Runner Bean ‘Benchmaster’

Family: Fabaceae

Runner bean ‘Benchmaster’ is a runner bean with handsome red flowers and long runner beans.  This is a good variety to grow if you’re thinking of entering your runner beans into your local flower show.

Runner bean ‘Benchmaster’ is a tall, climbing runner bean that will grow up to a minimum of 2m (6.5ft) tall, and taller!  If you’re growing ‘Benchmaster’, it’s vital to provide your runner bean plants with a sturdy support frame that will be strong enough to hold the full height and weight of your mature runner bean plants, together with a hefty harvest of runner beans, and will be robust enough to withstand high winds and storms.  We think of summer weather as being relaxing and calm, but at times summer and early autumn weather can be surprisingly stormy; just an afternoon of windy weather can destroy an inadequate runner bean support frame and the plants it was temporarily holding.

Runner bean ‘Benchmaster’ seeds are widely available.  Very occasionally ‘Benchmaster’ are available to purchase as plants – try your local garden centre, or search for online retailers and mail order suppliers.  Plants tend to be significantly more expensive than seeds.  Runner beans are easy to grow from seed – I’d encourage you to try sowing your own seeds, if you can.  You don’t need a greenhouse or any fancy equipment to grow runner beans.  I start my runner bean seeds off outdoors in the middle of May, (late spring) in the UK and I continue sowing seeds from the middle of May and into June.  Runner bean seeds can be sown from the middle of April (inside a glasshouse) to the beginning of July, but these are warm weather plants – do ensure your seedlings are protected from cold weather.

Runner beans are tender perennials that are killed by frosts – please don’t be tempted to plant out your runner beans plants before all risk of frost has passed.  In the UK, the date for the last frost varies according to the location.  Usually, by the time we’ve reached the 1st June, we can relax and we won’t need to worry about any frosts in summertime, but the last frost date can be earlier in more Southerly areas and gardeners in more Northerly locations will have to wait until around the middle of June.  It’s better to be over cautious, as gambles with the Great British weather don’t always pay off!

Runner bean plants thrive in moisture-retentive soils.  To improve the water holding capacity of the soil, runner bean growers often dig a runner bean trench in autumn and fill the trench with shredded newspaper, cardboard, vegetable peelings, and other compostable materials before planting runner bean plants outside in May or June.  This method will help to make the soil in that area more water retentive and will provide extra nutrients, too.  Mulching is also very beneficial for runner bean plants.  It’s vital to water runner bean plants at least twice a week in dry weather.  This is imperative whilst your runner bean plants are in bloom.  Be generous with your watering – why not set up a water butt to help you collect rainwater for your plants?

Plant ‘Benchmaster’ runner beans in your brightest, sunniest location.  Choose a sheltered spot, away from the prevailing wind.  Runner beans are naturally deep-rooted plants that are best grown in the soil rather than planted in pots or containers.  Although, I must say that it is wise to start your runner bean plants off in pots to protect your seedlings from slugs and snails.  The plants don’t need to stay in containers for long – sow your ‘Benchmaster’ seeds in tall containers of homemade compost or a good quality peat-free compost and plant out before they show any interest in climbing.  Water your runner bean plants in well and then mulch around your runner beans with homemade garden compost.  Remember to protect your plants from slugs and snails.

Harvest runner beans regularly.  Pick every day if you can – the more beans you pick – the more your plants will produce.  Never leave full-size runner beans in place on your plants.  Even if you cannot eat all of the beans your plants produce, pick all those that are ready to be harvested.  Once a bean pod is allowed to develop full size beans, the plant’s production will rapidly slow down or will soon stop altogether.  Why not give your left over beans to your neighbours or freeze them?  Runner beans make delicious steamed vegetables, but these tasty beans can be used in a wide variety of dishes from salads, stir fries, curries, lasagna, pickles and chutneys.

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