Growing Runner BeansRunner beans like a sunny well drained spot, with a moist, fertile soil and prefer to be kept out of the wind (living on the top of a hill surrounded by open fields, protecting the crop from the prevailing wind is much easier said than done.) Runner beans only take about 10 weeks to transform from a small plant to a large mass of 6’ tall intertwined stems covered in large leaves and either red or white flowers dependent upon the variety. The petals then drop off the flowers and they very quickly start to grow large long beans. As long as you pick the beans before they are too old (as they eventually go very tough and stringy) they are an amazingly fresh tasting vegetable. You need to keep on top of the harvesting though, as picking the beans off encourages new flowers and beans to develop. If I struggle to keep on top of it I begrudgingly remove the beans that have over developed and add them to the compost heap, to encourage more smaller fresher beans.
Soil PreparationMy runner beans (along with the other Legumes) go in the soil the year following the potatoes. The soil is hence normally well dug and still full of well rotted manure. They don't like acidic soil and hence people suggest liming before putting them in. This year is the first year that I have tested my soil. I found it to be a "neutral" ph and hence did not bother with adding the lime. Another tradition when it comes to runner beans is to dig a trench before the winter and fill it up with "greens" so that they can commence rotting down. Soil is then placed on top of the trench in late spring when they are planted out. I have seen others do this but I prefer to top up the bed with some well rotted manure before I plant them up.
Another method I like to use is to cover the area with weed membrane. It is not strictly speaking necessary, but it does avoid a lot of hoeing "in and around" the cane structure that you need to put up.
The final thing I need to add about runner beans, albeit probably the most important, is that runner beans are not frost hardy. One light frost and you are starting again from scratch. Every year I chance it and every year I end up starting from scratch (This will be the last year though!!) From now on I will only ever start my beans off (normally inside in individual pots) after the middle of may, with the view of planting them out in early June....