A prolific climbing bean that offers a long-running harvest of delicious, scrunchy beans that are often so good they just have to be eaten raw. The basketball player of the vegetable garden, a climbing bean can scale heights of up to ten feet. Kids love planting them for their ‘Jack and the beanstalk’.‘Scarlet Runner’, an old variety of climbing bean, was first used as an ornamental plant when they were introduced from their native Mexico to Europe around 400 years ago.
Companions Sweet corn, cabbage, broccoli, kale.
Quantity 1 plant per person
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Shiny Fardenlosa grows to about head height and produces stringless, flat, glossy green pods.
Sutton’s Giant large green bean pods with purple beans – fun for kids as it gets huge.
Emu heritage variety that produces medium-sized, juicy rounded pods over a long period.
Scarlet Runner heritage variety and an old favourite with pods that are best eaten at around finger to hand length before they go stringy. Can eat the beans separately when they have matured in the pods.
Borlotti heritage kidney bean variety with red-flecked pods. Beans are shelled before using fresh or dried.
Late October in warmer areas and December in cooler areas after frosts have passed.
Climbing beans like shade on their roots and plenty of sun for their high climbing, hard-working foliage. They are usually grown on wigwams and other such structures made of bamboo or tea tree poles and these can take up a bit of space. Often this finds them at the southern end of a bed where the shade that is cast by the leafy wall of their foliage is not a problem to other plants also seeking sunshine. Wind can damage climbing bean plants – especially as they extend their soft stems when starting to grow onto their supporting frame – so best to put them in a sunny and sheltered spot if you have one to spare.
Climbing beans produce a fleshy, tuberous root that swells as it fosters a considerable amount of twining stems and foliage. To produce this volume of foliage they need plenty of nutrition. I prepare the ground for my climbing beans in late winter when I first start thinking about getting pots and seeds together for the spring sowing. It doesn’t really matter if you wait until its planting time though. The important thing is to stock your larder well so you’ll be rewarded with a bumper crop. Fill your soil with chopped up seaweed, sheep pellets, compost, rotted horse manure and turn into the soil so it’s a bit like a muffin mix – full of visible ingredients.
Climbing beans are generally sown indoors in small pots or punnets so that hey can get a head start and be ready to go when the weather outdoors has warmed up and all risk of frosts has passed in early to mid spring. I always ask my boys to help with this as its fun for them to see how small the beans are at the start compared to the towering mass of foliage that comes later on. To improve chances of germination it is worth soaking bean seeds overnight. Next day, fill your peat pots with seed raising compost and push two beans about a thumb’s depth into the mix. Place on a tray or a saucer on a sunny window sill, in a cold frame or a greenhouse. It can be fun to watch the beans push their way through the surface and stretch upwards as they produce their first few sets of leaves. When seedlings are about the height of your longest finger and have a good set of heart-shaped, pointy leaves they are ready for the garden.
You’ll find the shelves in your local garden centre veg. section heaving with climbing bean seedlings at the right time if you decide not to sow.
Place your beans about a hand’s length apart and push them gently into the soil at the base of your canes. Gently firm the soil around each plant and give them a good drink. Using pea straw or you own home made mulch cover surrounding soil to about a thumb’s depth to keep in moisture and keep out weeds.
If you are thinking of planting up a wigwam made from bamboo canes then the canes of your wigwam to be pushed into the soil around a minimum diameter of a decent stride – or a metre – at its base. If planting on a succession of crossed bamboo canes then your two rows of canes should be about a minimum distance of a decent stride apart – or a metre – at their base.
Climbing beans can be grown in containers – half barrels are great for this. Make sure you provide a planter that can offer minimum soil depth and width of about a forearm’s length. You will still need to provide the support of something like a bamboo cane wigwam – this can look quite cool over a big pot. Hand watering is usually required for container-grown plants and it pays to mulch well once plants are in.
Sweetcorn can be used as a living trellis for runner beans to scamper up. There is a cool planting combination called ‘The three sisters’ – originating from native American growers – that sees a ring of half a dozen or so sweetcorn plants with a squash or pumpkin planted in their midst and a couple of climbing bean plants growing up around their outside. The beans clamber up the corn and tie them together whilst fixing nitrogen into the soil. The corn benefits from the extra nitrogen and provides a climbing frame for beans and squash/cucumber. The squash/cucumber climbs on the corn and its broad leaves provide shade at the base of the corn – keeping roots cool and shading out weeds.
When the seedlings have reached the bottom rung of your support structure – say about a couple of hand’s length above ground – pinch the tips off all shoots to encourage branching and multiple fruiting stems. Once the wavering stems touch one of your canes then they are away. Watering has to be kept up when weather is dry or beans might end up tough.
You can give your climbing beans a boost with liquid feed every couple of weeks to boost the potential harvest.
Green and black Shield bugs may turn up in numbers and start eating holes in beans. These can be removed by hand in the cool of the morning before they become too agile.
Aphids may also come calling – in which case treat any visible infestations with Neem oil, Garlic oil spray or Tomato leaf spray.
Its amazing how quickly the small beans appear after the vibrant red flowers and even more amazing how quickly they elongate to a bean that is fit for picking. To keep your crop coming you must pick the beans as they become ready. You can eat them when they get to finger length or wait until they stretch to the length of your hand from palm to finger tip. If you leave your beans on the plant for too long they may become stringy which means its chutney making time.
In warmer, frost free areas at the end of the summer you simply cut down the dead stems of your beans and remove canes to storage. The fat roots can be left in the ground and mulched heavily – in all likelihood they will sprout anew next spring. In cooler areas dig up roots because frost will kill them. Save some bean seeds for sowing next spring.