Spring: Preparing for Runner Beans in the Field

The mid section of our garden has always been referred to as an allotment but as the rest of the garden has come into play, especially under our Wartime Garden years, we have yearned to do something different with this 150 foot plus area. It is only 25 foot wide and some of this is lost to a hornbeam hedge that enshrines the entire length; there as a windbreak, which is needed on a hillside. This year we are tearing out all the paths, moving the utility shed, digging up the fruit bushes and creating one large area that we call the 'field'. It's a large area but means we can have longer rows of produce and more importantly change it from a four bed rotation model to a twelve bed one bringing in needed green manures, flowers and heavy duty crops that we can store. This has meant a heavy manuring schedule as we want to bring the whole garden into use this year, including a section by the house, earmarked for chickens. Part of using manure means knowing which crops use the most and Runner Beans are hungry crops.

Preparing the ground for runner beans.

You can grow runner beans in a large pot as well as in open ground. The key is to prepare the ground or pot well. In open ground you dig a trench a spit deep (a spit isn't you cursing the stone in the soil, it is the depth of your spade) and one spit wide (this again is not you swearing so much that foaming spit from your mouth hits your neighbours kids), as you can see in the above photo we use an old scaffold board to keep a straight edge and it stops us from falling in the hole. We kid you not. Andrew has been found on his back in shallow ditches more times than you have drunk water. It all cases it had nothing to do with him coming home from the pub. A board by the side allows you to put your foot on something without compressing the soil. If you are growing in a pot, place crocks (broken bits of pot or grit) in the bottom, add a good layer of manure and at least 8-9 inches of a good top soil/compost (50:50).

Using manure to grow beans.

Back in the open ground model, you fill the trench with manure, don't be cheap, don't skimp, don't see it as a second date. Fill it deep, be charming and get a nice layer of it in the bottom. It will feed your beans and retain water for water hungry runner beans. Then find two willing saps...helpers, to back fill the trench and put in the bean poles. Then repeat on the opposite side, leaving 2-3 feet between rows.

Growing beans can be a family affair and great for small kids #lifeonpigrow

Bean poles are anything a bean can scramble up and to be honest if you can get hazel or ash poles, grab them. They will last many seasons and beat bamboo canes hands down. Though bamboo is a diverse product, there is something worrying about the growing trade in bamboo canes. An imported product that is ground hungry and as a product needs to be fully investigated to see whether it is sustainable and ethical. It would not be the first time gardeners have been caught out by cheap products from poor sources that exploit workers and communities. This is a Life on Pig Row thing, you don't have to agree with us, and we won't criticize you for using them, we have used them in the past but for us it is better the devil you know and to that end, we use only locally cut hazel poles. To brutally honest, we use hazel because beans grab to it much easier than bamboo. Over a season we won't ever have to tie our runner beans in and anyone who uses bamboo knows that they can spend hours with bits of string, tying their beans back onto the cane. 

Hazel or bamboo canes? Hazel has much more going for it #lifeonpigrow

We have even gone to the long term provision of planting hazel in our hedges on Pig Row for coppicing in 6-7 years time to give us truly hyper local hazel poles and pea sticks. However, we have in the past used old bed spring bases lashed to two posts driven into the ground. The idea is to basically look around your area, your garden and if you have something that beans, peas and cucumbers will romp up, why go out and buy something you don't need? Sure, a bed spring base may look ugly now but when the beans have romped all over it, it will be a work of art. However, if bean poles are something you love most than a hazel bean pole 'A' frame is far more beautiful and sturdier compared to a bamboo 'A' frame. 

Always cross brace a runner bean support #lifeonpigrow

We put in cross bracing poles at a 45 degree angle to stop the whole thing swaying over summer (if you use bamboo, do the same). Even when you tie poles together with good string it will over a season start to sag with the weight of beans, rain and wind. The braces keep it sturdy and the manure beneath will be the powerhouse that will keep you in beans all summer and autumn. Runner beans are a great crop for us because they are versatile, easy to freeze, easy to store and more importantly easy to collect seed off for next year. They are a crop that never tastes the same from week to week during the growing season. Try them.

What have we learnt about growing runner beans? (#saveourskills)
  1. Manure is vital for a good bean crop. It will feed your plants and retain water during the season.
  2. Leave 2-3 feet between each side of the 'A' frame.
  3. Hazel and ash poles are easier for beans to scramble up than bamboo canes. Saving you valuable tying in time.
  4. That beans can scramble up anything, so take a look around your garden.
  5. Make sure whatever pole you use that it comes from an ethical source.
  6. Always cross brace an 'A' frame bean support to avoid collapse later in the season.

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