Growing Green Beans

Growing green beans or runner beans as we call them here in the UK, is fairly easy to do as long as you stick to some basic rules, and in the right conditions they will provide you with a fabulous, delicious crop that you can eat in-season or put in the freezer to see you through the winter.

I have to say from experience that there is something extremely satisfying about growing green beans, I think perhaps because the plants grow so large and tall in such a short space of time.

For the past week, I have watched with fascination as my runner bean plants have grown several inches a day, climbing up the vertical netting I have provided for them. Now they are as tall as me. It seems like only a month ago I was planting them as seeds.

Beans come in all shapes and sizes as well as different colors. They can be extremely attractive. In fact, in the past, they were grown just for the way they looked.

In the right growing conditions, a small row of 6-8 runner bean plants can produce a significant yield of food, often running into tens of kilograms.

Growing green beans or runner beans in pots
Growing green beans in pots is perfectly ok to do – I’ve been doing it for years and have had success every time. The key to getting it right is in the quality of the soil and of course, keeping the soil moist.

Beans require rich soil with plenty of nutrients, so using a good nutrient-rich soil or compost is essential for pot-grown runners.

Of course the other important factor is location. The pot needs to be located where the beans can be allowed climb and roam See the “climbers” paragraph below, and of course, they also need to be in sunshine, preferably 6-8 hours of it per day.

There are a few golden rules to getting a good crop. These are quite simple rules, but do need to be followed diligently if you want your crop to be a success.

The rules to growing green beans for the best possible results…

Runner beans are climbers, and to thrive, they need something to climb up or along. A popular favorite is the use of bamboo canes positioned either in circular wigwam shapes around the plants, or shaped as an elongated wigwam climbing wall.

Another climbing aid could be in the form of a net, like I am using this year.

As I have a patio garden and no way of sticking bamboos into the ground, I have built an upright wood frame and have placed a strong nylon net across it, forming a large vertical growing wall.

You can also attach a net onto a fence or a wall as long as the structure is strong enough to take the weight of the plant and is facing into the sun for 6-8 hours a day.

If you are growing your beans in pots, then you could place a cane wigwam arrangement into the pot, provided the pot is large enough. Bear in mind that the plant will become quite heavy so you need to ensure there is sufficient weight at the base to prevent the plant getting top-heavy and toppling over.

Personally I prefer to have a climbing area that is independent of the pot such as a wall or a fence. You can use a net or trellis, or even some string wrapped around some nails/screws to create a climbing area.

The plants will usually wrap themselves around the poles, net or string as they grow and climb, however you may find you need to tie them on in some cases. Always tie gently and loosely, allowing enough space for the stems to thicken up over time.

Planting & Frosts
I always grow my beans from seed, it is extremely easy to do, although you can also buy them ready- sprouted from garden centers if you prefer. The only Important thing to understand is that beans are very intolerant of frosts, so you need to start them off indoors if you want an early crop. Only when all danger of frost has passed should you consider putting them or planting them outside.

As I have already mentioned, growing green beans requires good soil with lots of nutrients. This is where growing them in pots comes in handy because you have more control over the soil and can start afresh each year if you choose. If growing beans in the ground, then you’ll need to dig in plenty of rotted manure or compost into the soil during the autumn / winter to ensure the soil will be rich enough for the new growing season. Feeding with nitrogen should be avoided or done very sparingly. The roots can take nitrogen from the air, so feeding them with too much nitrogen could be counter productive. Other nutrients are still required so mulching the soil will provide those extra ingredients and also help to retain moisture.

Keeping the soil moist is essential and the key to getting a good crop, and you especially need to keep the plants well watered around the time the pods are forming.

Picking / Harvesting
Another essential thing you should do is to pick the pods regularly and do not let them reach maturity. If even just a few ripen off or allow the beans in the pods to swell, the flowers will stop forming and the plant will stop producing, so go out there every day and pick, pick, pick! The younger pods are sweeter and tenderer anyway. Make sure you look everywhere for older beans that you may have missed – they are not always easy to spot, especially if your plants are clumped together, so pay close attention and hunt down the strays!

If you get a glut, then green beans / runner beans are particularly good for freezing. Use freshly harvested beans, trim the ends off and cut the beans to your preferred size. Blanch them in boiling water for 3 minutes (no more or they will become rubbery), drain, and then plunge them into ice cold water for 3 minutes. Drain them thoroughly, then seal them in bags (preferably vacuum sealed bags) and freeze. They’re good for about a year, and then the flavor will start to diminish.

Runner beans should not really be eaten raw as they contain a chemical called lectin phytohemagglutinin – a toxin that creates a clumping effect on the red cells in your blood, so cooking them thoroughly before eating should be the order of the day.

They are a delicious and healthy vegetable that contain a good helping of nutrients including Vitamins K, C, A, B1, B2, B3, manganese, fiber, potassium magnesium, and a whole host of other nutrients.

I would thoroughly recommend anyone to have a go at growing green beans. It fun, nutritious, and with a little creative training, will leave your garden looking fantastic.