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Seed potatoes are now becoming available in garden centres etc. Don't wait too long before getting in your seed tubers......(more)

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The supply of peat
The wet weather during 2012 has restricted the supply of peat for the coming season and as a result prices for peat-based growing media (multi-purpose composts etc) will probably increase......(more)

Runner Beans - class matters

During summer 1997 a competition sponsored by D T Brown Ltd was run by Peter Seabrook in The Sun. Readers were challenged to predict how five varieties of runner bean would perform when grown under cover. Prizes were on offer to those who could predict which of the five varieties would be first to reach 2 metres, the first to show flower colour, the first to produce a 15cm pod, which variety would produce the longest pod and which would produce the heaviest yield.

Background to the game
Its seems very odd that the runner bean, a plant normally growing as a perennial half way up a mountain in Central America has become a typical British vegetable grown as an annual and normally recommended to be planted outdoors in a deep fertile soil to which plenty of organic matter has been added. What affects the way runner beans grow in the UK and how do you make sure you get a good yield? The scarlet runner bean was first introduced to Europe around 1633 and for 120 years was grown as a decorative plant, for garlands and posies and for covering balconies and defects in fences. Since the mid 18th Century however we have grown the runner bean mainly for its succulent pods.
The varieties and how they were grown

The five varieties compared in the trial were:

  • Scarlet Emperor
  • White Emergo
  • Lady Di
  • Fergie
  • Painted Lady

Seed of each variety were sown on May 24 in a propagation compost and seedlings were transferred to 8 inch diameter plastic pots with saucers, one plant per pot in a mixture of two parts loam topsoil to one part Levington Multipurpose Compost. Pots were placed in a large net-sided polytunnel and watered according to demand. Six weeks after sowing an NPK fertiliser (7:7:7) was applied as a top dressing at the rate of 10 gm to each pot. Plants were pinched out when they reached the top of the 2 metre supporting canes. Pods were picked once on August 28.

Results

Painted Lady was first away, showing through after 7.8 days, and gave the highest emergence. White Emergo was the last to emerge and gave the lowest emergence.

Painted Lady raced away at the start and outgrew the 2-metre support by the end of June. Scarlet Emperor was slowest up the pole.

Assessment Fergie Lady Di Painted Lady Scarlet Emperor White Emergo
Seed emergence 2/6(%) 72 68 80 81 55
Seed emergence 5/6 (%) 90 88 98 95 80
Days to emergence 8.6 8.6 7.8 8.4 9.0
Assessment Fergie Lady Di Painted Lady Scarlet Emperor White Emergo
Height on 29/6/97 (cm) 93 83 145 68 91
First to reach 2 metres

By mid July Scarlet Emperor had produced more flowers than the other varieties White Emergo the least. Not surprisingly Scarlet Emperor was adjudged to be the most decorative variety. Covering ability, mainly reflecting overall leaf growth, was best with Scarlet Emperor.

Assessment Fergie Lady Di Painted Lady Scarlet Emperor White Emergo
First to show a flower
Number of flowers 18/7/97 7 7 7 8 6
Decorative effect (scale 0 - 5) 3.8 3.8 4.2 4.8 3.4
Covering ability (scale 0 - 5) 4.0 3.6 3.2 4.2 3.2
Assessment Fergie Lady Di Painted Lady Scarlet Emperor White Emergo
First to produce a 15cm pod
Pod yield on 28/8/97 (gm) 187 239 48 169 300
Number of pods on 28/8 16 14 6 24 16
Average length of pods (cm) 14.3 18.8 12.3 15.2 18.1
Longest pod
What the game told us

Under hot conditions such as in a greenhouse White Emergo can grow and produce well despite being a little slow off the mark at sowing time. This supports the claim that the white-flowered varieties are better suited to hot conditions and perhaps explains why they are more popular in Continental Europe than in the UK. White Emergo produced the best looking most uniform pods and the highest pod yield.

Painted Lady was all show with few pods despite a start which suggested it would be the best in every assessment.

Lady Di produced the first 15 cm pod, the second highest yield and the longest pod (by a fraction).

Scarlet Emperor could be one to use if you want to decorate an area, trail over a balcony, use in a container or cover a fence (and only just failed to produce the longest pod).

Some questions raised

Why do runner beans spiral anti-clockwise round a support? One author refers to this as spiralling 'anti-sunwise'. So, which way does the runner bean go in Australia and New Zealand? Is there any relation to the 'water spiralling down the plug-hole' effect ?

Why not grow runner beans such as White Emergo in the greenhouse? They would grow quickly and reliably and could even be grown to shade other plants.

How would these varieties compare with each other outdoors and would they generally yield better outdoors?

The pods were removed on one occasion. Yield might have been higher if the pods had been harvested more frequently.

Postscript

Publication of the poor yield results for Painted Lady flushed out a number of gallant defenders of the variety. While it is possible that the higher indoor temperatures in the trial affected Painted Lady more than the other varieties, other trials also confirm Painted lady to be good looking but low yielding. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) journal The Garden (Feb 2000) reports that, in a trial last summer, Painted Lady was 'noted for decorative flowers' but 'yields were low'.

The RHS awarded its AGM to one of the varieties we tested, 'Lady Di', and also to Desiree, Red Knight, Red Rum and Titan. Interestingly poor setting of flowers and curled pods was attributed by the RHS to high July temperatures. With global warming and hot summers projected for the UK perhaps a switch from the traditional red flowered varieties to the white flowered is worth a try.

Does anyone know whether there is a pattern of red runner bean varieties in the north and white in the south of the USA as there appears to be in Europe?

 


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