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Overwintering Runner Beans

 
pollinator
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I read a few years ago that runner beans can be overwintered. I left some in the ground a few years back to see what would happen, but come spring they had all rotted.

I was doing some garden tidying today, taking down my bean wigwams, and discovered a bunch of healthy looking runner bean roots. About half had already rotted away to mush.

I lifted them from the soil and transferred them to a large pot in the green house, filled with fairly dry and partially rotted woodchips. I figure this should help protect them from frost and rotting until the weather warms up in spring.

I’ll post an update in a few months.

Anyone tried something similar?
 
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I've got one plant which has overwintered for a few years now, in place.  It's in a fairly sheltered spot next to a fence, so also a little drier than the surrounding soil (all its original neighbours didn't make it though).  I did dig some up, store, and replant the one time, but they didn't really perform any better than the ones from seed.  More experimenting, maybe?
 
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G Freden wrote:

they didn't really perform any better than the ones from seed.

Interesting! One theory about permaculture is that "coppiced" trees do better because the roots don't need to "regrow". However, I've also read that one of the "survival tricks" of annual plants is that they grow fast and produce seeds all in one year. This was discussed somewhere that was talking about developing perennial wheat. The researchers suggested that rather than the perennial plants being more productive, they were actually less, (particularly compared to modern varieties which are designed for production rather than healthy food.)
So two years ago, I tried to overwinter Scarlet Runner Beans which are a cold-tolerant bean, by 1. cutting them back and covering them with straw or 2. not cutting them back but still surrounding them with straw.  Version 1. did not come back. Approximately 50% of version 2. did come back, but as G Freden noted, they were less productive than plants I started in another location from seed. This was true to the point, that I did not try to save any this year. Mind you, I also didn't chop down the ones that made it through, I just harvested the seed and labeled it thinking that if I repeat this experiment starting with seeds from cold hardy plants, I may be able to improve the situation.
Part of the issue is that the "overwinter" location is a spot I can leave beans for several years - the "just for this year" beans were in a spot they couldn't stay. In a perfect world, next spring I will plant the "seed from overwinter plants" into that first location regardless of whether I've got multi-year plants there. After all, if I get 3 year-old plants cross-pollinating with their offspring, that could be a good thing.

I'm in a *very* wet winter climate in general, and this year's been particularly bad that way. Some years, we get really cold as well or instead, so I'm regardless of the outcome of my small experiment in "landrace" seeds, I will not rely totally on overwintering.
 
Michael Cox
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I have been watching the few videos I could find on this. One suggestion is not that they do better, but that when planted out they get a few weeks head start on plants from seed.

In marginal climates that could be useful, or simply to get the first beans of the year earlier.

Our runners were disappointing this year. We struggled with rabbits and slugs that ate the new growth. Working on an plan to rabbit proof the area.
 
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I have overwintered runner beans a few times in Victoria BC Canada and in Ireland.  Both places get ground frost.   It was accidental overwintering mostly because I just leave the plants in the ground and dig it over and find survivors in the spring.  The best I did was 2 overwinters.  My soil is heavy clay.  Probably least ideal.  A friend of mine here in Canada had better success.  My overwintering beans were "polestar" (English stringless runners), hers were generic scarlet runners,  which aren't as good,  yield not as good,  or flavour. But they did pick early and often so they had an extended harvest like I have.  I think the English grow the best varieties because they don't have humming birds to cross pollinate and ruin your seed-lines. Polestar are superb, but I can't get them anymore.  Another good stringless variety is "lady Di" and same problem, unavailable in Canada.  I have split runner bean tubers a few times. I haven't done it when they are dormant,  Ive let the shoots grow a few inches long first.  As long as each piece has a growing tip,  you have a good chance that it will grow.   I ate runner bean tubers just once.  (at the end of a growing season). I didn't like them.  In our wet spring in Victoria, it is essential to start them indoors and also let them grow to 3 or 4 ft high before transplanting them out.  (That's high enough to survive slugs). I usually get my first beans at or before Canada day (July 1st) and my last around the 10th of November.  Although production really tails off in October.  Another thing I do now in Canada is in maybe August,  I trim the lower leaves a lot, and maybe find vines that have finished fruiting and cut them off maybe 2 ft up, so that the beans produce new vines. Why?  Here in Victoria, summers are very dry,  and almost every year,  spidermites become a big problem. I've found that removing old leaves, really stimulates the plant and lowers the mite load.  I pick my beans every 2 or 3 days.  That's essential,  because if your plant sets seeds,  it'll stop producing. Another thing to note with runner beans is that if the beans inside get big and starchy,  you CANNOT eat them raw.  You can get very sick with as few as 3 seeds. Cooked they are lovely.  I eat raw green runner beans (before the beans swell) all the time.  But I got so sick the one time I ate some big hard bean seeds raw!  My sister also had that experience.   I read online about a guy in London England, who rented a place and his runner beans came back 5 years in a row.  He said it was awesome,  he didn't know the variety.  Last year had a really heavy frost and it killed them.   London generally has hotter summers and colder winters than Ireland.  I hope this helps some people.  I think bringing in tubers and storing them in sandy soil in an unheated greenhouse might be the way to go.  But you will have to be careful of the darn spidermites!  I grow welsh onions as an under crop with the beans.  Supposedly you shouldn't do that but I don't think my yield of either crop is bad.  I cut the tops of the welsh onions about 2 inches above the ground roughly  every 2 weeks and use them as green onions.  
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I had a Czar runner bean that came up by itself near to where I had grown others, I presume it was a pod I missed. It came back for three years running, and each year had more beans than the last. It didn't appear last year but we did have some late cold weather and some early very dry. I leave all my bean roots in the ground and mulch them in the hope that some will re-appear. I'm going to direct sow beans from that plant this year to see if any have a natural inclination to reappear.
 
