Celebrating Climbing Runner Beans

Runner beans are miraculous vegetables that will comfortably fulfil any gardener’s lofty ambitions to grow stunning plants that look attractive, flower freely, and produce an abundant harvest of delicious beans within a small space!

Runner bean ‘Firestorm’ was bred by Tozer Seeds in the UK. This modern runner bean variety has French bean genes in its heritage, which helps this variety be more successful at setting pods in poor weather conditions. Runner bean ‘Firestorm’ is a decorative, productive, and absolutely delicious runner bean!

I am a self-confessed runner bean fan.  For years, I’ve been running Runner Bean Trials searching for the best tasting and most productive runner bean varieties and the optimum growing methods to cultivate these vegetables.  The sweet and succulent, buttery yet fresh-tasting beans of ‘Firestorm’ were my favourite beans of all the varieties I trialled last year.  Other top tasting beans were runner bean ‘Polestar’, ‘Benchmaster’, and runner bean ‘St George’.

Looking to grow more plants for bees? This is Runner bean ‘St George’ being pollinated by a bee in my garden.
This is Runner bean ‘Polestar’. All of the varieties in this article are tall climbing beans that will grow at least 2m (6.5ft) tall. These plants can be grown up wigwams, on X-frames, or over Munty Bean Frames.

Tozer Seeds are a British seed company, based in Cobham.  Tozer’s innovate crossing of runner beans and French beans has created improved runner bean varieties including ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Snowstorm’ (both white flowered), and ‘Firestorm’ (red flowered).  These modern runner bean types are better equipped at coping with drought and high temperatures, they produce smooth, string-less beans, which have an excellent flavour and texture.  With their self-setting pods and large flowers, these varieties perform better in bad weather, and they’re a real joy to grow.

Runner bean ‘Moonlight’ has attractive white flowers that turn a soft golden colour after they’ve been pollinated. Take care to water your plants at least twice a week during dry periods; this is especially important whilst the runner bean plants are in flower.
Runner beans are pollinated by bees. This red-flowered runner bean is called ‘Firestorm’, a tall climbing bean that will grow at least 2m (6.5ft) tall.
Runner bean ‘Snowstorm’ is a tall climbing bean bred by Tozer Seeds in the UK. This runner bean variety has French bean genes in its genetics meaning that Runner bean ‘Snowstorm’ sets pods more readily than traditional runner bean varieties. I took this picture of a bumble bee pollinating a ‘Snowstorm’ flower in my garden.

Runner beans are tender plants that are killed by frosts.  If you’re sowing seeds before the middle of May it would be wise to cover your plants at night to protect them from cold temperatures.

I’ve taken this picture of one of my ‘Benchmaster’ runner bean seeds for you and zoomed you in for a close up look at a seed. Can you see the dimple? It’s on the left hand side of the white scar (the scar is the marker that shows where the seed was originally attached to the inside of the runner bean pod).

I am a member of the National Vegetable Society, where I have met many vegetable growers, including my friend Neil Hope.  Neil is a runner bean expert who always reminds us of the best way to sow runner bean seeds.  How can you determine which is the best direction to sow your seeds?  Runner bean seeds all have scars where the beans were originally attached to their seed pods.  If you look closely at a seed, you’ll see there is a tiny, raised bump or dimple at one side of the scar.  When sowing your runner bean seeds, sow the seed vertically, with the dimple facing downwards.  This ensures that as the seed germinates and the new shoot emerges, it is orientated in the optimum direction for growth.

I grew these ‘Benchmaster’ runner bean plants in Rootrainers filled with Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables & Salads. The plants in the outer sections of Rootrainers or seed trays are likely to dry out more quickly and may need extra watering.
Runner beans have long deep roots and are best grown in the soil; however, while they’re young seedlings these plants are very attractive to slugs and snails. If you’re starting your seeds off in containers, choose tall pots, empty toilet roll tubes, deep or maxi Rootrainers. Take care to plant your runner bean plants out before they get too tall or they’ll grow into one another and will be difficult to separate.

Mature runner bean plants are not troubled by slugs and snails, but young seedlings are vulnerable to attack from molluscs and can be decimated overnight.  For this reason, it is wise to start runner bean seeds off in pots.  Runner beans are deep rooted plants, so shallow pots are no use at all.  I use Haxnicks Rootrainers or empty toilet rolls filled with a peat-free, water-retentive compost, like Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables & Salads or homemade compost from my compost heaps.  Runner bean seeds germinate quickly in warm weather and will need regular watering – check your plants every day and be ready to plant your seedlings out fairly promptly.  Take care to plant your runner bean plants out before they reach 20cm (8″) in height.  Failure to do so can result in an annoying tangle of runner bean plants; avoid this problem by planting out your seedlings before they show any signs of needing support.

This is Runner bean ‘Moonlight’, a white-flowered tall climbing runner bean that was bred by Tozer Seeds in the UK.

It’s important to choose the sunniest position to plant your runner beans, as these plants simply will not grow in the shade and they don’t want to be too close to one another; space plants 30cm (12″) apart.  Runner beans thrive in rich, deep fertile soils.  Adding a mulch of homemade compost over the soil around your plants will be beneficial whatever type of soil you garden on.  Runner beans require regular irrigation.  Check your plants and be prepared to water your runner bean plants twice a week, administering a heavy soaking each time.  This is especially important whilst the plants are in flower.

