The joy of growing your own vegetables goes far beyond the satisfaction of seeing your hard work in the garden come to fruition. It’s when you tuck into a meal cooked from home grown produce that your heart really starts to sing.
Take Runner Beans, for instance. For whatever reason, their use in the kitchen is wildly underrated. Rather than serving them plain boiled as an uninspiring side dish, these green beans are versatile and lend themselves to a range of exciting dishes, some of which can be found below.
Runner bean; image source: bbcgoodfood.com
The good news is that Runner Beans are a doddle to grow, even for the beginner gardener, and they will reward you richly for your efforts.
They’re a cool-season crop, which means the UK is the perfect place to grow them. The best place to source them is from specialist online suppliers such as Seed Parade.
Runner Bean seeds are large and kidney shaped, handy for any little hands who may wish to help with the planting. Runner Beans are, of course, the original magic beans – the ones that Jack’s mum so carelessly threw out of the window, with unpredictable consequences.
This nugget of knowledge alone should be enough to entice children to help with the beans’ planting, growing and harvesting. Once established, it helps that the seedlings grow at a fast and furious pace.
Growing from seed
From April onwards, you can start sowing seeds in pots filled with seed compost. Make a 5cm hole in the middle and drop a Runner Bean seed into the hole before backfilling and watering in. Keep the seeds well watered and they will germinate and grow quickly – you should start to see results within a week. Once all risk of frost has past (May onwards) and the seedlings are fully rooted in their pots, you can plant them out into the ground.
Alternatively, if you wait until May to July, Runner Bean seeds can be sown directly into the ground. Sow them 5cm deep and 30cm apart in rows that are set approx. 45cm apart. They also do well in containers.
Sturdy plant support
Runner Beans grow upwards, meaning they need good, tall support. They can be grown against walls and fences, perhaps with the help of horticultural mesh or trellis for support. In an open vegetable bed, you can use garden canes, string and netting. Better still, construct an A-frame of garden canes to create a tunnel.
The bean plants will twine their stems naturally around the canes as they grow. For container plants, a wigwam offers the best support.
Looking after your plants
Runner Beans need regular watering for optimum growth, particular once they start to develop flowers. To boost your crop, you should apply a liquid feed every 2-3 weeks after the plants start flowering.
Be very careful to protect young seedling from slugs and snails in the garden who will regard them as an irresistible delicacy. A home made plastic garden cloche should do the job nicely.
When the runners have reached the top of the support canes, pinch out the growing tips. This will encourage the plants to send out more shoots below and divert their energy into producing more beans, rather than growing taller.
Runner Beans are one of the most productive crops around and can be harvested from July onwards when the pods are about 20cm long. Don’t let the beans get too large before you pick them, they’ll be stringy and tough to eat.
It’s important to keep harvesting every 2-3 days – the more you pick, the more it encourages the plant to produce more beans. If you end up with a glut of Runner Beans, they’re easy to freeze for use later in the year. Alternatively, see the quick and easy chutney recipe below.
Runner Bean recipes
Once you start harvesting, it’s time to get creative in the kitchen. Runner Beans are a versatile vegetable that lend themselves to all manner of mouth watering dishes, so here are some Runner Bean recipes to whet your appetite.
Peach, Prosciutto & Runner Bean Salad
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 300 g Runner Beans, trimmed
- 4 peaches
- 60 g rocket
- 60 g watercress
- 200 g prosciutto or pancetta
- 100 g Feta cheese, cubed
- 6 tbsp Honey & Mustard Dressing
- 4 tbsp sesame seeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
Steam the Runner Beans in a saucepan for 5 minutes with a little water and a pinch of salt. Cut each peach into 8 slices and grill for 2 minutes on each side on a griddle pan over a medium heat. In a salad bowl, mix rocket and watercress and scatter the remaining ingredients over the top, then add the dressing and top off with black pepper.
Runner Bean & Smoked Haddock Risotto
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 400 g smokes haddock pieces
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 300 g Arborio rice
- 300 ml double cream
- 175 ml white wine
- 200 g Runner Beans, shredded
- 1 litre hot fish stock
- 50 g Parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the haddock and cream in a small baking tray covered with kitchen foil, and into a preheated oven (200C/400F) for 10-12 minutes until cooked. Remove the tray and keep warm.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil and gently fry the onion for 8 minutes until soft and transparent. Next, add the rice and continue to stir until the rice takes on a translucent quality, then add wine and reduce slowly. Add the hot stock a bit at a time, stirring occasionally. When most of the stock has been absorbed and the rice is nearly cooked, add the Runner Beans and cook for 2 more minutes.
When the rice is cooked, add the haddock pieces and cream into the rice and stir gently. Take off the heat, add the Parmesan and season to taste.
Spicy Runner Bean Chutney
Ingredients (makes approx. 2.2 kg)
- 1.4 kg Runner Beans, trimmed and sliced
- 1.4 kg onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 900 ml malt vinegar
- 700 g demerara sugar
- 2 tsp cornflour
- 1 tbsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- Salt to taste
In a saucepan, boil the Runner Beans in salted water until just cooked. In another saucepan, boil the onions in salted water until just cooked. Strain both and combine them in a large preserving pan. Stir in the vinegar (reserving 2 tablespoons) and the sugar and cook for 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, make a smooth paste from the reserved vinegar, turmeric, mustard powder and cornflour, then add to the saucepan and cook for another 15 minutes.
Take off the heat and spoon the hot, runny chutney into pre-prepared warm, sterilised preserving jars. Leave to cool completely before tightening the lid and labelling the jars. The chutney will thicken as it cools and should be ready to eat after a month. Serve with cold meats, cheese and in sandwiches.