Runner beans are causing a bit of a stir this week. Several readers have written or phoned to tell me they have problems.
The first letter was from a new allotment holder at Cosham. Leaves were sent in and only the veins of the leaves were left intact, but the problem was slugs and snails. There were no signs of these pests during the daytime but after rain on just one night, the whole row was shredded. The slugs had come through the allotment fence from long grass growing in the area of land just outside the allotment site.
To prevent this happening again, it would be a good idea to water the area below the fence with Slug Clear liquid slug killer. One application watered on correctly will solve the problem straight away.
I sometimes get letters from gardeners who suddenly have a complete failure. The runner bean seeds germinate well but as the plants start to climb they die off. On investigation, this is because the bean seeds have been saved year after year from the same stock and the scenario is even worse if the runner beans are always growing in the same place. It’s a good idea to buy new seeds once every three years. I never save my own seeds because we eat all the beans and there are none left to produce seeds!
Germination is the next problem – the beans don’t come up. The reasons are numerous. Too dry? Old seeds? Crows and pigeons? The answer is to pre chit seeds before planting. Take a lunch box, put in a sheet of wet kitchen paper, pour the seeds in and close the top. Keep it in the dark and look every day to see if a little root has appeared. Keep the paper moist. Once the roots are visible, put each seed into inset cells with universal compost and plant out when they are four inches high. The birds are not interested in the seedlings but slugs and snails are!
The next problem is the flowers fall off and there are no beans – this is due to sparrows very early in the morning. The answer is to make a cardboard cat lying down. Paint it black with a white patch on the front and put marbles where the eyes should be. Put this on the ground half way in the line of beans and move it every day.
If there are little flowers which look curly, don’t panic. The sun is not far away, the bees will find the flowers and the beans will form.
Finally, loads of leaves but no flowers is due to too much manure and the answer will not be popular but will work. Remove half of the leaves and put them into the compost heap, fork over the soil and scatter on only half an ounce of Sulphate of potash to a yard run and water in. An alternative is to cut the bean plants down to half their height; they will quickly grow again and then add the potash – that will do the trick.