When giving talks to groups, I often ask the audience if they enjoy eating runner beans, followed by a show of hands indicating how many in the audience actually grow them.
This is a bit of fun, but there is no doubt most people love eating runner beans.
Next week is a good time to sow the seeds indoors, as it’s still a bit too early to plant seeds into the garden.
It’s better to wait until the end of April because they are tender and will die if Jack Frost is around.
Seeds are sown in cells and at the garden centre you will find the 24-cell size which fits into a standard seed tray.
Half-fill the cells with seed compost, place just one runner bean seed in each cell, fill the cell to the top and then water well.
The compost will sink, leaving a shallow gap at the top of each cell for future watering. Germination will take between 10 to 14 days.
Keep the plants in the light and plant out during mid-May in Portsmouth or after May 21 if you live ‘over the hill’.
There’s a useful way to remember when to plant them – always do it the day after Wickham Fair day.
Runner beans grow best on bamboo canes 8ft high, about a foot apart and crossed at the top with another cane tied horizontally to keep the structure secure.
It used to be possible to buy hazel sticks, but canes are easier and cheaper to buy. One plant is planted on the inside of each cane, the idea being to prevent them getting hoed off.
The stick protects them from the hoe blade, a handy tip if the eyesight is not as sharp as it was!
The leaves on runners are magnificent and the flowers – red, white and some bicoloured – are attractive too.
It may be interesting to know that when they were first introduced into Britain they were grown as an ornamental climber.
But it wasn’t long before gardeners realised how delicious they were when cooked.
Quite a lot of gardeners dig out a trench before Christmas and dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost so that there is a quantity of water-retaining material in the ground.
This is fine, but if you’re thinking of planting a few beans don’t worry about the trench. Just fork in a level tablespoon of fish, blood and bone fertiliser at the base of each cane. Do it when planting the plants.
Some people reckon they can’t grow runner beans because they live in flats.
Well, you can!
Buy a growing bag and instead of laying it flat like a pillow, place it against a wall on edge and slit the top edge with scissors or a sharp knife.
Insert five canes 8ft long, arrange them as a fan and fix the tops to the wall or to a fence. Keep the bag watered and the crop will be wonderful.