Planning a Wall of Summer with scarlet runner beans

| Farming, Gardening, Kitchen Garden, Market Garden | comments | Author :

Anyone wanting to grow a wall of summer (literally) should try scarlet runner beans. Just thinking about them makes me smile.

They are incredibly enthusiastic climbers and grow up, up, up, blooming bright red flowers ever which way. Then they bear heavily, with bean pods you can eat whole when young (green bean pods with bright red beans inside!), or leave them and collect the beautiful back and red speckled beans later.

We’ve been growing scarlet runners ever since we moved to Milkwood, and I suspect some of my adoration is due to the fact that they were courteous enough to not turn up their toes and die in those first 3 years of drought-filled summer, like many other ‘easy to grow’ vegetables we tried.

Scarlet runners deeming to stay alive in our no-dig kitchen garden polyculture in 2007…
Shucking scarlet runner pods with the help of Ashar and Rob Avis in 2010
Part of the 2010 Milkwood scarlet runner seed bank

I like them whole and green, I like the beans later, and I love the way the plants curve towards the sky, surprising me each time I look at how much they’ve grown.

Because they are so prolific, it’s best to design them into your garden space to make the most of their ability to create a wall (or roof) of green. Shade in the mid-summer garden is always welcome, so I would recommend devising some way to make the most of them.

Last year in the market garden, Stephen devised a ‘bean banjo’ to grow the runner beans up, which created a cool green corridor in the garden.

Scarlet runners about to shoot up the bean banjo, Nov 2011
One month later
And one month later again…

Unlike peas (which ‘hold on’ with little curly hands that spring out the sides of the main plant as they climb, and so need a matrix to climb against), beans twirl their way upwards… the whole bean plant twisting and turning around whatever is available. This is why they work so well on thin poles, or strings.

Yes well we did end up having rather a lot of beans last year, to the point of Rose the permaculture chef making a bit of a point about it…

This year, I’m planning to use scarlet runner beans extensively around the tinyhouse (which has a nice little frost-free microclimate going on) and over near the woolshed, to create snippets of green and shade along fencelines.

We’ll also be making a few runner bean tipi’s for the benefit of both Ashar and visiting kidlets around the place, so they can have their own little summer hideaways…

Runner bean Tipi! Bring it on! (image source unknown)

>> More posts on big and small-scale vegetable gardening at

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19 responses to “Planning a Wall of Summer with scarlet runner beans

  1. It’s summer here in Seattle, Washington and my scarlet runners are tall and happy! Anyone have any recipes to share? I could use some creative ideas for using up this bounty! Many thanks!

    1. If you want something a little spicy here’s a good recipe from the heart of Mexico. Runner beans are called Ayocotes in Mexico and I love this recipe.

      Poblano Peppers stuffed with Runner Beans.

      Cook your runner beans (1lb.) with onion and water to cover in a slow cooker, no salt.
      Once they are soft prepare a pot with olive oil and fry some chopped onion until translucent, add a tablespoon of flour. Then add the beans to the pot with 1tsp. oregano and 1 bay leaf. Once they come to a boil add salt to taste. (You can stop here and just have beans!)

      Proceed to make refried beans: either on the blender or a hand blender until smooth. Add a crushed avocado leaf for flavor (discard the center)
      Set aside theses beans, the beans should be like a paste, not watery. (These refried beans make great burritos too)

      In a blender make a sauce with 2 roma tomatoes, half onion and 1 clove garlic. Fry the sauce in olive oil until cooked, add salt to taste and let it season stirring often. Add the bean paste and mix well. Let it cool.
      Prepare your roasted poblanos and remove all seeds. Preheat oven to 400. Stuff each pepper with the bean/tomato paste and assemble in a buttered glass/ceramic oven dish.
      Top the stuffed peppers with Mexican cream (Creme Fraiche is the closest) adding a bit of milk to make the cream runny. Then top with shredded chihuahua cheese (or mozzarella/swiss) and bake for about 20 minutes until heated through.


  2. I tried to grow these last year in my new wicking beds but they had a disastrous start with ph10 soil that they had to be pulled out from and then replanted. I got about 4 pods, so I dutifully saved the seeds and THIS year should be the Year of The Scarlet Runners!!
    Looking at high they grow though, I may have to rethink where I plant them….

  3. How do you stop the birds from eating them? Do you net them? This actually awesome and want to build the wall of beans!

      1. Lucky you! My bird problem with all summer beans is that they nip off all the flowers!!! Orioles, Satin Bowerbirds, Parrots…..I could go on. This year, I am netting everything. Between my 2 1/2 yo old and the birds, nary a bean was to be found. Luckily the netting doesn’t deter our son: beans being one of his favourites.

  4. Thanks for sharing.I haven’t got my vegt garden growing yet.But all of flowers and peppers are out of control.ITS all going to be great.Thank God.Happycookdiva .(little flower child.)

  5. I think I’m sold! We’ve grown madagascar beans (which are still producing) but I’d love to add another colour to our collection.

  6. Brilliant – I was trying to decide what would give the chooks fast shade over their house for summer. We have a cunning plan, Baldrick 🙂

  7. Just ordered a heap of beans from Diggers after seeing this post can’t wait. Hopefully I win the battle with the rabbits – at least they are good to eat too.

    1. No the tinyhouse’s eaves and aspect is designed to shade all the walls + windows all day, all the way through summer… but if we hadn’t designed it that way, scarlet runners would be a great idea 🙂

      1. You know that is a really good idea … Our house is designed so that the verandah etc protects the windows from the sun in summer but it still gets hot under the eves … Maybe this would be a way of soaking some of the heat up or creating a little humidity thus cooling it down. Not permanent so no damage ie from wisteria roots.

  8. I’ve tried scarlet runner beans twice now with no luck.,.. in fact beans in general don’t do well here… their leaves turn yellow and they just don’t grow so lush and green as in these gorgeous photos. But you’ve tempted me to give them another go…

  9. Thanks to everyone for contributing. I have this summer (in Australia) planted scarlet runners and they have been most prolific. However, as they are supposed to last seven years, I wondered whether anybody had ‘husbanded’ the plants through autumn ( fall) and into winter so that they grew again in the following spring and summer. I also understand that the plants lose some of their vigour and should be replaced after about four years. Anybody are to comment?

    Thanks in advance. Peter R

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