Brian Kidd says that you’ll save your beans if you make a marble-eyed cat

Runner beans.
Runner beans.
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Runner beans are causing a stir this week. Several readers have been in touch to tell me they have problems.

The first was from a new allotment holder at Eastney, Portsmouth – leaves sent beautifully-wrapped in dry newspaper, but only the veins of the leaves were left intact.

The problem was slugs and snails. No signs of these pests during the day, but after rain on just one night, the whole row was shredded. The slugs had slithered through the allotment fence from long grass growing just outside the 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.

You may find it difficult to find, but a few garden centres still have some left in stock.

The blurb on the container says this product should not be used on edible crops. But you aren’t going to eat the grass are you? One application watered on correctly will solve the problem straight away. If you can’t find it use Eraza slug pellets on the grass.

I 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. This is because the bean seeds have been saved year after year from the same stock. It’s even worse if you always grow the beans in the same place.

To overcome this problem buy new seeds once every three years. I never save my seeds because we eat all the beans so there are none left to produce seed!

Germination is the next problem ie when­ the beans don’t come up. There are numerous reasons. Too dry? Old seeds? Crows? Pigeons? The answer is to pre-chit the seeds before planting. Take a lunch box, put in a sheet of wet, absorbent kitchen paper, pour the seeds in and close the box. 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 the seedlings out when they are four inches high. Birds are not interested in seedlings, but slugs and snails are.

If roots don’t appear, the seeds are not viable. Don’t blame me if they don’t grow. It means the seeds were no good.

The next problem is flowers that fall off. This means no beans. It’s caused by sparrows early in the morning. The answer is to make a cat lying down out of cardboard, 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 down the row of beans and move it every day. Don’t hang it up because birds know cats can’t fly.

Finally, loads of leaves but no flowers. Too much manure. The answer will not be popular but will work. Remove half the leaves and compost them. Fork over the soil and scatter just half an ounce of sulphate of potash to a yard run, no more­. Water it in. An alternative is to cut the bean plants down to half their height. They will quickly grow again. Now add the potash.

It’s a good time to sow the final crop of runner beans. If you do, you’ll be picking in late September. Nothing tastes better than home-grown runner beans and they are so good for you.


Now’s the time to plant nerine, amaryllis and colchicum bulbs. Choose a place where they can bask in the sun and they’ll provide a lot of pleasure in the autumn. They may not be in garden centres yet. They are usually in dry packs with a picture on the front. I am mentioning this early because they are snapped up quickly.