Tuesday, 27 April 2010

'Cane & Able' - Preparations for a Biblical Crop of Runners!

Whilst last summer's balcony efforts did not afford me the title of 'self-sufficient urban bald Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall-type' – not by a long way – they did result in some impressive feats of urban vegetable gardening. One of the few 'runaway' successes (if you'll permit the pun) was indeed the humble runner bean – a much misunderstood and undervalued vegetable.

Anyway, inspired by last season's success with this hardy vegetable (click here to see 2009's balcony crop!), I had planned to set up some canes and plant some runner beans on the allotment. This resolution was cemented when a quick scan through this month's Gardeners' World magazine unearthed the fact that now is a great time to plant runner bean seeds directly into the soil.

I set off to the allotment once again this Sunday, having picked up a packet of 10 x 6' canes from Robert Dyas for £4.99. Now last year, space was obviously a determining factor for me, however this year I have the opportunity to do things a little better! Whereas I had two pots with empty bottoms that sat on a grow bag last year and condensed canes, this time I intend to construct a good sized row, which will allow plenty of room for growth – and also allow air to circulate around the plants efficiently.

As you can see from the pictures below, I settled on a row that was 4 canes each side, joined across the top by another cane and supported at one end by a further cane. My years watching Blue Peter as a child were evidently not wasted, as before long I had managed to knock together a decent looking and relatively rigid cane structure – voila!

Now, one of the paramount basics of gardening, including vegetable gardening, is not to disturb the roots of plants when transplanting from pots to the ground. Whilst planting directly outside holds its own hazards (birds, squirrels, frost etc.), one of the huge benefits of planting directly is that the plants will grow and establish their roots in-situ, without being disturbed at any time in their lives.

Anyway, following the recommendations of Gardeners' World, I planted 2 (and occasionally 3) seeds around the base of each pole. This method allows for one of the seeds not growing properly – you're left with a back-up – and also affords you the chance to select the strongest looking plant if both do indeed germinate.

I simply made a 4cm hole using my finger, pushed the seeds in and covered up with soil, as so:

The runner beans I am using this year are organic 'Enorma' runner beans, 'Phaseolus Coccineus', from the Duchy Originals seed range. In my, albeit limited, experience, these seeds start growing very quickly, although last time they germinated under cling film on a warm windowsill in my old flat. Regardless, I hope that I have some quick progress with these hardy vegetable plants – and some progress to report soon!

Has anyone else had any good or bad experiences with runner beans? Does my cane structure get the approval of the veteran vegetable growers amongst you? Leave your comments here, on the London Vegetable Garden Facebook page, or even at the London Gardeners' Network!


  1. I'll have to check my packet but I think I maybe growing 'Enorma' too and I have sown mine direct this year as well due to pure laziness :)

    the runnerbean cane structure looks just fine but beware if your site is very exposed and high gust winds come while the structure is supporting you expected heavy crop, it could all come crashing down, so it might be an idea to have a few extra canes around to lend support if horrible windy weather is forcasted later in the season. Believe I have worn that T-shirt and it is a pain.

  2. I'm hoping to transplant my runners to the allotment this weekend. I don't usually grow them due to the abandance (and generosity!) of other gardeners but I really want to grow my own this year. I'm sure I will have fun making the construction...just hope it isn't too windy.

    Weather is fantastic and I'm really enjoying the garden this year because of it.

    Hope your runners do well, Lucyxx

  3. One idea would be to cover the seeds with the cut off top of a pop bottle. It will act as a cloche and also protect the emerging seedling from slugs. Hope they grow well for you.

  4. It must be fun up sizing to an allotment. I think i need to check your archives as i am still at the small balcony phase

  5. @Lucy

    Thanks for the kind words!


    Good idea - have seen many gardeners adorn their plots with bottle tops, so this indeed may be the way forward when they finally sprout!


    Have a look back through the archives - I literally had only a tiny balcony last year and managed to grow some great vegetables. I hope that you can pick up a few tips from where I've done things right - and avoid the times I've done things wrong!



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