Runner bean ‘Snowstorm’ is a superb runner bean to grow. This tall climbing variety produces long string-less pods with a smooth texture and delicious flavour.

There are many ways to train runner beans, you could use a support frame, a trellis, or an X-frame.  Why not create a large wigwam with an opening for children (or adults!) to sit inside?  Whatever support you use, ensure your structure is both strong and robust and is sited in a sheltered position.  Fully grown runner bean plants are heavy and can act as a sail in strong winds, causing the plants and their supports to be blown down.

Runner Bean ‘Snowstorm’ was bred by Tozer Seeds in the UK. This is a fantastic tall climbing runner bean with pretty white flowers and delicious beans.

For maximum runner bean harvest and the most productive use of your space why not create a Munty Bean Frame?  A Munty Bean Frame is rather like an open-sided goal post.  The beans are planted at the back of the frame, which first guides the beans 0.9m (3ft) vertically, then the beans are directed upwards at an angle extending to 1.25m (4.15ft) along, up onto the taller 1.8m (6ft) supports.  There’s no need to be as precise as this, the idea is that by training the plants horizontally or at a sloping angle you can increase your plants’ harvest.  Does this work?  Yes, it does!  Use strong twine (see my Twine Trial), wires, or poles as supports for your beans to climb on.  Orientate the ‘opening’ of the frame to a South-South-East direction and enjoy growing celeriac, lettuces, beetroot, and other vegetables underneath.

Here’s a look at my Munty Bean Frame from the front.
Here’s a look at my Munty Bean Frame later in the season. I’ve allowed a few of the tallest beans to tumble down, as this provided some welcome shade to my collards underneath.
Here’s a view of my Munty Bean Frame from the side. Underneath my beans, I’m growing Collards ‘Teddie’.
A Munty Bean Frame can be adapted to grow a range of vegetables in a small space. I find that by growing my beans horizontally or at a sloping angle, I can increase my bean plants’ yield.
Runner beans are ideal plants to grow in a small garden as these decorative plants take up only a very small area and are very productive.

Was your polytunnel or children’s play equipment damaged in storm Eunice?  Why not use the frame as a support for your runner bean plants?

Runner bean ‘Firestorm’ was the best tasting runner bean I grew in my Runner bean Trial. I’ve found ‘Firestorm’ is also a very productive variety – I highly recommend this absolutely fantastic tall climbing runner bean!

To see all of my Edible Trials, please click here.

To see all of my Vegetable advice pages, please click here.

To see the results of my Slug and Snail Trial, please click here.

For more articles about edible gardening, please click here.

To see all of my plant pages, including plants for bees and butterflies, houseplants, edible plants, climbing plants, roses, and more, please click here.

For articles about plants that are particularly attractive or beneficial for bees and butterflies, please click here.

To see the results of my Twine Trial, please click here.

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One thought on “Celebrating Climbing Runner Beans

  1. David Tarry

    August 10, 2022 at 12:07pm

    I have grown scarllet runners in my rather shaded patio garden for the last three years- get super flowers but hardly any beans. When I had an allotment earlier I always had womderful crops. Is there anything that I can do to improve things?

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      August 10, 2022 at 3:34pm

      Hello David

      Runner beans don’t want to be in the shade. Next year, if you can plant your runners in a brighter and sunnier position and increase your watering in weeks without enough rain they will improve. I realise you may not have any other space available, the tips that follow will also make a huge difference.

      Runner beans need a water-retentive soil and regular watering to thrive. This autumn you could improve your soil’s water holding capacity by creating a runner bean trench. I’ve mentioned runner bean trenches, in this post https://www.pumpkinbeth.com/2014/11/garden-advice-mid-november-mid-december/. I would advise watering your plants/seeds in after planting and then applying an organic mulch of homemade compost or bark chips.

      Runner beans need bees to pollinate their flowers. If you grow one of the runner bean varieties that have French beans in their heritage (runner bean ‘Moonlight’, ‘Snowstorm’, ‘Firestorm’) these varieties pods set much more readily. You could also grow more bee friendly plants in your garden to encourage more bees. Here’s a link to my list of plant pages for pollinators: https://www.pumpkinbeth.com/pollinators

      Also by incorporating a munty bean frame (as detailed in this article) and lowering your plants you can increase your runner bean’s harvest.

      This week, try giving your plants a good watering, followed by a mulch of homemade compost or bark chips. Increase your watering and see if you can get your plants to become more productive this summer. Good luck!

      Best wishes

  2. Daphne Wallis

    June 7, 2023 at 2:59pm

    I’ve heard that we should spray the.flowers with water to “set “them to produce more beans…is this true ?

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      June 8, 2023 at 5:52pm

      Hello Daphne

      I don’t think spraying runner bean flowers with water makes any difference to the number of beans the plants produce. I’ve heard many experienced and professional gardeners recommend spraying runner bean flowers with water over the years. At my allotment one year I sprayed one row of runner bean flowers with water and I didn’t spray the other row – there was no noticeable difference in the harvest from the two rows of runner bean plants.

      Best wishes

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