm (six to eight inches) long, snap easily and the seeds are small and pale in colour.

Pick regularly to encourage further pod production; every two or three days.

Support on a double row of inwardly sloping 2.4m (8ft) tall bamboo canes tied near the top to form an A-frame. These are secured to a horizontal cane across the top.

Using 10cm (4in) pea/bean netting secured to a wall makes a good alternative.


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Divide clumps of herbaceous perennials that you want to propagate, those that have become too large for their allotted space. Bamboos and clumps of bulbs or rhizomes can be divided in the same way. Just make sure that the transplanted divisions have roots, shoots, and are given adequate water to settle into their new positions.

Prune Penstemon and other slightly tender plants such as Teucrium. Make the cuts just above fresh, new shoots.

Apply a general-purpose fertiliser to borders and beds. Take care not to damage emerging shoots, or to burn them with fertiliser.

Place card collars around the stems of brassicas to prevent an attack of cabbage root fly.

Sow pots of herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil.

Cover blossoming fruit trees with sheets of fleece on frosty nights to protect embryo fruit.

Sow seeds of the following veg if conditions are fine: beetroot, parsnips, turnips, onions, peas and mangetout, broad beans, lettuce and salad leaves, spinach, radish, rocket, mizuna, pak choi, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.