Runner Beans are one of the most popular vegetables for amateur gardeners in the UK to grow. I think they are a relatively easy crop to grow too. Even though you may not get a brilliant crop if you don't treat them well, you are still fairly sure to get at least something useable - which is not the case with many other vegetables.
When I wrote about Runner Beans back in June one of the tips I offered was "make sure you provide some strong support". I definitely stand by this. Just look at the amount of growth that has been produced by my 12 plants:
Not a vestige of the Hazel poles can be seen! That amount of foliage is very heavy, especially when wet, and it is no surprise that the most common "Allotment disaster" one reads about is the collapse of an inadequate Runner Bean support-system.
This year my Runner Bean harvest got off to a very shaky start. I picked my first few pods on 17th July, but during the rest of that month and the early part of August I was only able to pick a small quantity. By "small" I mean about 10 or 12 pods per week - decidedly unimpressive. I don't know what caused this, but most of the early flowers fell without setting pods, presumably because they had not been pollinated. Something changed about 10 days ago though. While we were away on holiday in Kent (7 - 14 Aug) the plants decided to start setting pods in earnest, and they are now covered in them.
I understand that while we were away there was a day of very heavy rain, and it may have been this that made the difference. Runner Beans are notoriously thirsty plants, and they can struggle if they don't get enough moisture. As you know, I grow mine in a raised bed, and such things are well-known for their good drainage properties, so despite my efforts with the hosepipe the beans may have been unhappy. They look all right now though - every flower-stem is loaded with little pods.
Yesterday I picked another little batch of beans (the usual 10 or so), but I think tomorrow or Friday there will be a lot more ready.
Something to remember with beans is that you have to keep picking the pods. If you stop, the plant will put all its energy into ripening a small number of pods. If you keep picking, the plant will produce more pods, so if you go away on holiday while your plants are cropping, ask a friend or neighbour to pick the pods for you every day or two. If you offer to let them keep what they pick I'm sure someone will be happy to help.
With a bit of luck my plants will now go on producing pods up until early October, especially if we get a mild early Autumn. If I find we have too many beans for our immediate requirements I will freeze some for use during the Winter. I'm really hoping to find myself in that situation very soon!