Runner beans are a favourite crop for the allotment or the kitchen garden. In fact they are probably the most cost effective vegetable you can grow. Champion Show grower John Trim runs us through the details of growing runner beans for the show bench.
This is Part One of Three Parts on Exhibition Runner Beans:
- Exhibition Runner Beans for Horticultural Show
- Cultivation of Exhibition Runner Beans for Horticultural Show
- Staging of Exhibition Runner Beans for Horticultural Show
From my Southern location I start picking beans at the end of June from a mid March sowing. These are started off in a cool greenhouse and planted out in early May. When I start harvesting shop prices are sky high, so as well as sampling an early season delicacy I am saving myself money.
Although most people would not rate runner beans as a hard vegetable to grow, they actually rate 18 points on the RHS/NVS scale of difficulty, so there is more to them than meets the eye when growing exhibition runner beans for show.
It is important that the beans conform to the following meritorious conditions. They should be long, slender, dead straight, good colour, nice and fresh with no visible outward sign of pods showing.
Stalks should be intact and all trimmed to the same length. The bean should snap clean with no strings holding the two halves together.
If you notice the beans just beginning to swell grasp a pod between finger and thumb and give it a gentle squeeze. If you hear a pop, nine times out of ten the bean will then snap clean with no strings. ‘No pop, discard the bean’. The beans should also be the same width over all their length. Try and avoid those with skinny necks.
Preparing the Runner Bean Trench.
Choose a sheltered position that gets a decent amount of sun. Then in the autumn, in time honoured fashion, dig out an 18”/45cm deep trench by approximately 2’/60cm wide.
If your soil is very free draining then line the bottom with a thick layer of newspaper to aid moisture retention. What we are trying to create is a water retentive soil as runner beans thrive in those conditions.
During the winter back fill the trench with compostable vegetable material. Do this in 4”/10cm layers, one of compost and the other of top soil, until you finish off with a nice mound.
You could incorporate well rotted manure but avoid anything fresh as this contains high concentrations of nitrogen and would only result in lush vegetation with few and crooked beans.
Runner beans don’t need extra nitrogen as they make their own by extracting it from the soil and fixing it in nodules on their roots. A couple of weeks before planting rake in 4oz/115grams of bonemeal plus 4oz/115grams of ground limestone per square yard. The ideal soil Ph for runner beans should be 6.45/7.00.
Best Exhibition Runner Bean Varieties for Show Growing
The variety that wins at most of the major shows is Stenner. This bean a derivative from Enorma was reselected over many years by the late Bryn Stenner of South Wales.Other excellent varieties are Enorma Elite from ‘Select Seeds’ and Liberty from ‘Robinsons Seeds’.
Sowing & Growing Runner Beans
The beans are sown on edge in a 4’/10cm pot 2”/5cm deep with the scar on the bean facing upwards. Any basic potting compost will do. Do not soak the beans before sowing as this could induce the onset of ‘Halo Blight’.
The plants can be set out in mid May once all danger of frost has past. I appreciate that in the Midlands and North of the country this will be appreciably later. Adjust sowing time accordingly.