Runner beans or Stick beans used to be identified as being the traditional beans that grew up canes or bean sticks. Nowadays, we have an addition to this group. Climbing French beans. They all basically have the same requirements, so we will call them all Climbing Beans, for that is what they are.
The main differences between the traditional runner bean and the newer climbing French bean, is that of texture and taste. Runner beans are normally harvested as the bean seed inside the pod starts to swell, whereas Climbing French beans are cropped before that event. Also, runner beans pods are normally in the region of 12in (30cm) long and the climbing French beans less than half of that.
Climbing beans are one if the most productive vegetables you can grow and are especially good for small gardens or as an experimental crop for first time veggie gardeners. As well as being a good food source, they have ornamental qualities that allow them to be grown in all manner of situations. Traditionally the blooms were always bright red - hence the variety Scarlet Runner. Nowadays, flowers can be red, white, or even bi-colour.
Any sheltered spot, but open to the sun, is suitable for climbing beans. The sheltered aspect is a requirement simply because the beans grow to a height of 2 meters (6ft) and so susceptible to windy conditions.
The traditional vegetable plot method has always been to grow them in a row, with the supporting canes lined in tow rows about 60cm apart, angled over to each other and then supported by tying to a horizontal cane or bean stick. The canes placed at 15cm apart. There is no set way they have to be supported.
Strings, wires, canes, even climbing roses I have seen as support. However, one of the most convenient ways of growing them is to make a wigwam structure out of bamboo canes. This can be in the vegetable plot, the shrub border, as a lawn center bed display, or in a large container on the patio. The flowers make a good ornamental display, space is not a problem, and they are easy to manage and grow.
Any normal garden soil will suit - heavy or light, with a bit of mulching as the season progresses. A poor soil will actually benefit from the growing of climbing beans, for they are members of the legume family, so have Nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots which will leave the soil higher in Nitrogen.
The climbing French beans are a little more susceptible to the cold at germination time that the traditional runners, so need more in the way of warmth and early protection. Otherwise, runner beans can either be started in individual pots, seed units or directly sown outdoors. If yopu sow direct outdoors, then after the spring frosts, and with a cloche covering to bring the soil temperature up a little.
If sowing in greenhouse, do not sow not too early, or if planting out has to be delayed owing to cold weather, you will have tangled bean seedlings to cope with!
Once planted out and reaching a height of 30cm, just nip out the top bud to allow the plant to branch out. It will probably send out just two new shoots, which can be trained up the poles or whatever.
Make sure that your framework is in place before planting the seeds or young bean plants.
The beans will naturally twine around the supports, but may need a little guidance from time to time, otherwise just leave them to do what they do best - climb!
Water well in dry periods, and once harvesting starts, pick the beans every two days. They are really that quick.
Blackfly aphids can be troublesome as the beans start to grow well. Squash with fingers or spray with good vegetable insecticide.
Sometimes the beans do not set from flower into small beans. This is by poor pollination. It has been said that spraying the flowers with water helps pollination. It does not. Several studies have come this conclusion. It is far better to concentrate on growing them well and providing regular mulches and water when needed.
Insects pollinate Runner bean flowers, and they need warm conditions to do it! They are unlikely to be so active if you persist in giving them a cold shower! For this reason, it is always best to grow your runner beans in a sheltered position - not too windy - in order to attract the beneficial flying insects. (Some crawl to the flowers as well.)
Insects also seem to be more attracted to white - rather than red - flowers. Why not try to attract the pollinating insects by using a white-flowered variety such as 'White Achievement', 'Desiree' or 'Mergoles'.
Runner beans... Scarlet Emperor, Red Rum. For white flowers try White lady.
Climbing French beans.... Algarve or Blue Lake.