Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Runner Bean "Scarlet Empire"

When I find a variety of vegetable that does well for me I grow it again and again. Such is the case with my beans. Every year I grow the climbing French Bean "Cobra" and the Runner Bean "Scarlet Empire". As a combination this works really well. When sown at the same time, the French Beans grow much quicker and start producing pods about three weeks before the Runners, and the Runners go on producing for several weeks after the French ones have finished.

In my garden the two types share the same support system, made from 8-foot bamboo canes clipped together in pairs and strengthened with a horizontal cane running through the clips.

I usually have 10 Runner Bean plants each with a cane of their own, and 8 French Bean plants, two to a cane because they are less vigorous. As you can see in my photos, the Runners do produce a lot more foliage than the French Beans. You will definitely need a strong support system for them. In the past, my beans have been known to clamber up into the tree that you can see in the top right-hand corner of the photos above and below. If you let them grow I reckon they would easily get to 20 feet tall.

Runners at the left, French at the right

In my plot I practise a rigorous crop-rotation system, so that the beans are grown in a different bed each year. This year it was their turn for the bed which is probably the least good. It is the one nearest our neighbour's big Leylandii tree, whose invasive roots suck out all the available moisture, and whose branches cast deep shade at certain times of the day. In view of this I went to great lengths to remove as much root material as possible (it grows upwards into the raised bed) and to add lots of pelleted chicken manure and home-made compost. Beans like rich moist soil, so I have had to work hard at providing this for them, and during the last six weeks or so this has meant watering them about every other day. If the plants don't get enough water they drop most of their blossoms so you won't get many beans.

My yield this year has been a bit of a mixed result. The French Beans, which came "on stream" before the weather really hotted up, have done pretty well, but the Runners have not. The yield has been much sparser than usual. However, a few spells of heavy rain over the last few days, and some slightly cooler temperatures, seems to have produced a growth spurt. The plants have filled-out a lot and they have produced another flush of flowers:-

With a bit of luck there will be a late rally, and the Autumn crop may be better than the Summer one. Unless there is a severe frost, Runner Beans normally keep on producing until early October.

I don't know whether this is a symptom of lack of moisture, but the pods of the Runner beans have been much less straight than normal. There are a lot of very curved ones this year. Not that it matters to me - they are not intended for exhibition, and they all look the same when sliced up!

"Cobra" at the back, "Scarlet Empire" at the front.

Just for amusement, I also want to show you this. You may perhaps recall that most of my "reserve" beans (a variety called "Red Rum") failed to germinate at all, and those that did were badly affected by the compost troubles I had.

A few survived, but the prime slots on the bamboo support-system were taken by the time they were ready for planting, so I plonked one or two of them in some rather unconventional places. One of these was next to the fence where the fruit trees are. This plant has now produced its crop - this one solitary bean!

Well, at least I can say that I have let "Red Rum" finish the course, avoiding the ignominy of DNF (Did Not Finish).

P.S. I have added a new page on my blog, labelled "Advice", which provides links to some of the posts I have written specifically to provide advice to less experienced gardeners. Please have a look...



  1. I'm so glad to hear that the Scarlet Emperor variety is working well for you. I've actually just planted these for the fall. Hopefully they do just as well for me!


  2. I'm growing St George runner beans this year and they're doing particularly well, they're supplying our house and my mum and dad and I've got lots stashed in the freezer too. The slugs got my green French beans as soon as they were planted out but a couple of plants survived and they've gone on to give us a meagre helping.

  3. I had a lot of trouble with roots at my last house. The maple tree there was always invading. It was a constant battle. So far here I haven't had too much trouble. But you never know what the neighbors will plant.

  4. I have always grown Scarlet Emperor which is probably a relation of Scarlet Empire - it is an old variety - St. George has been good this year, but one whose name I can't remember for the moment has pale pink/apricot coloured flowers has produced rather stumpy beans that are just full at one end. Conversely my beans seem a lot straighter this year.

  5. We grow two - sometimes three runner beans to each cane which works for us. We usually grow three varieties with flowers oof different colours so the look attractive too.


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