Sunday, 1 September 2013

Runner Beans - a comparison

This year I have grown two varieties of Runner Bean - "Scarlet Empire" and "Firestorm".


I planted 10 of the former and 4 of the latter. I have grown the former a couple of times before and been very pleased with them (last year they gave me the best bean harvest I have ever had), but I wanted to try a different variety too. "Firestorm" is a new variety which is allegedly self-fertile (doesn't need bees to pollinate it), and which will supposedly set pods even in high temperatures or poor weather. Sounds great, doesn't it? But when it comes to growing beans I am a bit of a traditionalist and I prefer to grow well-established varieties, so I wasn't about to give up my trusty "Scarlet Empire" until "Firestorm" had proved itself.

I have been harvesting Runner Beans for many weeks now, so I thought it was about time I formally compared the results of the two types.



Unlike many of my gardening blogger friends, I don't keep records of the weights of veg that my garden produces, but I have a very good feel for what does well and what doesn't. My perception is that "Scarlet Empire" still wins in the weight of produce contest. The two types have probably produced about the same number of beans, plant-for-plant, but the "Firestorm" ones are not as big as the "Scarlet Empire" ones, and many of them have not been useable because they have developed more bean than flesh. I like to eat the pods before the beans inside are conspicuous, but some of the "Firestorm" pods have developed beans very early, while they are still small, like this:-


Here is a photo that shows typical examples of the two types side-by-side. You can see that the "Scarlet Empire" ones (on the left) are longer. The "Firestorm" ones tend to have a sort of "tail" at the stalk end, before any fleshy pod is produced.


Many of the "Firestorm" bean pods have a reddish colour, particularly at the edges. I think this is not very attractive. I wonder if it is supposed to be there? Could it be a throwback to one of the plants' ancestors, since this is obviously an "engineered" variety?


It is not really possible for me to say whether the self-pollination attribute of "Firestorm" has been useful / necessary, because all of the bean plants have been pretty successful at setting pods. As it happens, "Scarlet Empire" it still producing a mass of new flowers, whereas "Firestorm" is not.


In conclusion then, I think "Scarlet Empire" is considerably better, and I will be growing it again next year, but I don't think I will grow "Firestorm" again.

13 comments:

  1. I quit growing runner beans here because the weather got too warm. They just don't set seed anymore over the summer. Though I have grown them recently just for their pretty flowers.

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  2. We are only really just starting to harvest our runners - they have been very late this year. maybe because being on the plot we can't water them enough.

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  3. I'm afraid my bean harvest hasn't been great but glad you've been successful. I probably didn't feed my plants enough.

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  4. I haven't grown runner beans in decades but I agree with your assessment. Neither the shape, consistency or coloring of Firestorm seems attractive. You didn't mention taste or texture but I think the other attributes detract. FIrestorm seems to be a UK-developed bean and neither the Thompson & Morgan nor the Marshall catalogs show or mention the red coloring on the beans. The name comes from the red flowers.

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    1. David; You're right, I should have assessed taste and texture too. As it happens, once the beans are picked, they all get jumbled up, so I can't tell which is which! My perception (probably biased) is that the texture of Firestorm is a bit rougher / tougher than Scarlet Empire.

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  5. From what you show, I would definitely say that Scarlet Empire is the more attractive of the two, and therefore, the one which looks the most appetising. I've grown St George for the first time this year. It's a variety which has both red and white flowers, hence the name. I've been pleased enough with them that I'll grow them again next year.

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  6. I have grown Firestorm this year but don't seem to have any of the red colouring that you have Mark. But I agree about them producing lots of beans early- I have had to throw quite a lot onto the compost heap. I think I will take your lead and grow Scarlet Empire too next year.

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  7. Hi Mark, I haven't grown any runner beans this year, it's the first time ever that I've not grown any and I must say I miss my wigwam and I miss taking photos of them! So it's really nice looking at yours. The best ones I grew were last year actually and they came from a friend's parents in Selby West Yorkshire, I have no idea what variety they were, I just referred to them as Selby beans! Nice to look at your photos :)

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  8. A clear winner I think. I might try Scarlet Empire next year. I've got one of the white flowered ones this year, and it's not done particularly well.

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  9. Hi Mark, The Scarlet Empire certainly look better than Firestorm. I grow the forerunner of Empire, Scarlet Emperor along with Enorma. Scarlet Emperor has been around about 100 years (tradition as you said) and has been excellent for me until this year. I attribute the lack of beans setting this time to the weather conditions and lack of insect activity earlier in the year.. You mentioned the beans developing early which has been a feature of both of my types, which I mentioned in an earlier post. Again I think this is due to the hot, dry and windy weather this year. Funnily enough my beans are just coming into their own now the weather has cooled a little. I purposely didn't pinch out the plants this year so beans at the top. You didn't mention which variety tasted best?

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  10. I grew Firestorm in my cold greenhouse this year as it is self fertile and was very pleased withe a large early yield. As you know Mark (thanks for your comment) I blogged about it last month.

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  11. I grew Scarlet Emporer a while back with good results and had a year of Moonlight (white "self fertile") which I wasn't overly impressed with - may have been the weather though. There's a reason these varieties have been around so long - they're good ones!

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  12. I grew some firestorm this year and noticed that the flowers did not appear until about 4ft from the ground.my whitelady however are a mass of flowers from the ground .

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