Runner beans

Our runner beans are now growing like, well like beans I suppose 😉 They are making their way steadily up their supports, and starting to flower now, showing promise of lovely fresh runner beans for the table before too much longer. One of the joys of homegrown vegetables is the difference in taste that comes with freshly picked produce, and I am looking forward to our first feed of fresh runner beans.

Plant care

But, although the plants are growing well, we are not ready to put them on the menu yet. At this stage, the care of plants is a matter of four categories – support, pest damage, nutrition and general plant care.


If you are growing climbing runner beans, they need a reasonbly strong support to climb up. You may need to tie the climbing “nose” of the plant in to begin with, but the growing beans will soon find the structure and twine themselves around. I find something fascinating about watching the beans’ progress up the poles as they grow, Jack’s beanstalk had nothing on our runner beans 😀

Pest damage

There are one or two garden pests that love runner beans, and good plant care suggests that we need to be on the look-out for them.

Snails (and slugs) are one of the main culprits. They will eat away large patches of leaf and, if they catch the plant young enough, will strip the leaves right away to the bare stem, looking for all the world as though a swarm of locusts had just flown through. Snails will be found hiding in cool crevices – under or behind flower pots, under the rim of flower pots, in the spout of the watering can etc. The only thing to do with them is remove them – you can either kill them, or evict them to the garden of your nearest non-gardening neighbour 😉

Pea and bean weevils will also eat away at the bean leaves but, in their case, they will nibble away delicately at the edges of the leave, leaving them looking a little bit like the edges of a postage stamp. Once the beans are mature, they will generally recover from a weevil attack, but they can totally destroy seedlings.

Halo blight shows itself as yellow patches on leaves, with a brown centre to them. Called “halo blight” because the yellow rings take on the appearance of halos around the brown middles. The plants will be stunted and yields low. Destroy diseased plants and rotate your crops so that beans are not grown again in the same spot for some time.


It is possible for peas and beans to fail to flower if they have too much nitrogen. A balanced fertilizer with phosphorus and potash is needed for them.

Beans need plenty of water from the time the pods start to form, and mulching can help to keep the moisture levels up. A liquid feed in the water from time to time through cropping is needed.

General plant care

Hoe regularly around beans to keep the weeds down and the soil open.

Remove the growing tips once the plants reach the top of their supports – this will encourage the beans to thicken up from the bottom.

Once the pods have reached an edible size, be sure to pick them regularly. Firstly, they are much better to eat when they are young and tender and, secondly, if the pods are allowed to mature, the plants will stop producing any more.

Lastly – look forward to sitting down to a feast of fresh, tender, runner beans 🙂

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Runner bean trivia

What’s eating my runner beans?


The runner bean (Phaseolus Coccineus) is a relative newcomer to the UK. As a native of the high altitude (and cooler) parts of South America, where it has been used as a food crop for over 2000 years, it was brought across to Britain in the 17th century.

When the runner bean first arrived in Britain, it was grown exclusively as a decorative plant for it’s stunning displays of red flowers.

In Mexico, the starchy roots are used in cooking in addition to the pods, although it is said this side of the water that the roots are poisonous. Maybe the Mexicans have a special way of preparing them. If anyone knows the answer to this one, feel free to add a comment.

The pods of runner beans can be left to mature, and then shelled like peas to remove the bean seeds from the pod. The seeds are then dried for storage and are used for adding to stews etc in the same way as kidney beans, haricot beans etc.

When we talk about “green beans” we are referring, not to the colour of the pods, but to the practice of eating the runner bean pods before the bean seeds inside are fully ripened.

Four varieties of bean were brought to the UK in 1633. Two of these “Painted Lady” and “Scarlet Runner” are still amonst the most popular varieties grown today.

Although the bean is grown as an annual, it is by nature a perennial, and it is possible to overwinter the root tubers, and plant them out the following spring. I have to confess I have never done this, but it might be worth an experiment 🙂

In America it was grown as part of the “3 sisters” of beans, corn and squash. The corn was grown on a mound, with the beans grown alongside where they would grow up the corn like a trellis. The squash plants were planted amongst the corn and beans. These three plants appear to complement each other and each adds something to the partnership.

Grow runner beans in cotton wool with the kids

Start your runner beans in recycled newspaper pots

Pest damage to pot grown runner beans

Add your comments on runner beans

The runner beans on the balcony have been thriving until now. There is a lot of enjoyment to be had in pottering out onto the balcony with my early cup of coffee in my hand to water them, and seeing them growing like triffids in their pots 🙂 Better still was the feeling that, here on the balcony, they are safe from all the dangers associated with growing out in the open – being eaten by geese, rabbits, etc.

