Scar­let run­ner bean

Scar­let run­ner beans can be eaten pod and all when young, or, later, stored as dry beans, says TINO CARNEVALE

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

My grand­fa­ther loved grow­ing his tow­er­ing scar­let run­ner beans, prob­a­bly be­cause he was a big fan of the English Vic­to­rian gar­den­ing style. His shed would be clearly vis­i­ble one week then re­sem­ble a lost tem­ple from an ad­ven­ture movie the next. These huge climb­ing vines can lit­er­ally blot out the sun if you are six years old.

The vines are beau­ti­ful to be­hold at full ex­ten­sion, cov­ered in masses of scar­let flow­ers set against vi­brant green fo­liage. They make an ef­fec­tive sea­sonal screen and are truly mag­i­cal when used to cre­ate a se­cret gar­den. Then, of course, they give you lots of de­li­cious beans to eat.

Scar­let run­ners are some­times called seven-year beans, which as you may have guessed means they are peren­nial. I have had plants kick­ing on into their third and fourth years still pro­duc­ing well, but they re­turn the big­gest crops in the first year af­ter sow­ing, so put in new plants an­nu­ally if you want buck­et­loads of beans.

get­ting started

The beans orig­i­nate in Cen­tral Amer­ica, so one could be for­given for think­ing they en­joy a hot cli­mate, but these are moun­tain folk, de­signed for cool, high al­ti­tudes. They grow best in cool tem­per­ate cli­mates and strug­gle in warm to hot ar­eas. Even here

in Tas­ma­nia, where they usu­ally grow well, an ex­tended hot, dry spell can turn a vig­or­ous, healthy plant into a shriv­elled mess. While most ve­g­ies pre­fer a north­ern as­pect, I have found that they ben­e­fit from be­ing on a sunny south­ern slope where con­di­tions are cooler, or a cool spot on the south side of a build­ing.

These plants love a fer­tile, free-drain­ing soil so in­cor­po­rate plenty of com­post into your bed. If drainage is par­tic­u­larly poor, plant in raised mounds of pure com­post.

Did I men­tion that these are big plants? Climb­ing 3m or more, they need a se­ri­ous sup­port frame. This took me a few years to come to grips with. My first year, I grew them up a few stakes, the sec­ond was over a screen, and now I just let them ram­ble over the whole chicken shed!

I have seen pun­nets of scar­let run­ner seedlings for sale, but I don’t be­lieve they are the best op­tion. Bean seedlings de­test root dis­tur­bance, so I rec­om­mend sow­ing seed di­rectly in the soil where you want to grow them. Soil tem­per­a­ture needs to be about 12°C to ini­ti­ate ger­mi­na­tion.

They are best planted from spring, or mid-spring in late frost ar­eas (they hate frost). Soak­ing seed in luke­warm wa­ter overnight speeds up ger­mi­na­tion. I plant 2–3 seeds per hole, 3–4cm deep, at the base of each stake, or about 15cm apart at the base of a trel­lis, then thin out to one plant per hole, re­mov­ing the least vig­or­ous. Wa­ter well af­ter sow­ing then don’t give them an­other drink un­til shoots ap­pear.

grow­ing & har­vest­ing

Pods fail to form when the overnight tem­per­a­tures are con­sis­tently above 15°C. If this is the case, get out your hose in the evening and spray some wa­ter over them. This cools them down and al­lows them to set their fruit, and if it’s that hot you might want to give your­self a splash, too.

Start har­vest­ing beans as soon as they ap­pear, even if they are small. Beans love to be har­vested of­ten – it keeps them in pro­duc­tion – so pick reg­u­larly and you can ex­pect about three months of crop­ping. This is one of my favourite snacky plants when I’m gar­den­ing, a tes­ti­mony to their pro­duc­tiv­ity con­sid­er­ing there’s enough for the ta­ble af­ter snack­ing on them all day.

Scar­let run­ner beans can be har­vested in three main stages: eat them pod and all when the beans are young, soft and sweet, and also when they have just filled out and de­vel­oped a sat­is­fy­ing crunch, but be­fore they get stringy and dry. Thirdly, at the end of the sea­son when the older pods have dried, they can be shelled and stored to be eaten through­out win­ter or saved for re­plant­ing the fol­low­ing year.

How­ever you serve them, these de­li­cious beans are as pro­lific and con­sis­tent with their fruit as they are with their beauty.

CLOCK­WISE FROM MAIN Scar­let run­ner beans need to be sup­ported by a solid struc­ture; large, colour­ful beans can be har­vested for about three months; the flow­ers are a beau­ti­ful scar­let colour.

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