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A little weird, I was just about to post in beginning gardeners about annuals being perennials in the correct environment. Then I copied it to save for once the fog lifts and I can get some pics.

One thing I mentioned is that my Scarlet runner beans had been harvested and died back in September but shot up another vine a couple weeks later. It didn't look great but got to around five feet before I pulled the trellis. This coming season I am going to plant a couple where they won't be in the way, maybe in some fruit tree guilds and see if they will survive the entire rainy/cold season here to produce again. I think it may be possible, especially with any that are being landraced. This is my first year saving pole bean seeds so figure it might take a couple years but I'll give it a shot!

Never hurts to try, right?

Other things I've got going perennial: Beets (the greens are growing en masse after going to seed), white onion, calendula and brassicas are all sending new growth off old roots that I left in the ground.
 
Brian White
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I forgot to mention,  Runner beans are perennial in the part of the world where they first developed. I think mountain areas in central America but I am not sure.  And I have had a few, maybe more than half,  that survived the winter but refused to come out of dormancy.  I don't have a very well heated house in winter but maybe for people who live in Apartment blocks,  they could keep runner beans growing in pots inside  right through the winter and then plant them out in May,  just bursting with growth!  And just looking at who is posting,  we are mostly from Europe!   Why are North Americans so slow at recognizing this amazing long season high production  plant!?
 
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I've been working on doing this for a few years now... no success yet. I started by collecting every RB variety I could find while on holiday in the UK in 2016, and growing them out the next year and letting them cross with each other. I've grown out the results in 2019 (left them in the ground over winter, none survived) and 2020 (they are in the ground, some with straw bales on top - oops! - will see if they survive and pop up next spring).

However, reading this thread I think I may not bother to continue: Powell River is noticeably colder than Victoria BC and our garden is in a chilly spot even for here. Pity.

BTW there are multiple N American posts here but all from the PNW / southern BC area where people do grow runners. Elsewhere they tend not to grow them at all.
 
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Yes I have experienced this.  Also with lima beans. but this year I am concentrating on non determinant tomatoes. I successfully air layered side shoots/suckers. One of them is over wintering so I will air layer some more for early tomatoes.

 
Jay Angler
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Kevin Wilson wrote:BTW there are multiple N American posts here but all from the PNW / southern BC area where people do grow runners. Elsewhere they tend not to grow them at all.

I've grown in Ontario and the PNW. Ontario has hot summers and although we could and did grow Scarlet Runner Beans at times, there were many other varieties which grew better and had less of a tendency to grow "tough". Here in the PNW, many of those heat-loving varieties have not produced for me. Even if it's warm during the day, I'm close enough to the Ocean to have it cool off quickly as soon as the sun goes down. Scarlet Runners seem happy in that weather (and the local hummingbirds do adore the red flowers!)
 
Brian White
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Kevin Wilson wrote:I've been working on doing this for a few years now... no success yet. I started by collecting every RB variety I could find while on holiday in the UK in 2016, and growing them out the next year and letting them cross with each other. I've grown out the results in 2019 (left them in the ground over winter, none survived) and 2020 (they are in the ground, some with straw bales on top - oops! - will see if they survive and pop up next spring).

However, reading this thread I think I may not bother to continue: Powell River is noticeably colder than Victoria BC and our garden is in a chilly spot even for here. Pity.

BTW there are multiple N American posts here but all from the PNW / southern BC area where people do grow runners. Elsewhere they tend not to grow them at all.


Hi, Kevin,  if you Cross pollinate stringless English varieties, much of the progeny is likely to be stringy.  I have had stringless beans from seed houses here,  and there are clearly some non stringless among the bean plants.   One seed house owner told me that it is due to humming birds cross pollinating them.  I grew up in Ireland, and it's runner bean heaven.  Wet cool summers with really long  summer  days.  I cannot over emphasize the difference between stringless varieties and stringy ones. Generic scarlet runners often have short curved pods and quickly build their seeds, and the pods grow strings that you could use to slice cheese  and after the first pod has starchy seeds,  that it,  the whole plant shuts down flower production. So you get a really short season or one that will end after your first weekend away from home. The stringless varieties meanwhile will produce long straight beans that are fleshy and thick and only get stringy later as the seeds get large.  They are also bred for a long season. as long as you pick them, it produces more flowers and beans.  And they are BIG.  I go out and pick a dinner or a lunch in a couple of minutes.  It takes much longer to pick that weight of french beans.  (I eat raw green beans all through summer, at lunch.  Be warned, though,  they make your breath smell like pot. (I have never toked but toking customers have accused me of toking.   I love green beans. and if you treat them right,  nothing compares to their production rate.  I suggest that Runner beans are not useful for dried beans unless you leave it to the end of the season.  Harvest green runners every 2 or 3 days until you have enough and then let them go to seed.  And as soon as a few beans get big, production stops.  Another thing,  they need water all through the season.  A dry spell will cause production to stop.  Thats why I have my "hold of water"  and  automatic airlift pump in the bean boat.  My air pump is on a timer,  so,  I don't water all day.  Also, the air feed to the bean boat has a tap. to adjust the flow of air and slow the water being pumped.  Without the "tipper" most of the  water would drip out the first hole  instead of surging through and watering the whole planter.  
   
 
Kevin Wilson
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Interesting info, thanks Brian. The crosses I’m growing (first and second generation) are growing nice big pods but I’m not too worried about stringiness as I prefer them as dry beans. Dry beans of any kind are iffy here because they often get rained on before they are completely dry, and then they go moldy. Soup peas are the best alternative I’ve found so far but I’m always trying out more things 😀
 
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