Runner beans in pots with bamboo wigwam showing snail damage

So I was more than a little distressed to find that they are being eaten in the night! Three days ago I went to water them and a few leaves had been eaten. Yesterday, a few more had gone. And this morning, all but two had been eaten in one of the pots, while the other pot remained largely untouched. The healthy pot had signs of pest damage on just a couple of the runner bean leaves.

Damaged leaves on runner bean plants

You can see, in this picture, the two or three leaves that have large holes in them

Damaged leaves on runner bean plants

And here you can see that the plant has been completely stripped of leaves, although the plant is not dead. It is breaking new buds and hopefully will recover.

So, what should I do about the damge to my runner beans?

The first thing to do is to identify just what the pest is. In this case I am fairly sure it is snails although I cannot, for the life of me, work out how the poor things managed to climb all the way up to my balcony – after that climb I guess he needs some sustenance so I can’t really blame him. But I dutifully set out to find the culprit. I hunted everywhere on the balcony, took everything apart and couldn’t find anything, that looked even remotely like a plant predator, anywhere. Eventually, after another cup of coffee, and a lot more searching, I found him. Just one BIG, JUICY snail. My runner beans had obviously done him the world of good, as he had taken on the proportions of one of those giant pet snails you see advertised.

After his marathon climb up the side of our building to the balcony, I hadn’t the heart to stomp on him, so he was removed to the trees behind the flats to take his chances. Funny, snail damage is something I have not had to contend with before. Between the ducks and the thrushes I never seem to have any problems with them in the garden. If it had been the garden beans that were being eaten, then it would have been beer traps and hope that the snails like beer as much as slugs seem to 🙂

But for now, my runner beans are safe, and can continue their growth into triffid-hood unmolested 🙂

Pests eating runner beans

Share your tips for dealing with slugs in the garden

Bamboo wigwams and other runner bean supports

Caring for runner beans

Sugar snap peas

Yesterday we planted our runner beans for the balcony experiment in their big pots.

When we lifted the newspaper pots from their box, the roots had started to grow out through the newspaper nicely and were ready to have more compost to grow into.

newspaper pots

Once we had them all safely in the pot, we put up a wigwam of bamboo canes for them to grow up.

wigwam for beans

Unfortunately I forgot that one of the pots was to be used for sugar snap peas, so I need to find another deep pot for those.

Obviously these pot-grown beans, having a lot less soil than their garden grown counterparts, will need a lot more feeding – barrowloads of muck aren’t going to cut it on my balcony 😀

Another issue that has raised its head is shade. It has dawned on me that, growing around a wigwam, those beans on the back of the wigwam aren’t going to receive as much natural sunlight as those on the front – will they fail to thrive, or will they curl to the front of the pot and all grow up in the sunshine? My money is on the latter – any thoughts?

I thought it was time I posted an update on the runner beans for the balcony project.

They were sown on Apil 3rd and I described that here.

After a week or ten days, they start to develop shoots

balcony beans

runner beans

As the shoots begin to grow, they start to demonstrate the biggest drawback to growing on a windowsill. Those on the inside (and also, on our windowsill, nearest the radiator) begin to grow faster and lean towards the light. You can see here that one bean in particular has raced away from the others. The first thing to do with this, is to turn them around regularly, placing the inside ones to the outside and the outside ones in. Incidentally, if you leave them until they have a pronounced lean before turning them, this is a great demonstration for children to show how plants look for the light. Wait until they are leaning, move them around, and before long they will straighten up and then lean in the new direction 🙂


Anyway – I digress – so keep moving them around to try to keep the growth as even as possible. Once the majority of the beans have come up and are showing leaves, you can “stop” them. Start to place them outside during the day. To begin with you need to wait until the day has warmed up, and bring them in again before the evening gets chilly. Make the days longer and once they are used to the chilly evening air, you can leave them out overnight. This has two effects. Firstly, it stops the mad race that growing inside in the warm will produce. Secondly, they have all the light they need so no longer have to grow leggy and lean for the light.

As you can see from this picture, the beans have more or less evened up and are now ready to plant on, along with the beans from the cotton wool experiment, into my big pot this weekend.

beans ready to plant on

Getting the beans planted in their pots

Apologies are in order. These updated photos of the cotton wool beans should have been posted a couple of days ago – somehow they got waylaid

This is the update from day 6 of runner beans in cotton wool

Looking fairly impressive for just 6 days old – the young bean plant now has a good shoot and two full leaves.

runner beans in glass with cotton wool

In this photo, you can see the roots developing further, with “branches” coming off the main root shoots.

runner beans in cotton wool

A quick update on how the runner beans in cotton wool are doing. It is day four, and we now have roots growing from the bean seeds.

Here you can see the root starting from the top of the bean seed.

Runner bean in cotton wool - roots

And Here the root can be seen sprouting from the right of the bean and growing down across the seed.

Runner beans project - roots

runner beans in cotton wool day 6 pictures

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