Growing Scarlet Runner Beans
How would you like a plant that can be eaten as a green bean, picked while the beans are still immature like lima beans, or wait till the fall and pick the mature beans to use like any other dried beans?
Not only does the Scarlet Runner Bean pay the rent in the garden by producing lots of beans, but it is an attractive plant with pretty red flowers that attracts hummingbirds. As a bonus the beans are a stylish black and pink colour.
Even better, it is easy to grow and seeds are widely available. It's easy to keep a few seeds from the previous year once you've had a crop.
In the past I've had a lot of trouble growing this bean because I had a cat who adored eating the plants. Last year when we moved, only 3 seedlings escaped being eaten. The cat preferred to stay indoors so she missed them in the pool enclosure which doubles as a greenhouse in the early spring. She was very old and she died before she had a chance to eat the remaining plants. I planted them in the garden in honour of Lulu.
Each year I would plant several pots for her, just to give Lulu the pleasure of eating the baby bean plants.
If you look at the pot with the bean seedling you can see one tall plant and a little stub to the right of it. That is one of the plants pruned by Lulu. I planted it and it grew to be a healthy large plant.
Growing Requirements of Scarlet Runner Beans
Like most beans the scarlet runner (or red runner, Phaseolus coccineus) prefers the ground to be warmed up before you plant it, so it's no use planting the bean too early in the spring. scarlet runner beans are so vigorous that you can plant them directly in the ground, no need to start them inside. Scarlet Runner beans are annuals so you need to plant every year.
Scarlet runners are very enthusiastic plants and can easily reach a height of 10 feet. They need something to support them. They are so pretty that people often plant them on a trellis in the flower garden. I was so impossibly busy that I grabbed a couple of sticks and they had to make do with a very low support. It took them about 10 days to reach the top of the sticks.
I folded them back and the plant just got thicker and denser with every week. My harvest would have been much larger if they had had enough space to spread out their leaves.
I did not have any compost since we had just moved in, so I fertilized using Miracle Grow water soluble fertilizer. Compost would be my first choice. I put lots of mulch and this worked well to keep the weeds down and moisture in.
They like a fair bit of water and I had to water them regularly. My soil is nice and light with quite a lot of sand so it drains quickly but also dries out quickly.
Scarlet runner beans are very tender and frost will kill them.
Like many legumes, scarlet runner beans can fix nitrogen from the air using nitrogen fixing bacteria (Rhizobium sp.). When you pull up your plants in the fall check the roots for little nodules where the bacteria are busily fixing nitrogen. Garden store often sell inoculant if your soil lacks the bacteria. Plants that can fix nitrogen are more vigorous.
"THEY" say that you get more flowers if you pick the young pods regularly but I got lots of flowers and did not pick many pods, I had yellow bean plants that I picked to eat fresh.
What part do you Eat?
You can eat the young bean pods as green beans. If you leave them too long they quickly get tough. Let them mature a short while and you can eat the young beans as you would eat lima beans, they are a bright pink and black.
When they start to get starchy and tough you can let the beans pods mature and pick them in the fall.
Note that many dried beans are poisonous when raw. Kidney beans have a bad reputation this way. The raw immature red runner beans could also have small amounts of toxins. Better to cook them as you cook lima beans.
I've read of people eating the flowers and young shoots raw but I have not done so.
I eventually picked the mature beans in October as I was putting the garden to bed.
Most of the pods went into a plastic bucker and dried for a few weeks. The pods look dry but the beans are still quite wet. It's easier to shell them when everything is dryer.
I had picked a few of the drier pods and shelled them sitting in the sun. They are very pretty beans. They darken once they have dried but keep some of their colour. I kept them in an open bowl that I stirred every once in a while so they could dry properly.
In the end, from 3 plants, I got over 2 pounds of beans. Enough for several meals for 2 people. They get cooked like any other dried bean.
Hummingbirds like Scarlet Runner Bean Flowers
The flowers attracted hummingbirds and all kinds of insects. The hummingbirds would check out the beans and then go on to the canna lilies. A poor third was my hummingbird feeder. The orioles like the hummingbird feeder better than the hummingbirds.
Beans have about 15% protein. Because they lack some of the amino acids we need they are called incomplete proteins. Luckily, by adding grains, cereals, nuts, or seeds to the meal, the missing amino acids are added and we have a complete protein.
The plants were so prolific (2 pounds from 3 plants) that I could have grown a significant amount of my protein requirement if I had wanted.
Pests of Red Runner Beans
I did not have much trouble with insects on the beans. I had a few aphids that I washed off with the hose. The ladybugs took over the aphid control shortly after. I don't use any pesticide in my garden and so far the good guys seem to come and help. I saw some Japanese beetles and took them off by hand and washed the plant well after. I think they mark the plants they like, to attract their friends so washing them seems to help. Penn State has an article on insect pests
I have armies of little predator wasps patrolling the garden so they probably helped too.
Towards the end of the summer I got some dark spots on the plants so I might have some fungus infection. The Scarlet Runners were growing so tightly that air did not circulate very well and might have encouraged it. It was late enough in the season that it did not make much damage.
If you live in bunny country, or for that matter deer or groundhog country, you will have to protect your scarlet runner bean plants. I'm not the only one who thinks they are tasty.
This information is for general knowledge.