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Give your garden a running start: here's how to tame runner beans

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with a plant that gives the grower great returns

Michael Kelly Grower

INCREDIBLY PROLIFIC, INCREDIBLY attractive looking and easy to grow, runner beans plants will grow up to 10ft tall.

A row of them growing up a cane wigwam makes a great feature in the summer vegetable patch. The beans themselves are tasty and freeze well.

The only downside in fact to runner beans is that you will have to pick them every other day in the summer months – so don’t be tempted to sow too many of them! A single plant will produce up to a kilo of beans.


The seeds can be sown directly into the soil or in module trays ready for transplanting.

A disadvantage of the former is that slugs can get at the seedlings before they get a chance to get established. A disadvantage of the latter is that they can quickly outgrow their module tray; so when they are ready to plant out, they are REALLY ready to plant out!

Sow seeds in May, in pots, 5cm deep. There’s no point in sowing too early as they will be ready to transplant when the weather outside is too cold for them. You can sow an early crop in the polytunnel or greenhouse if you wish.


Plant three or four seedlings at the base of each cane – they seem to fare better when growing together like this. Tie them loosely to the support. They will very soon take hold and start to wind their way up the support at a rate of knots.

Hoe around the plants regularly to suppress weeds. Water regularly in dry weather particularly when the flowers start to form. Mulch around the plants if it’s very dry. Pinch out the growing tips when they reach the top of the support.


2351237268_d6340b96f9_o Pre-cooked beans Source: sierravalleygirl via Flickr

It takes about 3 months to get the first crop, but once it starts, you won’t be able to keep up.

Try to pick the beans while they are young – they get stringy as they get older. The more you pick, the more it will churn out.

Recommended Varieties

Enorma, Scarlet Emperor.


Runner beans are generally problem free, however slugs are a problem for seedlings – seems they absolutely love them.

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GIY Tips

1. Older beans have strings down both sides which are unpleasant to eat; cut them off. Slice beans and fry or boil them. They can also be blanched and frozen.

2. Bear in mind that the plants get incredibly heavy – make sure the support structure is solid.

Recipe of the Week – A spicy red pepper dressing for cooked French and runner beans

Source: nociveglia via Flickr

I think that Runner and French beans often don’t need anything more than a really good dressing to tart them up a bit. This beautiful red pepper dressing from Riverford Everyday and Sunday brings a bit of spice to proceedings.


  • 4 red peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 3 red onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • A pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • A slug of olive oil
  • A handful of fresh coriander leaves


Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place all the ingredients in a large roasting tray, except the coriander leaves. Roast together for 30 minutes until slightly caramelised. Blitz in a food processor and season well. Toss cooked French and runner beans in the dressing and sprinkle with coriander.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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