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Runner bean Enorma
      Runner bean Enorma

Grow Runner Beans from Seed


Many people grow an abundant supply of tasty, succulent runner beans in their garden. Some people like to buy their plants, but this can be an unnecessary expense, and it can also cause problems if the plants have not been hardened off properly, or if the retailer has kept them outside in cold weather. It's much more fun to grow your own from seed, and April (in the UK) is the right time to start them off.

Runner beans are a half hardy plant, that is they are planted out in early summer after the risk of frost is gone. The runner beans are harvested until the plants are killed by frost in late autumn.


First start the seeds off into growth by chitting them. Chitting overcomes the problem of seeds rotting before they germinate. Chitting, shown in steps 1 to 6 below, is carried out using a plastic food container like those used for sandwiches or the freezer. For early plants, start growing them indoors first as described in the following paragraphs.
 


1. Line plastic food box
    with absorbent paper.


2. Spray the paper so that
    it is thoroughly moist.


3. Place the beans about
    1in. apart to give room
    for the roots to grow.


  Lay a water retentive liner such as a folded paper kitchen towel in the base of the box. Spray the paper towel evenly with water to ensure that it is thoroughly moist all over. Pour away any excess water. Place the bean seeds evenly over the damp towel, about an inch or so apart, to allow for as little root disturbance as possible when the roots grow.
 


4. Label the lid and put it
    on the box.


5. Leave the box in a warm
    place such as an airing
    cupboard.


6. Inspect the seeds daily.
    When they have
    germinated with 1in.
    long roots they can be
    potted up.


Put the lid on the box. Label the box, most important if your are growing different varieties or other types of seed as well. Place the box in a warm place such as the airing cupboard or sunny window ledge.
 


7. Fill a pot with compost
    and insert sprouted
    seed.


8. When the runner bean
    plants are this size
    harden them off in
    a cold frame.


9. Plants should be
    hardened off in a cold
    frame for 2 weeks.


After the first week inspect the seed boxes carefully each day to check on germination. After the seeds have germinated and their roots are an inch long they can be planted into pots. Fill a 3 and a half inch pot with John Innes Potting Compost No. 1. Make a generous sized hole in the centre of the pot so that the seed can be just laid into it with the root pointing down, but without dibbing the root down into the compost and bruising it in anyway. Fill the surrounding area of the hole with compost to within half an inch from the top of the pot to leave room for watering.

Water the pots to ensure the compost is moist but not saturated. Then place the pots in a warm position where there is plenty of light, for example in a cold frame, greenhouse or on a sunny windowledge. Check regularly that the pots are not showing signs of drying out, watering when necessary.

The plants can be set out into the open ground from mid May (in UK) if the weather is mild. But if temperatures are low, wait until around the end of May or June in the South, and two weeks later in the North.

If the plants were grown on a warm windowledge or in a greenhouse, harden the plants off first by growing them outdoors for two weeks first either in a cold frame, gradually opening it up over this period, or on a sheltered patio. Ensure that you start the hardening off period during a mild spell to avoid suddenly checking the growth of the plants.

Remember to dig over the site for the runner beans in the autumn or winter and incorporate plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. When the plants are ready for planting out, fork into the topsoil 2-3oz of a general fertiliser such as Growmore.
 


10.Erect stakes along the row
      and plant the runner bean
      plants out from mid-May
     (in UK).

Before planting out, place stakes or other means of support in position. A ridge support system can be made by pushing in 8ft. bamboo canes an an angle every 12-18in. Cross the canes at the top and tie them there to a horizontal one.

Another support system is the wigwam. Here 8ft. bamboo canes are spread 12-18in. apart to form a circle 3ft. across. They are pushed in at an angle so that the tops of the canes can be tied together at the centre. Alternatively, an 8ft. cane can be pushed vertically into the ground at the centre of the circle and the plants can be trained up stout strings stretched from the top of the cane to a ring of pegs. There are numerous other methods for supporting beans, such as wire netting stretched between large posts, as well as several commercial support systems.


 

To plant out use a trowel to dig a hole for each plant close to the inner side of the support. Loosen the soil around the hole. Turn the plant and pot upside down. Then tap the rim of the pot gently on the edge of a firm surface to release the rootball and compost of the plant from the pot in one piece. Place the rootball and compost in the hole and cover with soil. Firm the plant down and spray with water to moisten the plant and surrounding soil.

Plant out only sturdy plants with good root growth and at least two pairs of leaves. Slugs usually kill plants only when they eat young shoots, so they are not likely to do much damage to these more mature specimens.
 


11. Soon the the plants will climb
     to the top of the stakes and set
     flower.

As the plants grow upwards, encourage them to twist round their supports. When they reach the top, pinch out the growing tips to encourage growth from below.

Runner beans do not normally suffer from many pests and dieseases, but they are commonly attached by blackfly. An attack can be overcome by using an insecticide or, preferably, wash the blackfly off with soapy water.

Ensure that the plants never lack moisture. If you want a large crop, use a liquid fertiliser every 10 days after the flowers have appeared. In the evenings after really hot days, use a hose to spray the plants. Pick the beans regularly. Never let the interval between picking be too long.

If you use established varieties such as Enorma, Streamline, Achievement, Scarlet Emperor, Scarlet Runner or Painted Lady you should always get a good crop.


 

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All rights reserved. (c) B V & T M Wood
 

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