Runner (String) Bean

Runner Beans

Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) are usually available in the shops well past their best, and are much better when picked and cooked fresh. Originating from South America, they are larger and coarser than green beans but have a better flavour. In addition to a long season of nutritious pods, runner beans are also grown for their decorative flowers.

How to Cook >> Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: Deeply dug, rich, non-acid, moisture retentive soil.

Conditions: Full sun.

Ease of Cultivation: Moderate

Type: Legume (podded) vegetable.

Hardiness: Frost tender.

When to Sow: May to June.

Harvest Season: Summer to Autumn.

Planting and Growing Runner Beans

Preparation

Runner beans need a deeply worked soil with plenty of organic matter added to help retain moisture. Lime the soil if necessary.

Both dwarf and climbing forms are available. Climbing varieties require support on stout canes and shelter from strong winds.

A traditional method of growing climbing runner beans is to create a bean trench and A-Frame, as follows:

  • Dig out a trench 3 ft (90 cm) wide and 2 ft (60 cm) deep. Make it as long as you need.
  • Fork over the base of the trench and scatter a generous helping of well-rotted manure or home-made compost in the bottom. Shredded newspaper or cardboard will even do if you have nothing better.
  • Water well and refill the trench with soil, mixing it with the compost as you go.
  • Rake in a general-purpose fertilizer, such as pelleted poultry manure or growmore, and leave the soil to settle for a couple of weeks before sowing.
  • Set up a double row of 8 ft (250 cm) tall canes or poles, set firmly in the ground either side of the trench, angled in towards the centre. Tie them in to a horizontal cane set across the top, to form a solid "A" shaped framework. However if you only have a short trench for a few bean plants then a simple wigwam of canes tied-in at the top should suffice.
  • The beans can then be planted or sown below each cane and tied-in as they grow up the supports.

When to Sow

Sow from mid-May to mid-June, in rows, 2 inch (5 cm) deep and 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm) between seeds. Spacing 2 ft (60 cm) between rows.

They can also be sown in individual pots or trays under glass and planted out after all risk of frost has gone.

Nip out the growing tip of climbing plants once they reach the top of the supports, to encourage more side shoots to form.

For dwarf varieties, sow or plant beans 6 inches (15 cm) apart, in single rows. Pinch out any long shoots. Dwarf varieties can also be successfully grown in large containers of rich compost, so long as sufficient water is provided, along with a monthly feed of liquid fertilizer.

Taking Care of Runner Beans

The plants are not hardy so a late frost can blacken or even kill them. If a late frost is forecast, protect with horticultural fleece overnight.

Keep weed free and water liberally in hot weather.

Pests and Diseases

Young growth is susceptible to slugs, snails and black bean aphid. The foliage can be affected by chocolate spot or powdery mildew but this is rare.

Harvesting & Storing Runner Beans

Harvest when the pods are 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), usually around 14 weeks after sowing. Pick as soon as they ready, before they become hard and stringy. Pick regularly to ensure a continuous crop. If you let one bean on a plant run to seed it can stop further production, so check carefully among the foliage for any overlarge stringy pods and remove these for the compost heap.

Runner beans are best when picked, cooked and eaten the same day. If you have more than you can use, store the surplus in a jug of water, stem end in the water, in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Once the season is over, recycle the top growth on the compost heap but dig the roots and lower stems into the ground to provide a nitrogen rich, green manure.

Freezing Runner Beans

Wash the pods thoroughly, top and tail (trim off the stalk and bottom end) and trim away any stringy edges. Cut the pods into diagonal lengths and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and cool before packing into freezer bags or containers and freeze. They should keep for up to 12 months in the freezer. Cook from frozen for 5 - 7 minutes.

How to Cook Runner Beans

Wash the pods thoroughly, top and tail and trim away any stringy edges. Cut the pods into thin diagonal lengths or shred into long thin strips, and boil in a saucepan of lightly salted water for 5-7 minutes. Drain well before serving.

Nutritional Value

Runner beans have a high fibre content and are a good source of Vitamin C, folate and iron.

Popular Varieties

Runner Beans

Runner Bean 'Benchmaster' is a red flowered bean that produces smooth, straight pods, over 16in (40cm) long. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Celebration' (RHS AGM variety) is a high yielding variety, producing tender fleshy, straight, smooth pods with an excellent flavour. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Desiree' is a fine white-flowered variety that provides heavy crops of long, broad, almost stringless pods. Ideal for large or small gardens. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Enorma' (RHS Award of Garden Merit) is a long bean variety with smooth, slender flavoursome pods, up to 20in (50cm) long. Ideal for large or small gardens. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Marshalls. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Firestorm' is a self fertile, scarlet-flowered, runner bean that provides a bumper crop of delicious, stringless beans. Available at Marshalls. Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Lady Di' is a red flowered variety producing completely stringless, 12in (30cm) long pods. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Moonlight' is a white-flowering variety that combines the valuable characteristics of French beans with those of runner beans, resulting in extra smooth, very fleshy, stringless pods up to 10in (25cm) long, with a great texture and true runner bean taste. Available at Marshalls. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Polestar' (RHS AGM variety) produces stringless pods in clusters of fleshy, flavoursome beans reaching 10in (25cm) in length. Early to flower and crops well over a long season. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Marshalls. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Red Rum' is an early cropping variety of 8in (20cm) succulent pods. Produces very little foliage making harvesting easier. Good choice for organic gardeners. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Scarlet Emperor' bears smooth textured, dark-green pods reaching 12-15in (30-37cm) in length. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'St George' (RHS AGM variety) is an unusual bicoloured red and white flowered variety that produces heavy yields of pale green pods, 12in (30cm) in length. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Marshalls. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean Scarlet Emperor is excellent for freezing and a heavy cropper, also popular as a show vegetable. Harvest from August to September. Available at Gardening Direct.

Runner Bean 'Stardust' is a good vigorous cross between a French Bean and a runner, which bears self-fertile white flowers and smooth stringless beans. Available at Marshalls.

Runner Bean Streamline is a reliably heavy and vigorous cropper, also suitable for freezing. Harvest from June to September. Available at Gardening Express.

Runner Bean 'Tenderstar' (New variety) produces and abundance of 8in (20cm) long smooth pods throughout the summer, regardless of the weather. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'White Emergo' (RHS AGM variety) a heavy yielding variety that produces long, smooth pods with a superb flavour. A vigorous variety that copes well even under adverse weather conditions. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'White Lady' is a vigorous, high yielding variety that bears tender and delicious long, mid green beans that are stringless with a wonderful smooth texture. Height 118in (300cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Marshalls. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Dwarf Runner Beans

Runner Bean Hestia a popular high yield and disease resistant dwarf variety, providing high yields of long, straight, stringless pods with good flavour. Ideal for growing in a container on the patio or in the smaller garden. Attractive red and white flowers. Height: 45cm (18). Spread: 30cm (12). Available at Gardening Direct. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Runner Bean 'Millionaire' produces stringless, tender pods of outstanding quality on short compact plants. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

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