Last summer I grew an amazing bean hedge. Just six bean plants manage to densely cover a 4 by 2 meter section of fence. I was very excited thinking I was going to be drowning in beans. So it was quite disappointing when they provided nothing more than a mere handful. And it was even more disappointing this summer, when it happened again. With such great growth, foliage and covered in flowers, the plant is clearly thriving, you would think it would be highly productive. My gardening friend Debbie wonders whether the seeds I sowed were of an ornamental variety. Checking my garden diary, sadly not. Both scarlet runner beans, and from different sources.
Scouring the Internet for an answer revealed that there are allot of people on forums asking the same question. The common answer seemed to be temperature, with many people claiming that high temperature will cause the flowers to drop off or fail to set. It does surprise me considering these beans originate from the hot tropical climate of Central South America, but maybe the mountain regions are a lot cooler. Regardless it seems that gardeners in Tasmania have no problems growing them in summer, but for most of us on mainland Australia, not so good. The recommendation is to grow scarlet runners in Autumn, which is great news because it means I will be able to extend our bean producing period.
Unfortunately it is time for the chickens to enter the garden and the first bed to go is the one with the scarlet runners. I would love to see how they do over Autumn but the rest of the bed is finished and really needs the chickens to do their magic. So down they came. Last summer thinking that cutting the plant from the fence would be too difficult, I just snipped the plants at the ground and let them die and rot away on the fence. Of course this is a great waste of rich organic material. So this year I cut it down, and to my surprise it only took 30 minutes. I simply trimmed them back on one side, then they practically fell off the other.
Of course beanless beans is not a complete loss. What these bean plants would have done for the soil should be amazing. Bean and other plants in the legume family have formed an amazing symbiotic relationship with bacteria called Rhizobia. The plant feeds these bacteria within nodules in its root systems, and in turn the bacteria produce nitrogen compounds for the plant. Isn't that a lovely relationship? But what is even better, is that when the plant dies the fixed nitrogen is released into the surrounding soil, available for other plants to use. This is why I try and mix pea, bean or broad bean in every bed.